In the distant past Ireland was known as "the island of Saints and Scholars". This was during the so-called Golden Age of Ireland, when Celtic Christianity dominated the culture, philosophy, daily life and foreign policy of the island and its ruling clans.
During that period the Irish not only educated many students from all over Europe in their famous schools (attached to the many monasteries), they also sent hundreds of monks and missionaries to the continent, in order to spread the Good News, enlighten the barbarians and establish a number of new monasteries under Irish leadership. (Within less than 200 years Irish monks founded about 120 new abbeys in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, parts of France and Northern Italy. Many were given Irish names, and a good few have survived the tests of time and still exist as active places of prayer and contemplation today.)
Then came the Normans and created a two-tier system in Ireland. They also brought with them a much harsher and doctrinal version of Christianity, sanctioned by Rome and deeply suspicious of the more down-to-Earth Celtic Church of the Irish. It took only a few decades for the Golden Age of Ireland to end, being replaced by a harsh system of rules, restrictions and more rules that were not much to the liking of the gregarious Celts.
The Normans were replaced by the even more arrogant English, and when Henry VIII decided to make himself head of a new church, Ireland became the place of strongest resistance, the part of the realm that also suffered most under the new regime. But despite all the hardship, wars and oppression, Ireland still produced the odd saint now and then, and a really amazing amount of scholars.
This went on until fairly recently. But since the "Cetic Tiger" has eaten most of our decency and common sense and left us sitting on a crock of gold (which we have quickly turned into a pile of debts) life in Ireland has changed in many ways. There are still excellent universities and more students than ever study there now. But unfortunately they are no longer renowned for their academic prowess and achievements. These days they are more noticed for binge drinking, the taking of drugs, and subsequently a number of accidents and crimes, often influenced by drink and drugs.
Of course the drinking and drug taking for which Ireland is meanwhile as infamous as it was famous for saints and scholars in the past, is not limited to students.
Far from it. Huge parts of the population are joining in, and subsequently pay the price for it. There is no weekend now without tragedy, and when I switch on the radio on a Sunday morning for the RTE news, there are always reports of killings, brawls, and several fatal traffic accidents.
(I have been wondering if RTE would have any news to report on a Sunday morning if there were not those weekly occurring tragedies...)
This morning was no difference: A stabbing with following murder investigation in Co. Galway, a number of fatal car crashes in the Midlands, a drug confiscation in Co. Cork and, last but not least, some more beatings and assaults in the ongoing gang war that haunts Dublin for years. Not my idea to begin a Sunday, but the blunt reality of the Emerald Isle in the early 21st century.
There are no more saints to be found here, and very few scholars. Their places have long been taken by - to cover only three letters - blaggards and bureaucrats, con men and criminals, drunkards a drug dealers.
The Emerald Islander