Society

The Irish People - Cultures of the World

Despite the influence the Irish culture has had globally, they are threatened with the loss of their native Gaelic tongue in their homeland.

5. Description

Ireland itself has a population of about 6.3 million people, while it is estimated that around 70 million people worldwide share a genetic link to Irish heritage. Irish or Irish Gaelic is the original language spoken by the Irish people, and this language belongs to the family of Indo-European languages, and originated in Ireland. Currently, it enjoys the status of being the national and official language of Ireland. However, English still continues to exert its dominating effects over Gaelic Irish throughout much of the country. Currently, 85% of the island of Ireland (predominately Catholic) is designated as the Republic of Ireland, while the remaining part, referred to as Northern Ireland (predominately Protestant), is still under British rule. Archaeological studies have claimed that Ireland has been inhabited for around 9,000 years. Some of the earliest inhabitants of Ireland were believed to be the Gaelic People, who were of Celtic origins. In the 9th and 10th Centuries AD, Ireland was fiercely attacked by the Vikings, which were groups of seafaring warriors from what are now the Scandinavian countries. In 853, Danes invaded Ireland, and Danish settlers began to inhabit the region and adopted Christianity. From the late 12th Century until the 1400’s, Ireland witnessed the Norman invasion of Ireland, and the Normans started occupying lands along the eastern coast of the island. In the 15th Century, the British monarchy took control over the entirety of Ireland, and the laws of England prevailed there. This led to the infiltration of a large number of English and Lowland Scots into Ireland in the 16th and 17th Centuries, and their settlement as a separate ethnic group in the northern parts of Ireland. On the other hand, wars, famines, and economic depression led to the emigration of large numbers of Irish people to such foreign (and newly discovered) countries as the United States, Canada, and Australia, as well as to the United Kingdom.

4. Architecture

The architectural style of Ireland has transformed significantly over time, being heavily influenced by the political scenario and social conditions prevailing during each of the respective eras. Little evidence of prehistoric Irish architecture remains today due to the nomadic life of the ancient inhabitants of Ireland, as well as the use of wood (which rapidly decomposes) instead of stone in these early constructions. However, burial sites dating to as far back as 3,500 years have been discovered, with court graves and passage graves being some of the predominant features of these ancient burial sites. Early Christian Ireland presented ring forts, or "raths", as some of the most notable architectural examples of that period. The ring forts were small, roughly circular settlements surrounded by earthen embankments. Improvements in raths involved the building of stone-walled ring forts, castles, hill forts, promontory forts, and crannogs.

Beginning in the 8th Century, a few stone churches were constructed and served as the earliest reminders of ancient Christian buildings in Ireland. Later, the Romanesque style influenced church buildings, with the Cormac’s Chapel of the early 12th Century being evidence of this fact. A trend of constructing round, stone towers (cloigtheacha or “bell-houses") in churches and monasteries across Ireland started in the 10th Century. These tall, narrow, and elegant towers were built as defensive structures, specifically to serve as lookout posts or places to seek refuge in during troubled times. The first buildings in Ireland, inculcating the Gothic style of architecture, were built during the late 12th Century, and were patronized by the Anglo-Normans. The cathedral churches in Dublin were one of the best representations of this style, with their pointed lancet windows and ‘stiff-leaf’ capitals. A number of castles, such as the Bunratty Castle, the Carrickfergus Castle, and the Castle at Cahir, represent Norman architectural examples from Medieval Ireland. The Palladian architecture was introduced into Ireland in the early 18th Century, and its most famous example is said to be the Castletown House, built by the Irish architect Edward Lovett Pearce. In the latter part of the 18th Century, the Georgian style of architecture prevailed in Ireland. Some of the most famous buildings of this era included the Four Courts, the Custom House, and the King’s Inns, the latter being built by the London-born architect James Gandon. British architecture heavily influenced 19th Century Ireland, and some of the most prominent Irish buildings today, including the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, and the National Gallery of Ireland, were built during this period.

3. Cuisine

Traditional Irish cuisine is plain and simple with only a few basic ingredients, and thereofre involves a minimal amount of spices and herbs. The staples of Irish cuisine include grains, dairy products, and, of course, potatoes, after they were introduced to Ireland in the 16th Century from the New World. Being an island nation surrounded by water, seafood has also long been abundantly available in this country, and the Irish thus enjoy a variety of seafood items like lobsters, oysters, and salmon. When discussing Irish dishes with others, Irish stew is worth mentioning. Besides the stew, other well-known traditional Irish dishes include those involving colcannon, coddle, boxty, bacon, and cabbage. Bread also finds an important place in Irish cuisine, with fresh Irish soda bread being a national staple dish of Ireland. The Irish love to consume tea, which is the most common beverage in Ireland. Irish coffee, which is coffee combined with whiskey and whipped cream, is a world famous Irish beverage as well, and the Irish are known to be lovers of adult beverages.

2. Cultural Significance

Despite being a small country, the Irish contribution to global literature is quite significant. Both English and Gaelic literary works have been produced in Ireland and earned fame worldwide. The 18th Century saw the proliferation of Bardic poetry, and poets like Jonathan Swift and Oliver Goldsmith produced some of their most significant work during this time. In the 19th Century, Irish poets wrote in English, often translating bardic poetry and ancient Gaelic verses into English, often using stories from Celtic mythology to inspire them as they penned their poems. The immortal poet W.B. Yeats produced some of his early works during this period.

In the 20th Century, Irish poets were divided between those who were influenced by the early Celtic styles of poetry and those who followed Modernism, such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Irish fiction captured the world's attention during the 18th Century, especially with the works of Jonathan Swift and Oliver Goldsmith. Some of the immortal fictional writings contributed by the Irish writers include James Joyce’s ‘Uysses’ (1922) and ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ (1916), Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1890) and ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ (1895), Flann O’Brien’s ‘At Swim Two Birds’ (1939), and Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ (1726). Besides literature, Ireland has contributed its own folk music and dance to the global cultural landscape. The harp is a traditional Irish musical instrument that was popularly used by Irish musicians between the 10th and 17th Centuries. In 1762, the first written record of Irish music was compiled by the Neale Brothers, legendary Irish musicians. Presently, every year the annual Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, an Irish music festival, is held to encourage traditional Irish musicians and their art. Ireland’s ‘Republic of Ireland Film Industry’ has also contributed significant film productions like ‘My Left Foot’ (1989), ‘Intermission’ (2001) and’ Man about Dog’ (2004), to the global film scene. In the field of sports, Gaelic football is the most popular sport of Ireland, and is one of the oldest games played in this region.

1. Threats

Similar to the situation in other parts of the world, globalization has also taken its toll on the Irish culture. In the past, the Irish pubs were typically family owned and operated business, known for their small, cosy interiors. These encouraged conversations and social interactions against a backdrop of soft, Irish folk music. However, these traditional Irish pubs, promoting warmth and fraternity, are being gradually replaced by modern trophy pubs, which are owned by large corporations and promote a pub culture based on loud music and heavy drinking. The Irish diet is now heavily influenced by the "fast food culture" of the U.S.A., as well as other major global cuisines. The proliferation of these new, often unhealthy, food habits has led to an increase in the incidence of obesity and lifestyle-related diseases among the people of the country. Perhaps the greatest threat to Ireland’s culture of all is the diminishing utilization of the Irish language. It is already regarded as being an "endangered language" by the UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Even though courses in the Irish language have been made mandatory in schools across Ireland, only 1.8% of its population actually use the language in their daily communications. The dire status of the Irish language was probably the result of longstanding British rule in Ireland, and the dominant position occupied by the English language in the country during that period. Today, continuous efforts are being made by the Government of Ireland to restore the status of the Irish language and protect it from extinction.

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