When asking people around the globe the simple question of what their nationality is, a significant amount of responses would include Irish or part-Irish. For most people, this simply means that their ancestors, at some point in past history, lived in Ireland. For others however, being Irish holds a much deeper and more significant historical value. In either case, any resemblance between people who actually lived in old-world Ireland and those modern-day people who consider themselves Irish, are mainly superficial. Instead, the differences between the life of past Irish people and modern day Irish people are rather uncanny.
The first main point of contrast, and the one most significant to Irish people themselves, is the difference in the level of freedom that the Irish experience. Following the conquering of Ireland by Great Britain’s King Henry VIII in 1536, the Irish faced a period of time plagued with war and forced subordination. Occurrences including the Desmond Rebellion and the Nine Years War took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Irish people who were simply fighting for their very freedom (Jordan and Walsh). Not only did these battles take Irish lives, but they also led to extensively harrowing restrictions on the freedom of survivors. After the re-conquest of Ireland by the British in the late 1500s, these ill became even more pronounced. Here, the entire Irish population was subjected to martial law and was subjected to having their land stripped from them on the whim of British rulers and soldiers (Jordan and Walsh). Ultimately, these restrictions on Irish freedom were extended to the farthest reaches of human suffering when the nation’s rebellion against British imperialists failed. By this point in Irish history, over one-third of its entire population had been killed or forced into exile (Jordan and Walsh). Moreover, any remaining Irish people of the past were stripped up their freedom entirely; over 300,000 were sold into slavery by their British conquerors (Jordan and Walsh). However, in the modern day, Irish people are no longer subjected to such atrocities. Successful Irish rebellions in more recent times and the collapse of British Imperial rule led to the establishment of Ireland as an independent and sovereign nation; its people are now free to exercise any and all freedoms that we have come to expect in civilized societies.
This freedom has led to other significant differences between the Irish of the past and the Irish of the present. One of these is simply where they are geographically located in the world. In the past, Irish people were isolated, quite naturally, in Ireland. Today however, modern Irish people are scattered throughout the entire world, with more living in other countries than those residing in Ireland itself (Inglis). An estimated 80 million modern people of Irish descent are present in large numbers in countries other than Ireland, including large amounts in English speaking countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and even a significant portion living in Latin American nations (Inglis). Along with sheer geographical differences between past and present Irish people,
Some may counter that where a person lives does not in and if itself depict a substantial change from past to present. This argument could be based around the notion that regardless of where a person of Irish descent currently resides, they still all-in-all are Irish, which alone is a substantial enough similarity between the past and present. While in some this may be true, the differences between the two different generations are still more substantial. First of all, upon looking closer at what has occurred due to this location change, their argument holds little water. The original Irish Gaelic developed and spoken by all if Ireland in the past has now slowly faded into the backdrop (Borsley and Roberts). Instead, a majority of modern Irish people now cite a different language other than Gaelic as their first language (Borsley and Roberts).
Furthermore, the change in distribution of this population, known as the Irish Diaspora, has resulted in another significant contrast. This predominantly comes in the form of the discrepancy between past and current Irish stances on religion. Past Irish people were almost forced to accept the power of the Catholic Church, as it was their only true defense against their British invaders; thus, they were more than willing to listen to and accept the advice given by Irish Bishops (Paseta). Whereas the Irish of the past were identified by the direct ties to their staunchly religious beliefs, modern people view their Irish nationality of origin more on a cultural level and less on a basis of religious-belief (Paseta). While the Catholic Church served as the most significant influence on the life of an Irishman in the past, new generations of Irish people across the world have shown a growing disinterest with the Church (Paseta). As they no longer require the Catholic Church’s protection, and have been exposed to different cultures and manners of thinking, modern-day Irish people now view religion as much less consequential aspect of their daily life. The ultimate moment illustrating this evolution in Irish thinking came in 2011, when the nation of Ireland decided to close its Vatican embassy, effectively distancing modern day Irish people from the Pope and his religion both figuratively and literally (O’Brien).
This perhaps demonstrates the most significant affect freedom has had on the Irish as it pertains to how much it has changed from past to present. The literal physical freedom experienced by modern day Irish people has led to an ideological change; Irish descendants no longer feel the need to associate themselves with one particular religion or its viewpoints in order to feel that they are truly Irish.
Borsley, Robert D., and Ian G. Roberts. The Syntax of the Celtic Languages: A Comparative Perspective. London: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
Inglis, Tom. Global Ireland: Same Difference. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008. Print.
Jordan, Don and Michael Walsh. White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America. New York: NYU Press, 2007. Print.
O’Brien, Breda. “Closure of Vatican Embassy has Wide-Ranging Implications.” Irish Times, 18 Feb. 2012. Web. 31 July 2012 a href="http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/">http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/ 2012/0218/1224311977327.html>.
Paseta, Senia. Modern Ireland: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.