In the decade that will see the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 rising and the War of Independence, there will be a great deal of focus on how Ireland has performed in the previous century. At the start of this decade there was much despondency in Ireland about the country’s prospects. That the then-Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, was ridiculed on Jay Leno’s popular US chat show for his drinking habits added to the national embarrassment. Even the weather seemed to reflect the inundation of the country’s morale. Looking back on the century since 1916, one could make arguments both that Ireland’s performance was a success and a failure. Ireland went from being a colony to independence, achieving remarkable peace and democratic stability. It went from being one of the poorest countries in western Europe in the 1980s to one of the richest. It matured from being a clerically-dominated country to one where the Church is just another actor, and one, moreover, with little credibility. On the other hand we could say that Ireland started the last century as a reasonably developed place in one of the richest countries in the world and imposed poverty, clerical dominance and cultural hegemony on itself. It managed to waste the opportunity presented by its wealth by failing to understand why it came about.
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