DUBLIN—Sarah Lennon’s son Ethan is just 7 weeks old, and she’s already stressing out about his applications for primary schools. A lapsed Catholic, she hopes to land him a spot at a sought-after multi-denominational school in suburban Dublin—one of few alternatives to the Church-run schools in her neighborhood.
“It’s quite urgent to have our name down early and have the Catholic school here as a back up,” Lennon said. “But the Catholic school may not admit our son, unless we have his form in early, because he won’t be baptized.”
Lennon is among a growing number of Irish parents who no longer identify with the Catholic Church and struggle to find schools that don’t clash with their convictions. In Ireland—once considered the most Catholic country in the world—the Catholic Church runs more than 90 percent of all public schools. Other religious groups operate another 6 percent. But Ireland’s religiosity has waned in recent years, amid changing demographics, rising secularism and reports of Church sexual abuse and cover-ups.
Weekly church attendance among Irish Catholics dropped from more than 90 percent to 30 percent in the past four decades. Those in Ireland who identify as religious plummeted from 69 percent in 2005 to just 47 percent last year, according to a WIN-Gallup International poll. And the number of people who chose “no religion” in the last census soared, making non-believers the second largest group in the nation.
These changes are starting to crack the Catholic Church’s monopoly on Irish education, but not quickly enough to meet growing parental demand for school diversity.
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BELFAST- Sharp, icy winds and slushy sidewalks wouldn’t derail Amy Curran and her friends from following through with their daily motto.
"The only way to start the day is to get to Mass."
At 11 a.m. on a snowy spring Friday in Belfast, Curran and her four friends — 78- to 86-year-old lifelong Catholics — gather around her kitchen table for coffee after church. Their fervent devotion to the Catholic faith offers a glimpse into an era during which Ireland was called “the most Catholic country in the world” by Pope Paul VI in 1946.
Nearly seven decades later, in an aftermath of sex abuse scandals and growing secularization, the Catholic Church in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland grapples with declining parishes and disaffected Catholics. In the Republic, for instance, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin acknowledged in 2011 that some Dublin parishes have as little as 18 percent of Catholics attending Mass each week. Religious leaders and laity agree some form of renewal is needed to resuscitate what remains, but deciding how to get there is where agreement ends.
The Archdiocese of Dublin is one place where such opinions contrast sharply.
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Ireland’s greatest novel, Ulysses, opens with a critique of Irish food. Early on June 16, 1904, Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan are eating breakfast in Martello Tower when Buck compliments the wares of an old milk-woman. “If we could only live on good food like that,” Buck says. “We wouldn’t have the country full of rotten teeth and rotten guts.”
It took more than a century, but Ireland is finally starting to live on good food.
In Dublin, long more famous for drinking than eating, the best and often only option for eating out was stodgy bar fare. “Fine dining” meant stopping at the local pub for a pint and a pie — like the traditional shepherd’s pie served at Michael Finnegan’s, for instance, just blocks from where Joyce set his Dalkey School scene.
Today, though, “Irish cuisine” is no longer an oxymoron. The nation at last has found the modern faith of Foodie-ism. In Dublin especially, food has finally become more than just a means to sop up ale and whiskey. Today the city’s long, low, clean blocks of multicolored Georgian facades burst with new flavors and fresh attitudes. Dubliners have embraced eating out as not only a valid form of entertainment, but as an important statement of personal ethics and style.
Credit the Celtic Tiger. The unprecedented economic boom that started in 1995 and lasted a decade radically reshaped the nation, transforming the Irish Republic from one of the poorest nations in Western Europe to one of its richest.
Culturally, the shift was tectonic. Doubly so for the gastronome.
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