St Patrick and the future of a new Ireland

It’s perhaps a reflection of how the Republic has outgrown its old dependency on tourism that despite the expected presence of 700,000 visitors expected in Dublin today, it strikes a quiet note of caution in terms of the need to contemplate (subs needed) where the nation is headed:

Cultural standards are a subjective affair and it is silly to expect the celebrations to reach a consistent level above and beyond the commercial and playful reality they are pitched at. But the relevant themes of modernity and diversity set out over the last decade could do with another renewal. The point applies all the more within a much more multicultural Ireland. Beyond it, some 70 million people around the world identify directly or indirectly with us, and many more millions are made aware of our presence among them. Unless contact is kept up with them, and continually renewed, they will wither. This is sufficient reason to welcome official Ireland’s dispersal around the world this week. These contacts are repaid throughout the rest of the year. The various efforts made to reinforce relations with Irish communities abroad this week are welcome and necessary.

Spiritual impoverishment is also a matter of subjective judgment – and is not confined to the religious domain. Formal religious observance is in decline in Ireland compared to its previous oppressively high levels. But the picture is varied and open to renewal – including in the new immigrant communities now living among us. St Patrick’s enduring and universal appeal has a broad scope and a deep historical experience to draw upon. Coming from late Roman Britain to Ireland as a boy-slave to tend swine on the slopes of Slemish, he returned later as a bishop who showed a masterful ability to marry older Celtic and druidic religious practices with the new Christianity. That theme of renewal and re-examination is worth remembering this weekend in a completely different Ireland.