Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change, 1970-2000

Clair Wills writes:

Ireland today is the place you are most likely to be happy. Your desire for a robust and rising standard of living, political freedom, strong bonds with your extended family, a marriage that survives, even a decent climate – all these wishes are most likely to be granted in the Irish Republic. At least this was the case in 2005, when Ireland came top – the UK was 29th – in an Economist survey of ‘quality of life’ in more than a hundred countries. The key to Irish happiness in this account lies in the way the country has managed the transition to a late capitalist economy without – yet – dissolving the traditional bonds of society. Or rather the ‘traditional’ has been pared down to just the right, reassuring dose of community life. Marriage, stripped of its sacramental quality and more recently robbed of many of its tax advantages, has become increasingly irrelevant: in 2002 one sixth of Irish couples with a child under five were unmarried, though a good proportion could still count on a family member to help out with childcare. For all the soulless appearance of the new towns mushrooming outside Dublin, and the endless traffic jams, the Irish still spend less time commuting and more of their social life with their families than people who live in countries with longer histories of industrialisation. (Those of us for whom Sunday lunch with the in-laws is the stuff of horror fiction must assume for the moment that this is a good thing.)

(LRB 3 July 2008)

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