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Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, located to the northwest of continental Europe: the CIA helpfully notes that its size is roughly comparable to the American state of West Virginia. Ireland lies directly to the west of England: the two islands are separated by the Irish Sea.
Ireland has a long history, and was known to the ancient Romans as "Hibernia" although the Romans did not colonize Ireland as they did with England. Tradition marks Ireland's conversion to Christianity by Saint Patrick during the Roman period. Shortly thereafter, the first of a series of invasions occurred -- first by the Danes, then by the English starting in the 12th century.
English policy toward Ireland would eventually turn the island into an English colony, effectively, and the Act of Union by the British Parliament in 1800 officially made Ireland part of the United Kingdom. But the lack of any organized response by the British government to the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century heightened popular discontent among the Irish people, and led to resistance to British rule. This would give rise to roughly a century of intermittent violence, both before and after the British withdrawal from all but the northernmost counties on the island, which to this day remain part of the United Kingdom.
Ireland is a member country of the European Union, having joined in 1973.
1. SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT IN IRELAND
Ireland remained a largely agrarian country well into the twentieth century, but after independence the Irish educational system became remarkably successful. The CIA acknowledges a 99% literacy rate in Ireland, and notes that the Irish Republic spends 4.9% of its GDP on education: this is a smaller percentage than either the U.S.A. Or the U.K., but larger than either Australia or Canada.
Ireland has produced its share of scientists -- the nuclear scientist Ernest Walton was born in Ireland and won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics, while a professor at Trinity College, Dublin (Reville, 2011). The Irish educational system, combined with Ireland's cordial relationship with America, led to substantial business presence in scientific and technology sectors (designed to take advantage of the lower overall wages in Ireland). The pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer built a 2001 facility in Ringsakiddy outside Cork, which produces the active chemical ingredients in its erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. Pfizer now has seven facilities in Ireland. (Lynch 2010, p129). The software giant McAFee moved its locations to the same region outside Cork in 2005, and expanded operations there in 2009 (Lynch 2010, p216). And microprocessor manufacturer Intel also maintains a substantial presence in Ireland (Lynch 2010, pp53-5).
2. AIDS IN IRELAND
The 2009 UN AIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic gives 6900 as the approximate number of people in Ireland living with HIV or AIDS, of whom 2000 are women, meaning that the rate of affection is over twice as high for men. The infected population is a scant .2% of the population, and the UN offers no statistics for infected children.
Irish response to the AIDS epidemic has been complicated by Ireland's religious history. Conflict between Ireland and the U.K. was frequently expressed in terms of a religious sectarian conflict, because the overwhelming majority of Ireland's population is Roman Catholic -- the CIA records that 87.4% of the Irish population is Catholic, which is a decline from earlier percentages. Indeed, the Constitution of the Irish Republic announces its official allegiance to the Roman Catholic church with its opening words, "in the name of the Most Holy Trinity" and the government only recently lifted bans on divorce, contraception, and abortion for any reason whatsoever (Lynch 2010, pp18-22). The Roman Catholic Church's entrenched resistance to condom use and its official disapprobation of any kind of sexual expression save for the purposes of procreation within wedlock made sex a notoriously difficult topic to address publicly in Ireland. Yet Irish culture itself has been taking a long turn away from Catholicism, largely due to the mishandling of sex abuse scandals involving the Catholic priesthood (Lynch 2010, p85-6). This overall shift in public discussion of sexual issues in Ireland has made it substantially easier to discuss and manage the AIDS epidemic than it was during the epidemic's onset in the early 1980s, when the church's hold over Irish sexuality was more secure. But in his 2000 review of a book on the changing sexual mores entitled Goodbye to Catholic Ireland, the Irish gay novelist Colm Toibin recorded a contemporary newspaper poll in the Republic of Ireland in which "22.5% of those surveyed would debar or deport from Ireland" all persons with AIDS -- Toibin indicates that to a certain extent, the old prejudices are still active, but he notes that a larger 43.1% of those surveyed would debar or deport paramilitary members of the Provisional IRA or the IRA's political arm, the Sinn Fein Party (Toibin 2001 p.260).
3. IRISH CULTURE
The arts and literature in Ireland are thriving. Ireland encourages artistic creation with a special "Artists Exemption" in the income tax, by which writers, composers, and other artists are not taxed from earnings from the sale of their work. The country boasts four Nobel laureates in literature from the twentieth century: the poets W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and the dramatists George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett. One irony, however, is that all four of these spent most of their lives and careers outside Ireland, working in London (Yeats, Shaw), Paris (Beckett), or the U.S.A. (Heaney). (George Bernard Shaw also remains the only person besides former U.S. Vice President Al Gore to have won both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar in Hollywood.) But the most famous Irish writer of the 20th century did not receive the Nobel Prize: this is James Joyce, who also worked as an exile in Switzerland and France, publishing his monumental novel Ulysses in 1922, shortly after the establishment of the Irish Free State. Joyce's work was deemed a major artistic triumph by the literary and artistic world, but was initially considered obscene and was banned from import or sale into the United States.
The Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney probably remains Ireland's most famous living writer, and his work is marked by a willingness to engage with the violence that marked Ireland's history in the 20th century and during Heaney's own lifetime. His book of poems entitled North is viewed as a profound meditation on the nature of the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, in an attempt to measure, as Heaney puts it in the book, "the weight of each hooded victim / slashed and dumped" (Heaney 1977).
In popular culture, Ireland remains a vibrant and vital place. The rock band U2 remains one of the world's most popular music acts, and lead singer Bono has also come to occupy a place on the world's political stage, using the tragic history of Ireland's famine to call attention to famine and poverty in Africa and elsewhere: Bono has been repeatedly nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize (USA Today 2005). Other musical personalities from Ireland include Sinead O'Connor and Bob Geldof, who has been the co-organizer with Bono of a number of charitable enterprises, and was the force behind the original 1986 "Live Aid" concert in which the world's most famous musicians donated their talents to raise money for African famine relief. The tradition of Irish drama which produced Shaw and Beckett also produced such film stars as Colin Farrell and Liam Neeson.
4. THE IRISH ECONOMY
To use an Irish vernacular term, the Irish economy in 2011 is "completely banjaxed," or in serious distress -- having experienced an extraordinary economic boom in the 1990s, leading to a characterization of Ireland's economy as the "Celtic Tiger," bad investments over the past decade inflated the effects of the U.S. real estate bubble and the subsequent financial meltdown, affecting the Irish disproportionately (Lynch 2010, p 213). Unemployment is currently rising and future prospects look dim. The EU, concerned that the Irish financial collapse would jeopardize European economic prospects as a whole, forced Ireland to accept a financial bailout (Thomas, 2010).
Lynch notes that the Irish economy seems prone to cycles of boom and bust which exceed those of ordinary European or American stanards. He contextualizes the present economic state of Ireland as follows:
The global nature of the economic downturn was among the factors complicating the Irish recovery. Unlike in the 1980s, when Ireland could count on customers beyond its shores to pull it out of the ditch, this time things were tough all over. The world economy resumed growing in 2010, but the rebound was muted….future growth rates will be far more modest than the Irish were accustomed to during the long boom. By some estimates, in fact, it will take until sometime between 2021 and 2026 for Ireland to regain its 2007 level of output….Ireland is not going back to the misery of the 1980s, but neither can it return to the easy affluence of the Celtic Tiger….Neither…[continue]
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