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  • Editor's Introduction
  • Diarmaid Ferriter

The articles in this special issue illustrate some of the dramatic changes that have taken place in Ireland over the past forty years. There is much attention devoted to the impact of economic development, as well as essays on the changing fortunes of the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Irish state, the harrowing experiences of those who experienced clerical child abuse, the manner in which Ireland has been governed, the status of women in Irish society, the political and intellectual contribution of Garret FitzGerald, the continued success of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and its impact on Irish identity, and the manner in which Irish theatre and film have dealt with societal change, remembrance, and the need for new narratives of Irish history.

Historians, economists, sociologists, cultural theorists, political scientists, and novelists will continue to attempt to make sense of the late-twentieth-century transformation of Ireland for many years to come. The essays collected here highlight many of the interwoven themes that are likely to predominate in any such analysis and demonstrate the value of detailed research, originality, and humor in contributing to the search for answers as well as the importance of an interdisciplinary approach and the use of different methodologies and sources. It is also apparent that there is much room for debate on the nature of the changes witnessed and experienced and that, in many respects, it is too early for definitive conclusions to emerge. [End Page 5]

A cover article titled "Europe's Shining Light" in the May 1997 issue of The Economist referred to Ireland's transformation as "dazzling, . . . one of the most remarkable economic transformations of recent times: from basket case to 'emerald tiger' in ten years." How and why such change occurred is explored by Colm Tóibín, who gives his personal take on "a decade of Godlessness and growth" and looks behind the dazzling statistics in an attempt to figure out how much of the wealth is illusion, how much is real, and why Irish artists remained preoccupied with the dark side of modern Ireland. In his contribution, Timothy White places the economic boom in its historic context by examining the importance of the pharmaceutical industry and, like Toíbín, suggests that studies of the "Celtic Tiger" reveal that it was perhaps not as carefully constructed and calculated as one would imagine such success and prosperity would need to be. In assessing the economic boom, he highlights the profound significance of the United States as the largest source of Ireland's foreign direct investment and the challenge of explaining economic policies that do not fit traditional neoliberal or statist models.

In recent decades there have been a succession of revelations that have shocked the country, forced a confrontation with many of the "hidden Irelands" of the earlier decades of independence, and created a crisis for the Catholic Church. How the issue of clerical child abuse was handled from the 1960s, and what lessons are contained in the Ferns Report into clerical child sex abuse in Wexford, is the subject of Catriona Crowe's article, which brings into the open not just structural, institutional, and moral failure in the face of children's complaints, but also an overdue vindication of the abused child. Brian Girvin traces another important theme—the relationship between church and state—and demonstrates how the stable certainties of 1960 have been replaced in the twenty-first century by uncertainty and tension between the Catholic Church and state, the impact of the growing pluralism and secularism of Irish society, and in particular, the manner in which the politics of Irish abortion has been negotiated.

Changes in Northern Ireland have also impacted considerably on the fortunes of the Catholic Church as demonstrated by Oliver Rafferty. The nature and scope of its role has been greatly circumscribed, he argues, not simply because of the church's general [End Page 6] decline in society in the developed world, but also because it failed to read the signs of the times in its conduct of affairs in the North since 1969 and often struggled with the consequences of the outbreak of the Troubles.



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