When I interviewed author Martin Duberman about his book on Roger Casement, one of Ireland’s greatest heroes, he mentioned that he could scarcely believe the changes that have taken place in the Emerald Isle over the last twenty years. 

These changes have been seismic. Ireland, which used to be a bastion of old school values — its opposition to divorce, birth control, abortion and same-sex marriage — has now taken the lead in pushing the envelope on everything progressive. 

All of this is in direct contradiction to my experiences growing up Irish Catholic in the Philadelphia suburbs. How did Ireland go from being a bastion of conservative values to being in the vanguard of radical progressivism? 

This question occurred to me when I attended a lecture by former Irish president Mary Robinson at the American Philosophical Society. 

Robinson, who was elected the first woman president of Ireland in 1990, resigned after her first term, going on to become the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and then the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. Dressed in a smart blue suit and a single necklace of pearls, the mostly Irish audience seemed to really love and adore her. 

Way back in 1997, Robinson told Commonweal Magazine: 

“Thanks to the European Union, we have a much more open climate of discussion and debate, as you can see in the media. It means that we are a more questioning society, perhaps more honestly prepared to address serious issues and problems, more open to the idea that different viewpoints should be heard and respected.” 

Many have said that Robinson’s presidency was transformative and helped to move Ireland into the 21st Century. As the seventh president of Ireland, Robinson became an altruistic globe trotter, perhaps influenced by her favorite books, the biographies of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. In 2004, she was awarded Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in human rights. In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President Obama. 

In her lectures, Robinson has been very critical of Catholic Church teachings on birth control, homosexuality and suicide. Okay, so what; a lot of people are. 

Let’s backtrack a little. 

Having grown up in an Irish Catholic family (the other half was German), it was always the case that if you criticized the Church’s position on birth control (nobody talked about homosexuality then), suicide or even cremation, you weren’t considered to be an authentic Catholic.

Divorce was probably the greatest scandal, especially divorce and remarriage to a Protestant. A first marriage to a non-Catholic was just as scandalous. In my own family there were renegade divorced (Irish) cousins who were whispered about and sometimes shunned as if they were child molesters. I’m not very proud of that because it showed a lack of charity. 

Some of my Irish uncles were vehemently against my registering as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. At times this took the form of outright rudeness and hostility. In other Irish Catholic families, mothers encouraged their sons to sign up to fight in Vietnam because once you did that “you were a man.” Father Judge High School in the Northeast had the highest concentration of (Irish) Vietnam war deaths than any other high school in the country. As one friend told me, “Irish boys were taught never to question authority. They did what they were told to do. They enlisted and they were killed.” 

In my interview with David Stanton, Ireland’s Minister of State for Equality and Immigration several years ago for another newspaper, I wrote:

The Irish, I think, have a doctrinaire streak that was most evident in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, where they were known throughout the world as the strictest Catholics in existence, unlike those laissez faire Mediterranean Catholics (in Italy) who would attend High Mass on Sunday and then happily visit their mistresses on Monday. But you would be wrong if you thought that the old doctrinaire streak among Catholics in Ireland has dissipated. It has not.

In fact, it is alive and well in its newest incarnation. The allegiance to the Church has been transferred to a devotion to Leftist ideology; the Church of the Globalist Mother, or the Infallible State. 

And this has made Ireland all the worse. 

Simply put, Ireland just switched orthodoxies: Politics has now become “religion” while the Church has become irrelevant. The 2023 Irish Census found a ten percent drop in those identifying as Catholic. The drop is expected to be higher in 2024. 

After Robinson’s Philadelphia lecture, it was fascinating to see scores of adoring Irish moms and dads and their kids line up to get the ex-president’s autograph. As I contemplated the scene, I wondered about the cultural relation between these Robinson fans and the Irish Catholic people of my childhood. How can these two groups be the “same people?”

Have all the old Irish taboos vanished into thin air? Is abortion now of no consequence? Has divorce become as inconsequential as applying for a new state ID? And is it really true that all of these ginger haired Robinson loving mothers seeking autographs and photos would raise Minister Stanton’s Equality flag and gather around the kumbaya campfire if their eight-year-old son came out as transgender? 

Is it really a new world in Ireland, or has vocal opposition been repressed like a bad cold under the weight of antihistamines? 

Of course, all is not lovely on the Emerald Isle. Extreme political changes by necessity generate extreme backlash views. 

As a counterpart to Robinson and Minister Stanton, we have author and former journalist John Waters. Born in 1955, Waters’ career in journalism began in 1981 when he wrote for The Irish Times. Now known as a largely conservative writer, for years Waters seemed to straddle a middle of the road political stance until he decided to leave The Times, claiming that the newspaper had instituted a bias against Catholic social teaching. 

Waters is on record as saying that the “new” Ireland has turned to paganism. 

Waters told the Catholic Herald that there’s a willingness of Irish people to dismantle their own belief system out of a kind of deference to outsiders. He calls this a post-colonial tendency and he’s very worried about it. 

“What it leads to is that there is no core culture, merely a space around which other cultures are invited to build themselves as freely and as fully as they wish. There are signs of this even now. That will be a very interesting phase: when we survey the glory of other cultures in full bloom on Irish soil, while we have nothing left of what we once were.” 

Waters’ lecture topics include: “What has happened to Ireland?” and “Ireland and the Abolition of God.” He is the author of plays and over 10 books, including Lapsed Agnostic, the story of how he went from belief to unbelief and then back to belief again. Though highly critical of Pope Francis, Waters remains a staunch defender of the Catholic faith, admitting his annoyance at journalists who ask, “When will the Catholic Church change to meet the modern world?” 

Waters quotes Bishop Fulton Sheen: The Church cannot be married to any age. If it becomes married to one age, it becomes a window in the next

“If the Church surrenders to the present age thinking that it wants to be popular, it’s over,” he says. In society now, especially in Ireland and the United Kingdom, Waters says there are no rules but woke rules. “There are no religious rules, no absolute rules, there’s only a breach of some kind of invented protocol.” 

The tragedy of Ireland, he says, is that the Irish people no longer have any words for how they feel. “They believe that the beliefs that they grew up with have somehow become superseded by reality, that religious ideas are somewhere between fact and fiction, the reality of today.”

In an article entitled, Ireland: “An Obituary May 2018” for First Things, he wrote: 

“The cancer at the heart of modern Irish culture is unbelief in anything that is not negotiable in the manner of currency. But that was the diagnosis up until May 25, 2018. This was the beginning of the final stage of the disintegration: the carting of the human in Ireland from the spiritual to the material level, with the country that was once the jewel in the crown of European Christianity affirming that a baby is the mere chattel of her mother.” 

Waters reserves a special contempt for journalists.

It is his view that journalists today tend to think alike. If you disagree with your colleagues you are likely to be marginalized. Waters believes that journalists are afraid to tell a roomful of people, “No, I don’t agree with you; I don’t dislike you, I just don’t agree with you.” Today among journalists he says there’s a reluctance to do this because of fears that the group will strike back with name calling and labels like misogynist, racist, xenophobe, transphobic.

After the labels come, he says, the group will want to shut you up.

Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, and Frontpage Magazine. Thom Nickels is the author of fifteen books, including “Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” His latest, “Death in Philadelphia: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” was released in May 2023.

3 thoughts on “Thom Nickels: Radical change in the Emerald Isle?”

  1. This is a powerful article reflecting the rise of intellectualism and NewView in war with the century’s old beliefs of the Catholic Church and Christianity. Media in ass its forms promote violence, pornography, every sexual perversion, overuse of guns, drugs…..excess, excess, excess. The world has gone insane. Murder, rape, molestation all glorified. The worst of paganism revived. Evil rears its ugly head and attacks every bastion of order in our schools, churches, community and homes. The devil is loosed. Every evil thought and deed rationalized, normalized directing insults at those who object. Christians must stand up and preach the gospel. We died by the millions to bring the truth to a pagan world then and need to do it now or become dust as mankind self-destructs. The wages of sin is death.

  2. The stupidity of a the West to fall because of the guilt of success. The irony that Ireland, largely a 3rd world country with their own unique millennia of oppression through much of the last century, would welcome the woke attitude without pushing back.

  3. Globalists are communists. The best way to fight against the communist woke/DEI efforts is to confront it directly – which requires a certain level of not being “nice.” That is why there is constant effort to program “niceness” and politically correct speech – in sports, too. Communist ideas: Destroy God, destroy families, destroy education and make sure everyone needs the government. The purpose of communist propaganda is not to persuade nor convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponds to reality the better it is for the communists. When people are forced to remain silent, and when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose their sense of morals, honesty, and decency. To assent to obvious, distorted information is in some small way to allow evil. One’s ability to resist can thus be eroded. A society of fragmented, emasculated, and under educated people is easy to control. Politically “correct” speech has the same effects and intention. Example: Communists use “gender” instead of “sex.” There are two sexes: man (adult male human) and woman (adult female human.) Once they get you to use “gender” then the conversation is an entirely different thing altogether. And there is a reason that libraries created a “children section” decades ago. That is why the political group, Drag Queen Story Hour, targets the children’s sections of libraries. Stop being “nice.” Press on!

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