Ireland, traditionally known as the land of saints and scholars. Stunningly beautiful, romantic, tragic and heroic all at the same time. A melting pot of highs and lows, but that is only part of the story. It has taken countless generations for our country to develop into what we recognise as 'modern Ireland.' It hasn't always been an easy or rapid journey to get to where we are today. From desperation to prosperity, from rags to riches, and back to rags. We've been through it all. Who could forget the 'Celtic Tiger' years, and the inevitable crash that followed. Despite what some people might say, it is as a result of this roller-coaster that a country to be proud of has emerged. Immigration and emigration is key to explaining the countries rebirth in its modern form. Throughout our history, the story is always one of the Irish leaving their homeland for America or Australia, in search a better life. Of course, those Irish who were forced to move abroad are uniquely important to our cultural influence across the world. Just look at New York on St Patrick's day if you don't believe me! But, it is the influence of those who have done the opposite that I want to focus on. The people who have come from Africa, Europe, Asia and other far flung places to settle on Ireland's shores. Unthinkable during certain periods of our history that anybody would move the Ireland in search of a better life, but certainly not now.
This influx of new cultures has truly taken Ireland into the 21st century. New energy and customs have re-energised the country and freed her from the shackles of conservatism. For so long those shackles stunted Ireland's growth and kept us hidden from the true beauty of what lied beyond our shores. In the space of a generation, Ireland has gone from being one of the most conservative countries in the world to a country where all cultures, nationalities, sexuality and diversity are respected and celebrated. For this, we must be proud, but we cannot yet afford to become complacent. There are those in our society who would love to drag Ireland back into the dark ages, but they cannot be allowed to do so. True unity of purpose matched with our desire to drive the country into a new era will continue to overshadow those who would seek to bring it down.
To truly understand and experience Ireland's shift towards multiculturalism, a simple stroll is required. Walking the streets of any Irish city, you will witness a melting pot of cultures, nationalities, languages and traditions. There is beauty in this beyond words which must be seen to truly appreciate. The ability to enjoy the best parts of each others culture and link them together is creating an Ireland that is far beyond the wildest dreams of those who fought to create a country free from cultural oppression. Irish people, should understand as well as anybody how difficult it is to settle in a foreign land. Our history shows how millions of Irish were scattered to the four corners of the earth in search of new beginnings. It is our duty to welcome those who are travelling that same path. Of course, like everywhere, dinosaurs remain in our society who want everything to return to how it once was. Those with fear and loathing in their hearts for anything beyond the narrow boundaries they have created for themselves. Those who spend everyday gazing into the past through rose tinted glasses. They will always exist, but their influence will continue to diminish as we remain true to our journey into the future. Who would of thought twenty years ago that a man of Indian descent could ever be 'Taoiseach' of Ireland? Who would have ever thought that gay marriage would be legalised? Well it happened. Signs of progress? Absolutely!
There are those who would have you believe that Irish culture is suffering, or becoming 'diluted' as a result of the influx of foreign influences in Ireland. This could not be further from the truth. There are many reasons why people have come to live in Ireland. Some have come out of necessity, some have come seeking adventure, and others have come to fulfil a life long ambition to witness and experience her beauty. Whatever the reason, there can be no doubt that their love for all things Irish is just as strong, if not stronger than the Irish themselves. Whether it's the music, the history, the craic, the Guinness or the literature. The love for their adopted country cannot be doubted. To say that new cultures are diluting our own is nonsense. If anything, its developing our culture into something contemporary and vibrant. Culture is not meant to remain stagnant, it can develop and grow. Our multicultural society is allowing that to happen naturally, and long may it continue!
Modern Ireland is changing all of the time. By no means is it perfect, but it continues to grow in the direction of the sun and that is important. In a world where so much fear and uncertainty exists, this is something to hold on to. Ireland does not belong to any one man. Ireland is a country for all, where the most desperate in this world should be welcomed with open arms. Whether you were born on Irish soil, or came to love her via Dublin Airport, all should be welcome. We are the land of a 100,000 welcomes after all! A persons love for a country cannot be pigeonholed, it can be more than an emotion, a moment, an elusive feeling that we know intimately well but might find hard to describe. Who are you to doubt someones love because of what passport they carry or how they dress...
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Slán go fóill.