The Land of the Celtic Tiger-An Underdog Look into an "Old Country's" Modern EU Success Story

Jamie Quaranta
 


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Official Country Name: Ireland

Local Country Names: Republic of Ireland “The Irish State” Éire (Former Country Name in Gaelic)

Location/Physiographic Region/Area:

Ireland rests on the island of the same name, which is located to the west of the island of Great Britain in the British Isles region of the European Realm.

The country “is separated by the narrow North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St. George’s Channel” (“Geology and Geography”). Almost half the size of its social, cultural, and political counterpart Britain, the island is “70,282 sq. km. ” long and has a width of “225 km” and a length of “362 km” (U. S. Dept of State, “Geology and Geography”).

An enormous central plain stretching out “to the Irish Sea between the Mourne Mts.in the north” and the Wicklow Mts. “in the south” is “enclosed by a highland rim” (“Geology and Geography”). The “10 percent” arable terrain of the Irish “highlands of the north, west, and south” is mainly sterile, but the central plain’s “temperate maritime” climate allows for an “extremely fertile” landscape (U. S. Dept of State, “Geology and Geography”). That said, consistently heavy rains in the western frontier of the island let the world-renowned Emerald Isle become a “green grass wonder” to behold. The rains are also ultimately responsible “for the large stretches of peat bog” that the country itself largely depends on as “a source of valuable fuel” (“Geology and Geography”).

Off the “irregular” west coast of the main island lies “the Aran Islands, the Basket Islands, Achill, and Clare Island” (“Geology and Geography”). The inland waterways are “dotted with lakes, ” such as the widely celebrated “Lakes of Killarney, ” and horizontal “stretches of river called loughs” (“Geology and Geography”). The widest of the Irish rivers, the Shannon River, “drains the western plain” and stretches further into the picturesque “loughs Allen, Ree, and Derg” (“Geology and Geography”). The Liffey riverbed “empties into Dublin Bay, the Lee into Cork Harbour at Cobh, the Foyle into Lough Royle near Derry, ” and, last but not least, “the Lagan into Belfast Lough, ” which, without question, borders the embattled United Kingdom republic of Northern Ireland (“Geology and Geography”).

Population/Cultures/Languages:

Ireland has a “population growth rate of 93 percent;” the country has a population of almost “3,917,203” (U. S. Dept of State). The most densely populated cities in the country are the capital of “Dublin (495,101), Cork (123,338), Galway (65,774), Limerick (54,058), ” and “Waterford (44,564)” (U. S. Dept of State).

Most men and women residing in or who descended from Ireland identify themselves as Irish, although there is an “English minority” as well (“Political Geography and People”). The Irish people are, for the most part, “of Celtic Origin, ” but the “English” minorities that embed the country are mainly descendents of “the Anglo-Normans” who fought during the “Norman conquest in the 12th century” (U. S. Dept of State).

English is the main language of the Irish, but the western frontiers of the country, or “small discontinuous regions” known as “the Gaeltacht, ” still use an ancient Celtic language called Gaelic (Gaeilge). What’s interesting about this fact is that once the “rural” Irish natives “began to be associated with poverty and economic deprivation” during “the middle of the 18th century, ” the more affluent Irish citizens “began to conform to the prevailing middle-class ethos by adopting” the English language (Gaeilge). In the early 21st century, though, both upper- and lower-class people in the country are beginning to speak English more frequently “because, for a variety of complex reasons, some of the indigenous population of the Gaeltacht” are starting to grow more accustomed with “new English-speaking households” currently “settling there” (Gaeilge).

Although there is no firmly “established church” in Ireland, the Roman Catholic religion makes up “88.4 percent” of the country’s overall spiritual microcosm (“Political Geography and People, ” U. S. Dept. of State). Legend has it that, on March 17, 432 A. D. , St. Patrick arrived on the island “and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish” to a more conventional form of Christianity (U. S. Dept. of State). Catholicism may never stop being at odds with Protestantism in traditional Irish terms, but both the Irish and English factions who inhibit the “sovereign, independent, democratic” Irish State have supposedly managed to coexist peacefully and effectively in recent years (U. S. Dept. of State).

Distinct Regions/Major Cities:

The Irish republic is made up of four provinces and has “26 counties” or internal regions (“Political Geography and People”).

The three internal regions in “the historic province of Ulster” are “Monaghan, Cavan, and Donegal” (“Political Geography and People”). But the Leinster province is where you begin to find one of the country’s most highly populated and prosperous cities; the nation’s capital and “primate city, ” Dublin, along with “Louth, Meath, Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Laoighis, ” make up this partially significant province (de Blij and Muller 55, “Political Geography and People”).

The most prominent province, on the other hand, is Munster; the “EU (European Union) success story’s” other major economic powerhouses are located here: Cork, Limerick, and Waterford (the latter is especially well-known for its multimillion-dollar limestone-ring industry) (de Blij and Muller 80). What comprises the Connacht province may not be nearly as economically efficient as the other three counties. Yet, nonetheless, “Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, Mayo, and Sligo” are thriving rural communities (agribusiness accounts for “8.4 percent” of the entire island’s Gross Domestic Product) that have continued to grow since “the ‘Celtic Tiger’ period” of nearly a decade ago (“Political Geography and People, ” Business and Economy).

Current Economic Conditions/Infrastructure:

In the past decade or so, Ireland has truly established itself as one of the European Union’s fastest-growing economic sectors, “with a GDP per capita second only to” that of Luxembourg ($38,308) (U. S. Dept. of State). The most recent estimates show “a real GDP growth of just above 5 percent, ” thanks in large part to “high growth rates, low inflation, balance of payment surpluses, and sound public finances” over the past few years (U. S. Dept. of State, Business and Economy). In the “long-term” (i. e. from now until 2015), it’s highly likely that Ireland will continue to provide healthy economic “growth prospects” for both U. S.companies and developing domestic businesses (U. S. Dept. of State).

“The punt, ” or the Irish pound, was the main “exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System” for most of the latter years of the 20th century (Business and Economy). This all changed, however, when the republic won a position in the European Monetary Union as a pioneer in the development of the Euro, “the new European currency” that was successfully “launched on January 1, 1999” (Business and Economy).

“Many U. S. businesses find Ireland” to be a particularly “attractive” destination for strong industrial investment, ripe employment opportunities, new cutting-edge technologies, and export capabilities (U. S. Dept. of State). In fact, the island itself “has a higher proportion of young people in full-time education” than those who live and work in the U. S. alone (Business and Economy). Thus, ‘low corporation income tax rates” and other promising financial incentives make Ireland all the more important to “a young, educated, mobile, English-speaking work force” residing at home and abroad (Business and Economy, U. S. Dept. of State).

“The republic’s industries now account for 80 percent of its exports, ” and the computer and telecommunications systems in the country are “one of the most advanced and sophisticated” in all of Europe (“Economy, ” Business and Economy). In 2005, there were “more than 570 U. S. subsidiaries” in Ireland who employed “approximately 90.000 people” to work in the manufacturing sector of “high-tech electronics, ” computer hardware and software, and state-of-the-art health care and “pharmaceuticals” (U. S. Dept. of State). These products, of course, make up a huge percentage of Irish exports to the U. S. as well as Irish imports from the U. S.

“The International Financial Services Centre” in Dublin has helped the Irish capital and its neighboring cities become an economic engine “for international banking, captive insurance and reinsurance, treasury management, and fund management” (Business and Economy). Unlike some of the other major cities in Europe, though, Dublin and its Irish urban counterparts can take better advantage of “special tax incentives, special tax concessions for unit trusts, low rents, ” ten-year-no-property taxes, “and 100 percent capital allowances against profits” (Business and Economy).

Although the Irish have gotten increasingly used to the tech and banking sector for higher national income potential, it’s not to be forgotten that agribusiness still accounts for “about 70 percent of the land and 13 percent of the work force” in the country (“Economy”). The main agricultural enterprise is “the raising of dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs, ” poultry, and other livestock, which, altogether, “accounts for over 85 percent of total output” (“Economy, ” Business and Economy). On a similar economic note, the country’s leading crops (and main exports to the U. S. ) are “flax, oats, wheat, turnips, potatoes, sugar beets, and barley” (“Economy”). In 2004, these crops, along with world-renowned alcoholic beverages, chemicals, iron ore products, linen and laces, machinery, transportation equipment, textiles and clothing, glassware, and electronic data processing equipment, combined to a value of “$27.4 billion” in Irish-to-U. S. exports, a “6 percent” gain “compared to 2003” (U. S. Dept. of State).

As mentioned earlier in this country profile, the “Waterford crystal” industry is one of the best-known diamond-ring businesses of its kind in Europe and probably around the world (“Economy”). Along with these expensive crystals, or limestones, Ireland’s other main natural resources are “zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper, iron, gypsum, dolomite, ” peat bog, “and coal” (U. S Dept. of State). The natural gas and oil “are produced offshore, ” whereas the other natural resources stated before are either mined or produced “around the free port of the Shannon” river (“Economy”).

In addition to telecommunications, computers, agriculture, banking, and natural resources, tourism continues to thrive in “the Irish State” nowadays (State and Government). “Almost 6 million” visitors come from overseas here every year, “about 22 percent” of which are “from the U. S” (Tourism). The most recent estimates available prove that the number of visitors to the scenic island in the British Isles “grew by 4 percent with the North American Market growing by over 6 percent” (Tourism). In 2003, the Irish Government “established Failte Ireland as the new National Tourism Development Authority” (Tourism). The Irish tourism organization “provides a one-stop-shop for strategic and practical support to develop and sustain Ireland as a high-quality and competitive tourist destination” (Tourism).

A Brief Political History of Ireland:

The sudden beginning of the Iron Age in the fourth century B. C. marked the arrival “of the Celts, a tall, energetic people” whose rich cultural ideology “had spread across Europe and Great Britain in the preceding centuries” (U. S. Dept. of State). They “and their more numerous predecessors divided” themselves “into five kingdoms, ” thus allowing them to spread their traditions and customs in the otherwise unfortunate face of “constant strife” (U. S. Dept. of State).

The most significant changes in this burgeoning civilization brought “the coming of Christianity from across the Irish Sea” (U. S. Dept. of State). The earlier “pagan druid tradition” started to fall apart as the spread of this popular religious doctrine marked the proliferation “of Latin and Greek learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished” (U. S. Dept. of State). The missionaries who practiced Christianity in these monasteries traveled “forth from England to Ireland” and back to spread the enlightening “news of the flowering” of such unique forms of learning (U. S. Dept. of State). As a result, “scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries” to learn something they may have never experienced for themselves before (U. S. Dept. of State).

Over “two hundred years of Viking invasion” and colonization “was later followed by an Anglo-Norman conquest” during the Middle Ages (U. S. Dept. of State). The long, bloody conquest eventually resulted in the full-fledged integration “of Norman settlers into Irish society” (U. S. Dept. of State). The early 1600s marked a new yet troubled era for Ireland’s distinctive political and religious mosaic. “Scottish and English Protestants” were “sent as colonists to the North of Ireland and the Pale around” the city of Dublin, and the result was a consistently deadly conflict between the Irish Catholics (U. S. Dept. of State). It should come as no surprise that “Ireland was an official part of the United Kingdom” during the 1800’s and into the first two decades of the 20th century (U. S. Dept. of State). The dawn of the 19th century marked the Irish Parliament passage of “the Act of Union with Great Britain, ” and religious freedom, as a result, “was restored” after centuries of political repression (U. S. Dept. of State). However, “this victory for the Irish Catholic majority” quickly became “overshadowed by a severe economic depression, ” which, in part, triggered the Irish Potato Famine of 1846-48 (U. S. Dept. of State). This extremely devastating economic crisis cost the lives of millions, and “the millions that emigrated” sparked the first mass exodus “of Irish emigration to the United States” (U. S. Dept. of State).

Nationalism played a prominent role in Irish politics, particularly during the late 19th century. A nationalist, or “open political movement, ” known as Sinn Fein (“Ourselves Alone”) was established close to the start of the 1900’s (U. S. Dept. of State). But it wasn’t until 1918 that the first elected deputies of the party “constituted themselves as the first Dáil (House of Representatives)” under the authoritative leadership of Éamon de Valera (State and Government). Even worse, the British tendency to crackdown on Sinn Fein’s political methodology quickly “ignited the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921” (U. S. Dept. of State).

After the war between the British and the Irish rebels, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 established an island of “26 counties within the British Commonwealth” that “recognized the partition of the island in to Ireland and Northern Ireland, though supposedly as a temporary measure” (U. S. Dept. of State). However, politics once again took a turn for the worse when “a significant Irish minority” started to accuse the British monarchy of having “subordinate ties” to the “partition of the island” (U. S. Dept. of State). This thus led to a “bitter civil war” between Irish and British factions in 1922 and until 1923 (U. S. Dept. of State).

In 1932, de Valera “became Prime Minister, and a new Irish constitution was enacted” on December 29, 1937 (U. S. Dept. of State). Because the Irish government policies of his tenure emphasized neutrality, de Valera felt that the state of Ireland “should stay out of” the hands of Nazi Germany and the Allied powers during World War II (“Irish Neutrality”). However, the country’s neutrality was internally threatened when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) “sought to provoke” their own confrontation between the United Kingdom and independent Ireland (“Irish Neutrality”). Fortunately, the threat of retaliation from the IRA began to dissipate when the Nazis “came to realize” that “they had overestimated the abilities of the IRA” (“Irish Neutrality”). The ruling government “formally declared Ireland a republic in 1948, ” but it wasn’t named “the Republic of Ireland” because of its acknowledgement to the once-disputed “partition” (U. S. Dept. of State).

Current Political Situation:

Ireland is now a stable “parliamentary democracy based on common law and legislation enacted by parliament, ” or the “Houses of the Oireachtas, ” under the Irish Constitution (State and Government). Its largest political party is Fianna Fail, which “was formed by those who opposed the 1921 treaty that partitioned the island” (U. S. Dept. of State). The country’s second largest party, on the other hand, is Fine Gael, which was, more or less, formed by those who backed the treaty signed on “December 6, 1921” (U. S. Dept. of State). Labour, the Progressive Democrats, the independent Green Party, as well as Sinn Fein, are other parties crucial to Ireland’s democratic political process. Mary McAlesse made Irish history when she became the first female President, or “Head of State, ” of Ireland in November 1997 (State and Government). She won by a landslide as a result of being “elected by direct vote of the people, ” which is normally the case if “more than one candidate” is running for “a seven-year term” in “Irish office” (State and Government).

The two current Houses of Parliament are the Dáil and the Seanad (Senate). The Dáil’s “166 members” are “elected on a system of proportional representation by universal suffrage, ” which takes place “at least once every five years” (State and Government). The Seanad, on the other hand, “has 60 members, 11 of whom are nominated by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), while the rest are elected from a number of vocational panels” and university graduates (State and Government). The latter House of Parliament, for that matter, may make amendments to the Irish Constitution, but the Dáil is ultimately responsible for rejecting “any such amendments or legislation” proposed by the Seanad (State and Government).

The General National Elections in May of 2002 resulted in Fianna Fail’s and the Progressive Democrat coalition’s return to power. “Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was re-elected Taoiseach, ” or head of the executive branch of the Irish Government, while Mary Harney won a second term “as Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister)” (U. S. Dept. of State).

Both “local and European elections, ” as well as “a referendum on Irish citizenship, ” took place in June of 2004 (U. S. Dept. of State). Ireland granted “citizenship through birth on Irish soil” not too long ago, which, by far, makes their citizenship laws “among the most liberal in the European Union” (U. S. Dept. of State). However, growing “concerns about security and social welfare abuse” allowed the Government “to bring citizenship laws into line” with the stricter policies “prevalent in the rest of Europe (U. S. Dept. of State). Fortunately, this challenged measure was righteously “passed by a wide majority” of both popular and electoral votes later that month (U. S. Dept. of State).

Future Cultural, Political, Social, and/or Economic Challenges and/or Opportunities:

Since the country’s integration into the “European Economic Community (now the EU) on January 1, 1973, ” Ireland has seen itself grow “from a largely agricultural society” to “a modern, technologically advanced” economy that could continue to blossom at a steady pace in the 21st century (Ireland’s International Relations, Business and Economy). Its EU membership “is a central framework” that will, more likely than not, continue to allow the Government to pursue its objectives in stabilizing foreign and domestic affairs and “globalized” economics (Ireland’s International Relations). On five very special occasions, Ireland held a “six-month Presidency of the EU” position “in 1975, 1979, 1984, 1990, and 1996” (Ireland’s International Relations).

The republic will also continue to commit itself with the “traditional policy of promoting a stable, peaceful, and prosperous international environment” that’s “based on the rule of law, respect for human rights, and strong representative government” (Ireland’s International Relations). Since joining the United Nations on December 14, 1955, Ireland has advocated and will probably continue “to promote effective international action” on nuclear disarmament, peacekeeping operations, human rights, and global economic development in the next few decades or so (Ireland’s International Relations).

Ever since the latter part of the 20th century, “the traditionally strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church” has continued to decline, thus granting “those who believe in freedom of choice” and religion more liberal or contemporary Western values (“Country Profile: Ireland”). It is, by far, not impossible to imagine a staggering increase in single-parent, unwed-couple, and/or “mixed-family” households in the next few decades or less. Although abortion rights have yet to be legalized, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, and other social, sexual, and political issues have started to become a bit more acceptable in Irish society, even if those who continued to preserve their Irish cultural mores and customs are still not willing to see these changes for the greater good.

What may not change in the near or distant future is the ongoing rift between Britain, Northern Ireland, and the independent island itself. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement managed to improve the longstanding “animosity between Irish Catholics and Protestants, ” but there’s still a very long way to go for Northern Ireland to be unified with Ireland (U. S. Dept. of State). “’Nationalist and ‘republican’ groups, ” including Sinn Fein, want a fully “united Ireland, while ‘unionists’ and loyalists’” seek a Northern Ireland that’s both physically and politically the same as it is now (i. e. a part of the United Kingdom) (U. S. Dept. of State). It may not be so much of a question of if, but when, “a majority” of those living north of and in the island itself will vote for a Northern Ireland that “could become a part of Ireland” (U. S. Dept. of State). Only several conflicted years away may tell. . .

Embassy of Ireland, Washington, D. C. Ireland’s International Relations. 19 Jun. 2006

Embassy of Ireland, Washington, D. C. Business and Economy. 19 Jun. 2006

Works Cited:

de Blij, H. J. , and Peter O. Muller. “Republic of Ireland. ” Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. 12th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. , 2006. 55,80.

United States Dept. of State. Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Country Background Note: Ireland Dec. 2005. 16 June 2006 http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3180.htm

Loughlin, Joe O. “Irish Neutrality. ” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia 18 Jun.2006. 11 Jul. 2006 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_neutrality

Embassy of Ireland, Washington, D. C. State and Government. 19 Jun. 2006 http://www.irelandemb.org/govt.html

Embassy of Ireland, Washington, D. C. Gaeilge. 19 Jun. 2006 http://www.irelandemb.org/gaeilge.html

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