The Irish Times published an article today, and I want to share a couple of thoughts. The story is entitled: Other countries yearn for the good old days. Not Ireland.
I grew up in Western NY, frequently hearing a lament for the “good old days”. Where I lived, life changed dramatically from the late 70s to the early 90s. When I was a kid, there were factories everywhere, and that was where most people I knew worked. I grew up in the westernmost county in NY, and as you can see on the map below, it is one of the darkest counties, meaning it lost over 58% of its factory jobs. That part of the US is in the middle of what is referred to as the Rust Belt.
As this change occurred, people’s standard of living dropped dramatically. Family and friends moved away. Kids left as soon as they could to find opportunities elsewhere.
While I believe there is a lot to the recent discussion of how the good old days weren’t good for everyone…and I am in no way saying race was/is not an issue where I grew up…but what happened to the Rust Belt was seismic. And not everyone landed on their feet.
But even without the job losses, the culture there changed. And it has been changing rapidly. And while it isn’t realistic, you can understand the desire to get back to a time when we all had good jobs and went to church on Sunday and then to dinner at grammas. That’s how it works…we still feel the loss. We create a romanticised picture of how life used to be and then convince ourselves that if only we could change X, Y & Z, we could make things like that again.
The article above highlights something we learned a few years ago. There is no desire to get back to the good old days here in Ireland because the good old days didn’t exist. In just a few decades, Ireland transformed from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest in the world. Multiple archaic laws in their constitution have been removed, increasing freedom for many…especially women. Instead of the Irish leaving to find a better life elsewhere, people from around the world are coming here for that same thing.
When Ireland got its independence from the UK, one of its key leaders, Éamon de Valera, wanted Ireland to be rural, Catholic and Gaelic (feel free to read that as not England). And so Ireland was poor, large numbers of its citizens continued to leave, and the church had its hands in everyone’s business in a highly oppressive manner.
All that stuff…and more…is all jumbled up together. As the article demonstrates, the Irish do not view the past with much nostalgia. But I think the church in Ireland needs to grasp how tightly this is all wound up together. It is more significant than that. Not only was the church oppressive…when the church was in charge…when it had a prominent place in our lives…life was hard…we were poor…and we have zero desire to go back to that.
You can think that isn’t right or fair…but that doesn’t matter…it just is.
There are still churches here who imagine themselves occupying an important place in Irish society and will lecture on how we need to go back to the old ways.
How do you think that flies?
Map from: By Veillantif – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16696823