Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I WAS BORN IN DUBLIN, and remain an Irish citizen. My parents were Irish-Americans who lived in Ireland for a few years while my engineer father built a factory that converted the gypsum deposits of County Cavan into sheetrock. The combination of all-Irish ancestors and this anomaly of birthplace has always prompted me to think of myself as a little more attached to my Irishness than most white Americans are attached to their whatever-ness. I'm almost Jewish in this regard.

There have been three big news stories from Ireland over the course of the past ten years: 1) the Celtic Tiger of spectacular economic growth; 2) reports documenting decades of molestations and beatings visited upon thousands of Irish boys and girls by Catholic priests and nuns into whose care the children had been remanded; and 3) death of the Celtic Tiger. Number Two – the disgrace of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland – may be the most lingeringly important.

The frequency and duration of the abuses of so many Irish clergy lifts the scandal to a shattering level. Shame – not guilt – has always been the stereotype Irish reaction to sin and failure. We know about shame. But now we are compelled to recognize the causal connections between sentiments of shame and acts of shameful behavior. It's as if the Irish soul has been indicted.

My mother loved Ireland, and returned frequently. She was enchanted by the religiosity and casual poetry of the place. My father disliked Ireland and never went back. He thought the whole country was a mean-spirited, begrudging, pietistic village. I inherited both views. Today's Ireland is a less bitter, more tolerant, better educated, and (not coincidentally) richer country than the Ireland of the workhouses and orphanages. A better place in eight of ten ways. Which is fortunate, for now the Irish need all the resources they can muster: they must own a grave evil long tolerated.

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