Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change from 1970

By R. F. Foster | Go to book overview

2
How the Catholics
Became Protestants

I

‘Conversion’ might be a metaphor for Irish experience from 1970 to 2000, if not in the strict religious sense of a mission to heretics. Those thirty years saw a transformation of cultural expectations, based not only on a new confidence in the wider world but also on the rejection of old authoritarian formations: patriarchy and the Catholic Church. These two great monoliths came under siege from feminism and secularism after 1970, and the connection and interaction between the threats form the subject of this chapter. In the widest sense the transformation of attitudes to authority, which found its way into the mainstream of politics with surprising speed, suggests a reassertion of attitudes in some areas of life in the Republic that are – with a lower-case p at least – protestant.

The notion of Catholicism as indivisible from Irish nationalism and even from Irish identity might be counted as one of the casualties of the last thirty years’ cultural upheaval. This sails dangerously near the stormy seas where Horace Plunkett found himself when he launched his book Ireland in the New Century in 1904, controversially arguing that the Irish Catholic world-view and ethos retarded economic progress. But his analysis is not so far from the kind of ideas floated by Tom Inglis eighty-odd years later in Moral Monopoly, where he relates the forms and practices of Irish society up to the late twentieth century to the images, ideals and dictates of the Catholic Church with regard to occupational structures, the organization and differentiation of social space, even the expression of emotions.1 Inglis also argues for a definition of ‘modernization’ that concentrates upon Irish life since

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