Mythology and Religion
Ireland's fervent religious past has played an important role in how the country perceives itself today. For much of Ireland's history, religion not only controlled politics, but actually was politics. Kings, queens, lords, landowners, priests, and commanders have all rationalized their skirmishes and battles in the name of God. Visitors to Ireland today will find a humble people holding to their values, but choosing balance and harmony over bloodshed.
Cúchulainn is probably the most notable of all the warriors in Irish mythology. He was a demigod who, as a young lad, killed a feral guard dog in self-defense with his hurling stick and ball. He made an oath to protect the castle grounds until a new dog could be raised. His sobriquet, “Hound of Culann” (AKA The Hound of Ulster) stuck well. Later, he defeated Queen Maeve of Connaught in battle and became a hero.
The land of leprechauns, fairies, troublesome spirits, and mighty warrior gods has a deep-rooted oral history in Ireland. Storytelling was a way of life for the Celts, who passed on their knowledge to subsequent generations. For the ancient Gaels, giants constructed the mounds of earth and dolmens. Fairies protected such structures, and to touch or destroy one would bring about a lifetime of misfortune (one reason why such structures are still around today). If something could not be explained mystically, the druids (the priests and soothsayers) were the nonpareil story-weavers who would pass on legend and lore. In addition to the giants and diminutive mischief-makers, heroes (such as Cúchulainn) and villains of godlike stature controlled the spiritual world and often the fate of mankind. Other heroes such as Finn Mac-Cool, the thumb-sucking prophet, the swan children known as the Children of Lir, and the miracles of saints all have their place in Ireland's oral past.
The modern Republic of Ireland is composed of nearly four million people; over 95 percent Roman Catholic. Conversely, the majority of Northern Ireland claims Protestantism, either Presbyterian or Methodist. The Catholic Church of modern Ireland still has its place, but with a country full of young, educated, well-traveled, and prosperous go-getters, Rome feels a world away.
While Sunday Mass is still a centerpiece of the week, especially in rural areas, Dubliners and other city-dwellers are focusing more on the present moment and their future rather than the afterlife.