The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Ireland in the 21st Century

The social and cultural life in the Republic of Ireland from the 1980's to the present day has seen remarkable transformations.  There has been an opening up of Irish society in many ways, as Ireland comes to share with the rest of Europe many cultural and economic features.  The entry into the European Community in 1973, and subsequent membership in the European Union established in 1993, set this in motion.  In 2002 Ireland adopted the Euro as its standard of currency, replacing the old Irish Punt or Pound.  During this time the power and sway of the Catholic Church has declined remarkably--its special place in the constitution was removed by referendum in 1972, and its teachings on divorce, abortion, and other social issues have been challenged by new laws and liberties.  Women have much greater freedom in education and the workplace (the old law that required a woman to leave a civil service position upon marriage was abolished in 1977).  As changes took place in such previously unchanging entities as the family and the church, the question became, as Terence Brown has phrased it, "how much Ireland's traditional identity could be retained in the new circumstances?"      

New writers emerged during this time:  in poetry, Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney began writing in 1966 and continues to produce work to this day; Resource: 16004he is joined by many prominent poets, such as Brendan Kennelly, John Montague, Mary O'Malley, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Eavan Boland, Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon, and many others.  Irish drama found new voices in Brian Friel, Martin McDonagh, Tom Murphy, and Frank McGuinness.  And the Irish novel flourished in such writers as Edna O'Brien, John McGahern, and Jamie O'Neill.  In the visual arts, the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) opened in 1991 and exhibits contemporary art.  A frankness of theme, subject matter, and language is enjoyed today that Joyce could not have imagined. 

Seamus Heaney speaking at the International James Joyce Symposium, Dublin 2004

Economically, a general practice, begun in the late 1970's by Fianna Fail, to attract foreign investment to Ireland began to pay dividends beginning in the early 1990's.  The 1980's were a time of grim recession in Ireland, with corresponding rises in unemployment, crime, drug abuse, and urban decay.  Yet the modernized educational system was producing  remarkably well-educated work force that foreign investment would quickly capitalize on, so that by the late 1990's and early 2000's Ireland's economy would be one of the most robust in all of Europe, making it a model for the small EU nation to emulate. 

As of this writing, late March of 2010, Ireland's economy has receded dramatically from the heyday of the "Celtic Tiger" of the early 21st century.  The world-wide recession, and in particular the decline in the real estate market which fed much of Ireland's economic resurgence, has hit the country particularly hard.  Unemployment is nearing 15%, the Waterford Crystal factory has been closed and its labor out-sourced, and in 2009 the economy contracted at a record pace.   Yet to some the economic decline brings its good side, too:  travel writer Rick Steves reports of his Irish friends that they say that "now they can stop racing after big profits and savor the blessings of just being Irish." 


Resource: 16038

The "new" Abbey Theatre, completed in 1966, on the same site as the original theatre founded by Yeats and Gregory in 1903.  In 2010 the Abbey will relocate to a new location on George's Dock.

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