Irish Family Life

It's difficult to make general statements about the family life of any country. People's lives can be very different, depending on where they live or how much money they have. Even people living next door to each other can lead very different lives. That being said, there are a few traits that people have accepted as describing the traditional Irish family.

The Irish Family

The stereotypical Irish family is Roman Catholic. Catholic roots go very deep in Ireland — so deep that they were able to withstand hundreds of years of English opposition. Irish households have traditionally been full of Catholic art and objects, and most Irish children have been educated at Catholic schools. The influence of the Church has tended to make Ireland a conservative country; the government has generally sided with Church positions on issues like abortion, divorce, and contraception.

The stereotypical Irish Catholic family is large, with many children close in age. Late marriage and abstinence have decreased family size in the 150 years since the Great Famine, but the twentieth century saw enough large Irish Catholic families to keep the image alive. Partially responsible for this phenomenon is the Catholic prohibition of contraception.

To get a good picture of Irish family life from the 1950s until today, read the novels of Maeve Binchy and Roddy Doyle. Binchy's Circle of Friends and Doyle's The Commitments and The Snapper have been made into popular movies.

A Typical Irish Lifestyle

The Irish have long been seen as a pastoral people with strong connections to their families and community. When most people worked in agriculture, their lives were very much tied to the land. They worked long hours, lived in the same houses that their parents had lived in, and rarely traveled more than 10 miles from home. This lifestyle offered few luxuries, but it fostered strong family and community networks. The Irish are famous for their devotion to family, between children and parents or among siblings.

Economic modernization has caused many Irish people to move from the country to pursue jobs in the cities. This has resulted in a quantitative increase in the quality of life for most people, but also a disruption in the traditional community networks. Many young people relish the chance to escape from the farm or small town and earn money in the city, and they willingly cast off what they see as the shackles of religion.

One recent book that has done its share to perpetuate stereotypes is Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes: A Memoir, the author's account of growing up poor in Limerick. Although the bestselling book won the Pulitzer Prize and received rave reviews for its humor and pathos, many people in Limerick feel that it unfairly maligns their city.

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