Can these numbers be real?

by on March 28, 2013 at 4:03 am in History, Religion | Permalink

So asks Devon P, who adds:

Seems like too drastic of a change in 27 years to believe.

“According to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, in 1984, nearly 90 percent of Irish Catholics went to weekly Mass. In 2011, only 18 percent did.”

The link is here.

MR_Greg March 28, 2013 at 4:15 am

Fuggin right those numbers are real… Tha church has been selling a faulty product for decades and, with each passing generation, their customer base dwindles.

P.S. I have a friend named Dave that told me the new pope likes to take naps during mass.

anon March 28, 2013 at 9:21 am

Tha church has been selling a faulty product for decades

If the Catholic Church has been selling a faulty product, then it has been doing so for a few thousand years, not decades.

In the US, Mass attendance started dropping in the late 1960s and the 1970s. (Do your own Google searches.)

Tolkien said:
“Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’.”

http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/lor_5.htm

dearieme March 28, 2013 at 10:57 am

“for a few thousand years”: come now. The Roman Catholic Church in the modern sense didn’t exist until the great flounce-out from the rest of Christendom in 1054.

The Original D March 28, 2013 at 3:12 pm

My thoughts exactly. Whenever someone says something has been going on for thousands of years, my radar blips. Even yoga, in the US, is only about 100 years old.

Elwin March 28, 2013 at 3:57 pm

The Great Schism didn’t happen until 1054, but depending on who you ask, Rome and the Eastern church had been steadily moving apart for 500-800 years prior to the “official” schism.

TheOtherBill March 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm

The Bishop of Rome aka Pope was the main power player and spiritual authority in Italy and Western Europe for most of the Dark Ages. The pope intervened during the Lombard invasions and crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor long before 1054.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_States

“didn’t exist in the modern sense”
I’m not sure what that means. Care to clarify?

tammy March 28, 2013 at 4:18 am

“in 1984, nearly 90 percent of Irish Catholics went to weekly Mass.” Are you joking!?! Why would you believe someone who says that 90 percent of these people travel weekly to Massachusetts? I’m sure some of them don’t even live in the Northeast. Holy moley that’s some wasted petrol!

sam March 28, 2013 at 8:22 am

* Holy moley that’s some wasted petroly

Ronald Brak March 28, 2013 at 4:30 am

There was nothing good on telly in 1984. Now people are wallowing in entertainment. You can’t expect the Catholic Church to compete with that. The child abuse didn’t help either. As far as I can tell, guitar playing, cool nuns from the 1970s only ever existed on American TV. With such a large portion of the population having a whacked by a nun story the hard part is working out why church attendance stayed so high for so long.

Richard Besserer March 28, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I can assure all here that I never got much trouble from brothers or nuns that I have any resaon to believ at this stage was anything but my own fault. (It helped I was the school nerd. The teachers liked me better than the children did. I digress.)

But yeah, RTE was just awful. I remember at one point when I was a kid during the early Eighties “Bog TV” was reduced to showing animated public service announcements made by the National Film Board of Canada, there was so little money for children’s programming that wasn’t reruns of Bosco (goody two-shoes puppet who lived in a box—“bosca” in Irish—spoke English and pharsebook Irish, and was the laughingstock of every Irish child old enough to know better). Pretty much everyone who could afford it got British channels piped in via cable so they could watch something decent. Emigration by TV, Irish style.

Later in the Eighties we got Zig and Zag though (two other puppets who liked messing around behind the childen’s presenters back when he was trying to introduce the next program—for obvious reasons, kids of all ages liked them a lot better). So things did get better, slowly.

Aidan March 28, 2013 at 4:52 am

As an Irish person, the numbers look about right to me. The Irish Catholic Church is fast becoming a sort of births, deaths and marriages service. The very lack of any external threat has made it harder for the church to combat its demise: the Irish are not converting to another religion, they’re just no longer interested in their own. Given that there is now abundant evidence that pedophelia among priests had been covered up by the religious and lay authorities for many decades before the scandals broke, it seem to have been more of a case of the scandals only being able to come to light because of the church’s collapsing moral authority than of the church’s authority collapsing as a result of the cover-ups.

DocMerlin March 28, 2013 at 6:15 am

Kids are still way more likely to be sexually abused by teachers then priests, but the teachers have a good lobby.

Brent March 28, 2013 at 6:51 am

Family members are still the most probable candidates. Then again, if the sex is voluntary, I can’t say I care. Kids are often stupid, but stupid people are still able to consent to sex. It’s not rocket science.

The “abuse” part is authority abuse, not sex per se. And it’s generally healthy for a society if religious authority erodes.

Fallibilist March 28, 2013 at 8:19 am

What. The. Fukc.

Tarrou March 28, 2013 at 9:01 am

Welcome to the next social push. I’ve made my prediction, pedophilia will be the “gay” of the 21st century. Opposed by all right-thinking people until it isn’t.

Brent March 28, 2013 at 10:08 am

Tarrou, I’m not socially pushing for anything; I think people on both sides place far too much value on gay marriage, relative to its social impact. I’m just personally tired of pretending sex is violence until everyone is 18.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 8:21 am

Silly response to a serious issue. First, in Ireland, the teachers and the priests were often the same people. Second, the biggest problem for the Church in Ireland is the systemic conspiracy to cover up the initial crimes, apparently approved by the highest hierarchy figures (including the most senior Catholic cleric on the island).

Finch March 28, 2013 at 9:22 am

I keep hearing that, and it’s plausible. There are, of course, vastly more teachers than priests. But I’d like to see a citation, and I’d like to see whether it means that the fraction of teachers abusing is higher than the fraction of priests abusing. Realistically, how worried do you need to be about any of this?

Dan Weber March 28, 2013 at 11:05 am

how worried do you need to be about any of this?

In the year 2013? Probably not at all. In modern times every organization that deals with kids actively practices some kind of anti-abuse program, designed to make even accusations impossible.

Here’s what the Boy Scouts do. The “two-deep” mechanism is a pretty common model.

English Professor March 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I visited Ireland in the 1970s and was astonished by the number of people attending Church on Sunday morning. Every Mass was packed. I can’t vouch for the 90 percent, but the percentage was clearly very large.

Conor March 28, 2013 at 5:03 am

I think it can be surmised when my 19 year old friend committed suicide 2 years ago. The friends I was sitting with were roughly the same age. Half were bawling in tears. When the priest said “all rise”, one guy said out loud “You didn’t say Simon say’s!” and less than half actually stood up. My friend how killed himself would have done the same honestly so it wasn’t seen as disrespectful. This is how much authority the church has among the new generation of Irish even at a funeral.

anon March 28, 2013 at 5:30 am

Everywhere outside US (and perhaps Middle East) religion is becoming less and less relevant. The stories of religions just seem silly to modern people, their morals are in conflict with those of religions and ceremonies are a very dull way to spend time compared to what the modern entertainment industry has to offer.

In many European countries religious issues never come up politics (unlike in the US). It is not even that atheists have won some battle over people’s hearts; instead the religion has just somehow faded out with majority of people collectively reaching the conclusion that religions are just arbitrary collection of rules and silly beliefs that may have served some social function in the past.

DocMerlin March 28, 2013 at 6:16 am

“In many European countries religious issues never come up politics (unlike in the US).”
Europe is still prosecuting people for blasphemy. The US isn’t.

Andrew' March 28, 2013 at 8:06 am

I get the feeling that Europeans don’t quite get how irrelevant religion is in the US if you just tolerate it.

andy March 28, 2013 at 8:24 am

Funny, probably strongly depends on a country. I just spoke to an American who told me that while there are not many differences between religious american and religious czech regarding attitude to marriage, pretty much everybody in the US is religious while pretty much nobody here is… E.g. if anyone suggested schools should teach ‘intelligent design’ here, he would have absolutely zero chance of being taken seriously.

Andrew' March 28, 2013 at 8:28 am

So, you control teaching tiny children at the continental level over there?

Millian March 28, 2013 at 8:43 am

Last time I checked, the Czech Republic is not a continental power.

Andrew' March 28, 2013 at 9:49 am

Or any kind.

andy March 28, 2013 at 10:05 am

Certainly not. But looking at the US high school boards debating teaching Intelligent Design makes me think, that you in the US have a strange sense for humor….

Horhe March 29, 2013 at 10:21 pm

You can thank the great spiritual cafeteria for that. While Europeans have been languishing in their doctrines for hundreds of years since the last protestant waves, Americans have opened up their religions, especially Christian protestant, to market forces, creating thousands of splinter churches and denominations, most modeled on the local community and each catering to a particular mix of views. They also created the megachurch. If you are a Christian who believes in God, but would like for women to enter the clergy, no celibacy and acceptance of gays, somewhere there’s a lesbian pastor preaching a nice sermon for you. Catholics are still a nice chunk, though falling, but population religiosity is still powerful. Classic economic theory: in Europe, the various branches of Christianity had a nice cartel, stagnated, and began losing their consumer base, while in the US, competition led to flourishing religious sentiment.

PS I remember being highly entertained on the “Yes, Prime Minister” episode where a bishopric was up for grabs, and the secular authorities were reviewing candidates. One of the better ones, from a PR standpoint, was an avowed atheist, to which Sir Humphrey replied that belief in God is not a precondition for the upper management of the Church.

Finch March 28, 2013 at 9:32 am

I think this gets a lot wrong. What’s actually happening is that liberal religion is ceasing to exist. We’re going to be left with the secular and the fundamentalists. This is happening for the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic world, at least. It’s not unique to America. If anything, America is going a little more slowly on this progression.

To atheists this sort of makes sense. If you’re going to believe, why don’t you believe the whole thing? How can you choose to believe in a god but not in the less tasteful things he seems to prescribe? How do you get to pick and choose? That doesn’t seem sustainable, and the evidence seems to be that it is not.

Fundamentalists have major fertility advantages over secular folk. The big question for the future is whether secular fertility is going to rebound. Either way, we’re in for some changes.

Alexei Sadeski March 28, 2013 at 10:31 am

Mormons and Muslims will inherit the earth?

Finch March 28, 2013 at 10:44 am

I think Europeans making fun of American Evangelical Protestants ought to take a long hard look at their own Muslim populations.

Personally, I think secular fertility will rebound, for evolutionary reasons. People differ in their fertility in heritable ways, even among the secular population. But I realize this is not yet a popular view, and the evidence is not yet compelling. The fundamentalists will surely have a big lead to overcome.

Yancey Ward March 28, 2013 at 11:02 am

I don’t think secular fertility will rebound. They will either draw their numbers from the children of the religious, or they will dwindle to nothing. I don’t think they will dwindle to nothing

Finch March 28, 2013 at 11:16 am

> I don’t think secular fertility will rebound.

Then you either don’t believe in evolution, or you believe the single heritable determinant of fertility is religiosity. But as the many marriage threads have shown lately, the secular vary widely in their fertility. What we’re seeing among the secular is a massive die-off of those who don’t value children and think that sex-with-birth-control is really sex. Fundamentalists are just avoiding the pressure in the first place.

derek March 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

Somewhat circular thinking. The really really smart ones have to survive, so they will start having children.

Finch March 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Secular and smart aren’t synonymous either.

But arguably, if you look at all the shocks to fertility, like women’s education and birth control among others, some of those things should hit smart people the hardest. So if you want to test this theory, look for a fertility rebound in the sub-populations where those things hit the hardest first. That isn’t the whole story, since presumably sub-populations differ in their endowment of fertility characteristics that are adaptive to the modern world (and maybe didn’t cause differential fertility in the pre-modern world), but it should be visible.

Alex' March 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

It seems worth noting that the fundamentalists of today would be pretty liberal by the standards of 50-60 years ago.

Finch March 28, 2013 at 11:47 am

I said “liberal religion,” which isn’t the same as liberal politics.

Do the Amish seem particularly milquetoast to you?

derek March 28, 2013 at 11:25 am

It isn’t belief. These catholic countries were not about the population believing. They were about a structure of society around the church, with the church intimately involved in the day to day running of the place, either politics or administration. In Quebec the old folks told stories of how they would ask the priest whether it was a good time to harvest. The Bishop consulted regularly with the provincial Premier.

Attendance at the church services was being part of the community because the church was the community. Where you got married or buried, your business and job prospects, schooling, almost everything was controlled by the church.

Once that structure collapsed or was replaced, the need for attendance at church wasn’t there any more, so the attendance levels changed to reflect belief, with probably a rebound effect. Quebec now has the highest abortion rate and the lowest marriage rate in Canada, a palpable rejection of the strictures of the church.

What I find interesting is the Muslim leadership seems to have watched what happened and are doing their best to prevent the same thing in places where they are as influential and powerful. Keeping people stupid and poor worked for a long time in these Catholic countries, and the Muslim leadership seems intent on the same path.

Horhe March 29, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Most fundamentalists are, inherently, reactionary. They would not exist in the absence of a powerful secular modernity in opposition of which to base themselves. Wahhabism is, like, 200 years old, women in Kabul wore miniskirts in the 70s. So your liberal religious types only existed when they themselves were the mainstream epitome of modernity, as confronted by crusty conservatives and puritans. And neither would they be very liberal when faced with today’s Sodoms and Gomorrahs. Their liberalism was, mostly, relative. This is just another step forward. Besides, yesterday’s radical is today’s conservative.

Denise March 28, 2013 at 6:05 am

Those figures seem completely correct – I’m only surprised how many are still attending weekly (I would guess they are of an older age profile.)
You need to look at how much Ireland has changed since then. Ireland only voted to allow divorce in 1986 (in referendum), with quite a close vote. Now, Ireland is a very different place. Part of that difference is a lack of power of the church (eg more secular schools, or schools removed from church control) and also a lack of trust or reverence for the church, following the high levels of scandal that have emerged.

Statspotting March 28, 2013 at 6:08 am

Solid stat. Spotted :-)

Brent March 28, 2013 at 6:13 am

There are too many Richard Dawkins lectures on youtube now. The fallacies and fairy tales just don’t go unchallenged anymore. In the past, people could just swallow vagueness and smile and nod.

But now it is impossible for a theist to go online and say, “Argument from design” without being challenged down to the raw bone of the logical structure.

derek March 28, 2013 at 8:09 am

When I listened to a Dawkin’s lecture I was struck how similar it was in cadence, progression of logic, even the illustrations and expressions to a Baptist minister. Down to the smug self righteousness of the faithful.

Fallibilist March 28, 2013 at 8:25 am

When I listened to a Dawkin’s lecture I was struck how similar it was in cadence, progression of logic, even the illustrations and expressions to a Baptist minister.

Why, if it weren’t for the reliance on evidence, reason, science, logic, skepticism, peer-review, etc., the two would be practically indistinguishable!

anon March 28, 2013 at 9:37 am

Your reference to “science” and “peer-review” made me laugh out loud! Your faith in other people is precious, and reminded me of two GK Chesterton quotes:

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/G._K._Chesterton

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing–they believe in anything.”

YMMV

Major March 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Chesterton was a fool. Christianity is nonsense.

derek March 28, 2013 at 10:56 am

If Dawkins stuck to those things I would agree. But he didn’t. I hadn’t heard him before, hadn’t read him. It was on CBC radio, some lecture in Montreal. I was amazed how much he resembled a preacher with the soaring descriptions of the mystery of evolution, the need to reject the physical limits on thought, the condescension towards unbelievers. It wasn’t a scientific exposition. It was a preacher in front of the faithful.

Major March 28, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Note how Derek’s comments contain no substantive content. No quotes. No citations. No references to anything specific that Dawkins said. Just vague and unsubstantiated accusations of condescension and smugness.

Brent March 30, 2013 at 8:42 am

While the tone of the New Atheists was indeed sometimes condescending or evangelizing, I was usually impressed by the willingness to engage with the other side’s arguments on a factual level. This is typically lacking in religious sermons, almost by definition.

However, I did resent the euphemistic description of evolution Dawkins and Dennett embraced sometimes.

ad*m March 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Right. Here is your secular hero on Islam, after stating that God of the Torah is the most unpleasant character in fiction, of course relying for this opinion on evidence, reason, science, logic, skepticism:

“Well, um, the God of the Koran I don’t know so much about”.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323884304578328623023366296.html

Major March 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Your linked article is behind a paywall, so your claims about its content cannot be verified.

Tom West March 28, 2013 at 10:20 am

Everything I’ve seen of the “Church of Dawkins” leads me to believe that it attracts much the same sort of follower that fundamentalists do. The actual underlying tenets are completely secondary to everything that surrounds it.

I’m quite convinced Dawkins keeps more people who don’t believe in God from identifying themselves as atheists than any fear of the church or its power.

Fallibilist March 28, 2013 at 10:33 am


I’m quite convinced Dawkins keeps more people who don’t believe in God from identifying themselves as atheists than any fear of the church or its power.

Well, if Tom West is “quite convinced,” then I guess that settles it!

Major March 28, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Everything I’ve seen of the “Church of Dawkins” leads me to believe that it attracts much the same sort of follower that fundamentalists do.

My, what a powerful argument you have there.

Larry Siegel March 31, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Humph. There is no Church of Dawkins. I admire his writing, as I do that of many other people of varying persuasions.

Major March 28, 2013 at 1:13 pm

When I listened to a Dawkin’s lecture I was struck how similar it was in cadence, progression of logic, even the illustrations and expressions to a Baptist minister. Down to the smug self righteousness of the faithful.

Then you didn’t understand it.

Tarrou March 28, 2013 at 8:18 am

I actually think it has little to nothing to do with the rise of “new atheism” and more to do with crumbling social networks. Youtube has more to do with it than Dawkins.

mrB March 28, 2013 at 7:06 am

The numbers seem pretty accurate to me,
In the 80’s I would see pretty close to everyone from my school at mass most weekends.
The odd time I’ve gone in the last few years there’s a very skewed demographic left (mainly people in there 60’s)

I think this was already changing rapidly in the late 80’s and 90’s (pre major child abuse)
Hard to attribute how much of the accelerated trend is due to the abuse revelations etc.

A quick look on line and I see that in 1987 there were 150 priests ordaned, this year the class has 12.

derek March 28, 2013 at 7:34 am

I would say that from 1960-1987 (maybe shift the years a bit) a similar thing happened in Quebec. I don’t think it was in the 90% range when I lived there in the 70’s, but it had already started changing. I have described it as in 1970 most went to church, by 1980 most didn’t but felt guilty about it, by 1990 those who went were considered a bit nutty.

When I see the Moslem countries where the mosque is involved in politics as an influence and a means of delivering the power of the population to a leader, where most are practicing moslems, it reminds me of Quebec before the quiet revolution. Probably Ireland and Italy as well, but no personal experience. The social changes in catholic countries within a generation are almost unbelievable.

Ted Craig March 28, 2013 at 7:41 am

Further proof that the First Amendment was the greatest gift to religion ever.

Tarrou March 28, 2013 at 8:15 am

My thought. Enforcing church norms requires the participation of the community. People don’t go to church because they love Jesus, or Mohammed. They go because they want to see their friends, and conversely they don’t want the “Sooo……didn’t see you at (church, mass, mosque) this past week” conversation. Once a community hits critical mass (no pun intended) of non-church-goers, the numbers plummet quite quickly. If these numbers are real, and I think it eminently possible that they are, it is because Ireland has gone over that social cliff. The Church undermined its own moral authority with the abuse scandals, and that fed a broader apathetic surge among the younger generations, and once that hit a certain stage, it takes on a life of its own, not necessarily caused by the abuse, but influenced by it.

David March 28, 2013 at 8:32 am

Does seem a bit extreme. I suspect at least part of what’s happening is that over 27 years attendance has dropped dramatically and as a result it’s become more acceptable to admit to not going. So the extent of under-reporting of non-attendance at mass has decreased along with an actual decrease in attendance.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 8:47 am

But I can easily imagine that in 1984, in the days when my grandparents were at the prime of their lives, 90% Mass attendance was credible. They lived in a mental world in which non-attendance was unimaginable, either by us or by their neighbours. There’s a selection effect here, but anecdotal evidence suggests that even sending one’s children to non-denominational schools was regarded as outré and quasi-Masonic, never mind a lack of attendance at weekly religious services.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 8:40 am

At last, a topic on which I can provide anecdotal evidence. I find the numbers completely credible. 1. Irish real GDP per capita more than doubled. Real incomes probably doubled. People replaced Catholicism with other forms of leisure and social events, while the state expanded its provision of basic welfare-state payments and services which were once dominated by the Church. 2. Ireland may have had the worst Catholic sex abuse scandals in the world, including obstruction of the secular justice system by the Catholic hierarchy. These two points are by far the most important. 3. Falling vocations have weakened Catholic Church’s ability to provide education (and healthcare). Non-religious teachers means weaker faith formation, a weaker ability of priests to monitor and punish pupils whose parents don’t attend church, and a smaller role for the church as a community focal point. 4. Free secondary education was introduced in 1960, which had a cohort effect on education levels that has almost percolated through society by now, but which hadn’t done so by 1984. 5. Dublin is Ireland’s largest city by a long distance, it’s Ireland’s biggest “college town”, and Irish people are highly mobile. Therefore, there is a large selection bias towards people who enjoy urban living, which usually means they are non-observant. Attendances are stronger outside Dublin. 6. Thirty years is a generation, so this is not such a rapid change after all.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

A correction to the quote in the article: I should note that, as far as I’m aware, Archbishop Martin was talking about his own diocese of Dublin when comparing 90% to 18%. That’s why the fall is so striking, and that’s why I made point 5 about Dublin’s place in Ireland.

Em March 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

I have more anecdotal evidence that’s not linked to scandals, etc. Mass in Ireland is mechanical to the point of being depressing. My immediate family is very observant and still my father and I dread going to mass when we’re in Ireland, even if on Sunday it’s only 45 minutes long due to cutting out all the music and truncating any sort of homily. When family comes here to visit they always comment on how spiritual mass is. I think competition with more charismatic faiths makes local parishes keep their A-game up. Not that mass should be entertainment, but it should at least not be actively depressing.

Martin Luther March 28, 2013 at 10:11 am

Typical Papist drivel. Mass should be a reminder that you are a poor sinner, whose only hope is the relief of the Lord. Mass isn’t a wellness treatment.

Richard Besserer March 28, 2013 at 11:21 am

Good Lord, the “spiritual” and “charismatic” rubbish was what I hated about Mass in America (my mother gradually became less observant after we left Ireland, and my father never had been, but for a few years we still went). Hymns badly sung at the congregation and they trying to pray. Now and again is fine—I never minded them at Christmas or Easter—but every Sunday? Come on. It made Mass longer than it really had to be too. How anyone stood for it I had no idea. I still don’t.

Richard Besserer March 28, 2013 at 11:49 am

Actually, the terminal decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland raises another question of interest to historians and economists—to what extent its decline removes the rationale for an independent Irish Republic, as opposed to a non-sovereign member of the United Kingdom or (far more likely at this stage) of a United States of Europe. The Unionist slogan “Home Rule is Rome Rule” was closer to the truth than it’s often admitted—the Church had a far easier time maintaining control of its flock in an independent Ireland where it could control the educational system and censor the media than it ever could in an Ireland that was part of a multi-faith United Kingdom, even in one where Catholics had been emancipated.

Ireland’s Europhilia has often been explained in part as a tacit admission that Irish independence was a mistake—Ireland remained economically dependent on Britain but lost its ability to influence British economic policy and trade freely with Britain. It’s been clear for a long time that Northern Ireland may leave the UK at its convenience; however, interest in union with the Republic is at record lows. (Ireland has never really even had her own monetary policy in modern times—a currency board backed Irish pounds one-to-one with British pounds till 1979.)

Of course, much as I would have enjoyed the spectacle of Brian Cowen going cap in hand to London asking Westminster’s terms for restoration of the union and assumption of Ireland’s debt, Irish independence is probably irreversible, if only because governing Ireland was costlier for Britain than it was worth. Membership in and free trade and currency union with a strong European federation is the next best thing, for all its other faults.

That and we were never actually Britain’s GDR—no thanks to the church, mind you. People could leave, and did.

Tarrou March 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm

I doubt that catholicism was anything more than a cloak for nationalism in Ireland, much as it is anywhere else. It just made it easier to blow up the opposition because they were of a different religion. Hell, the Ulster protestants had the same issue, “A protestant parliament for a protestant people” and all that. It’s not really about religion, but religion is so intertwined with the conception of in-group that it becomes an inseparable part of the package that is nationalism. I guess what I’m saying is that Ireland would have struggled for political independence even if Britain had stayed catholic, though maybe (and it’s a big maybe) not so violently.

TheOtherBill March 28, 2013 at 5:52 pm

I completely agree. Roman Catholicism is such a part of Irish culture that church attendance was probably motivated by opposition to British rule.

Dysarto March 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Irish people don’t want to be part of the United Kingdom, any more than Mexicans or Canadians want to be part of the US. We did spend a lot of time and energy trying to kick the English out and their record in Ireland was abysmal. The ability to influence British policy was on full display during the Penal Law period and when food was being shipped out of the country during the Famine.

When Independence was achieved it was led by cultural nationalists, who were also Catholic. Many of them were excommunicated by the Church which had become content with the then current arrangement, A good deal of the Catholic Church’s authority derived from the simple fact that for several centuries secular authority had no legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the population. When we finally got rid to the English the Church was the only legitimate institution in the country. The Church’s influence is now waning but there is very little interest in rejoining the UK. English rule in Ireland was characterised by armed occupation and dispossession. Most of us want to forgive and forget but there are no fond memories of being part of the UK.

Ireland’s bailout was really a bailout of foreign banks (many of them from the UK). Why Irish tax payers are on the hook for speculative loans by foreign banks is a bit of a mystery. Assumption of that debt is probably the biggest mistake since Independence but despite this Ireland is showing sign of recovery. Relatively speaking the country isn’t that badly off. There are a few other countries out there with economic woes. The UK is hardly much better. Are you seriously contending that we should give up our independence because the we are in a recession?

Richard Besserer March 28, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Just for the record: my parents are from Drogheda (well, my mother is; my father’s from Bettystown). I spent most of my childhood in Naas, Co. Kildare.

I suppose I should have added a disclaimer that the Irish capacity for self-hatred is matched only by that of Ashkenazi Jews. My father was a good example. When I get in a similar mood it drives my wife crackers. Keep that in mind as you read this.

Now that’s settled:

By 1922 the Penal Laws were beyond living (as opposed to folk historical) memory, with Catholics (along with Protestant “dissenters” and Jews) finally receiving the right to vote and sit in Parliament in 1829. The land reforms that allowed Irish peasants to buy out their landlords (breaking the landlords’ political power) was passed by the British House of Commons, through, needless to say, intense lobbying by the Land League and others. In other words, the system worked for the Irish as well as anyone by the early 20th century. If anything, Ireland, which had kept 100 seats in the House of Commons in spite of its population dropping by nearly half between the famine and 1900, was seriously overrepresented in the British Parliament. (The quid pro quos in most versions of the Home Rule Bill was a much smaller Irish caucus in the British House of Commons, of a size more proportional to population.)

Comparative advantage did for Ireland’s industry after Union, not some Protestant conspiracy. Britain’s industrial revolution was well under way by that stage. Ireland would have had a job catching up in any event.

No, I don’t expect any Irish government to seriously prpose reunification while I’m living. That said, I’m not sure an Irish referendum on independence would even pass today, just as the Scottish referendum on independence is unlikely to pass (and two Quebec referenda have gone down to defeat). Frankly, for what it’s worth, if UKIP ever get their In/Out vote, a British public who have all the facts will almost certain vote In as they did in 1975. The benefits of political independence for the average person (as opposed to local elites shielded from competition for their place in the social and economic hierarchy and free to seek rents as they see fit) are pretty limited. The costs, meanwhile, are enormous.

Look—I remember when nobody at all in polite Irish society would own up to supporting Sinn Fein. That the Shinners got as far as they have riding the wave of anti-austerity protest, as the only major party to oppose the bailout, tells you all any sensible people need to know about Ireland’s shortage of realistic options during the crisis, beyond trusting the Germans to know what they were doing. Put baldly, Sinn Fein are Ireland’s Golden Dawn and their program the socialism of fools. What in God’s name was Gerry Adams’ Plan B anyway?

In reality, the only realistic plan B was to wind up Ireland’s banking system, stiffing depositors, and Ireland would have become been a dry run for Cyprus. We’ll never know for sure if that would have been an improvement, but I doubt it.

(Just so we’re clear, UKIP are little better than Sinn Fein, with their pipe dreams of letting the Continent sink beneath the waves and having the Empire restore England to her former greatness. Whoever said that in one generation the English stopped being Romans and became Italians can’t have been impressed to see Nigel Farage go one better and propose the English become French Canadians and the UK the Quebec of Europe.)

TMC March 30, 2013 at 10:19 am

“No, I don’t expect any Irish government to seriously prpose reunification while I’m living”

Why would they take the substantial cut in $/capita?
They are much better off on their own.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Some of this analysis is extremely dubious.

“Ireland’s Europhilia has often been explained in part as a tacit admission that Irish independence was a mistake” – no, it hasn’t. I’ve never read that. So “often” is stretching the truth – try “rarely”. If anything, Ireland likes Europe because it’s an alternative power bloc to the United Kingdom, in which we can freely participate as a sovereign state. Unlike some of the more daftly nationalistic European republics, never mind the United Kingdom, Ireland’s assessment of its ability to control its own affairs in a world of seven billion people is accurately low.

“its ability to influence British economic policy” never existed. If it did, maybe a million people wouldn’t have starved to death in the 1840s. Let’s get real here.

“governing Ireland was costlier for Britain than it was worth” – this ignores the undemocratic nature of Britain in the 1800s. The Lords who drew rents from Irish land certainly benefitted from Irish membership of the Union, and they comprised half of Parliament (arguably the most powerful half until 1911).

farmer March 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I would be interested to know if that is the Island of Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. I would be interested to know if Northern Catholics go more or less than Southern Catholics.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 4:23 pm
yi March 28, 2013 at 1:46 pm

The Church sex abuse scandal was almost entirely due to closeted gay priests molesting teenage boys. The media called it child molestation to distract from what it really was — abusive gay priests raping confused teen-age boys.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 4:25 pm

This is a very popular attack among right-wing Catholics. It allows right-wing Catholics to both demonise homosexuals (by conflating them with paedophiles) and entirely avoid the question of blame that attaches to their hierarchy who concealed crimes and subverted the justice system.

Bored Lawyer March 28, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Sinead O’Connor on Saturday Night Live had that big an effect?! Shocking!

More seriously, Ireland became a rich post-modern country in that time; we shouldn’t be too surprised. Using tradingeconomics.com, Ireland in 1980 had per-capita PPP GDP about 50-60% of the U.S.’s, and has closer to 85% of it today (and at the financial peak, substantially matched the U.S.). Wealthier countries tend to be less religious.

AnnoDomini March 28, 2013 at 6:48 pm

I have another hypothesis to submit:
That these people have converted to another religion. Several new religions, possibly.

For the non-discerning, any ideology is functionally indistinguishable from religion, so why not pick one that gives the best benefits? The International Church of Liberalism is quite popular these days, with a happiness-centered dogma, and plenty of backing from the political elites. The more rebellious may find the Universal Atheistic Antireligion more to their taste, especially that it will piss off the parents. If you see some merit to the ICL, but don’t like their wishy-washy neo-spiritualism, why not join the Materialist Hedonists? After all, it’s even more focused on fullfilling your short-term desires, whatever they may be, and damn the consequences down the road, because ultimately there won’t be any.

None of these to your liking? But you feel like you want to become part of something greater, and lay waste to all those who would oppose you? Enjoy exotic dress and mandatory visits to tropical countries? Look no farther than your local neighbourhood mosque – protested by the narrowminded, but built anyway, because we have freedom of religion.

The possibilities are endless.

Millian March 28, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Have you ever actually seen Ireland?

AnnoDomini March 29, 2013 at 4:14 am

No, never been. From Wikipedia and googling, it seems a typical rich Western state growing in decadence in the last few decades.

AC March 28, 2013 at 7:51 pm
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