Culture of Ireland
The flag of Ireland has three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), white, and orange. This tricolor is also the symbol of the Irish nation in other countries, most notably in Northern Ireland among the Irish national minority. Other flags that are meaningful to the Irish include the golden harp on a green background and the Dublin workers’ flag of “The Plough and the Stars.”
The harp is the principal symbol on the national coat of arms, and the badge of the Irish state is the shamrock. Many symbols of Irish national identity derive in part from their association with religion and church. The shamrock clover is associated with Ireland’s patron Saint Patrick, and with the Holy Trinity of Christian belief.
A Saint Brigid’s cross is often found over the entrance to homes, as are representations of saints and other holy people, as well as portraits of the greatly admired, such as Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy.
Green is the color associated worldwide with Irishness, but within Ireland, it is more closely associated with being both Irish and Roman Catholic, whereas orange is the color associated with Protestantism, and more especially with Northern Irish people who support Loyalism to the British crown and continued union with Great Britain. The colors of red, white, and blue, those of the British Union Jack, are often used to mark the territory of Loyalist communities in Northern Ireland, just as orange, white, and green mark Irish Nationalist territory there. Sports, especially the national ones organized by the Gaelic Athletic Association such as hurling, camogie, and Gaelic football, also serve as central symbols of the nation.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
The public architecture of Ireland reflects the country’s past role in the British Empire, as most Irish cities and towns were either designed or remodeled as Ireland evolved with Britain. Since independence, much of the architectural iconography and symbolism, in terms of statues, monuments, museums, and landscaping, has reflected the sacrifices of those who fought for Irish freedom. Residential and business architecture is similar to that found elsewhere in the British Isles and Northern Europe.
The Irish put great emphasis on nuclear families establishing residences independent of the residences of the families from which the husband and wife hail, with the intention of owning these residences; Ireland has a very high percentage of owner-occupiers.
The informality of Irish culture, which is one thing that Irish people believe sets them apart from British people, facilitates an open and fluid approach between people in public and private spaces. Personal space is small and negotiable; while it is not common for Irish people to touch each other when walking or talking, there is no prohibition on public displays of emotion, affection, or attachment. Humor, literacy, and verbal acuity are valued; sarcasm and humor are the preferred sanctions if a person transgresses the few rules that govern public social interaction.
Food and Custom
The Irish diet is similar to that of other Northern European nations. There is an emphasis on the consumption of meat, cereals, bread, and potatoes at most meals. Vegetables such as cabbage, turnips, carrots, and broccoli are also popular as accompaniments to the meat and potatoes. Traditional Irish daily eating habits, influenced by a farming ethos, involved four meals: breakfast, dinner (the midday meal and the main one of the day), tea (in early evening, and distinct from “high tea” which is normally served at 4:00 P.M. and is associated with British customs), and supper (a light repast before retiring). Roasts and stews, of lamb, beef, chicken, ham, pork, and turkey, are the centerpieces of traditional meals. Fish, especially salmon, and seafood, especially prawns, are also popular meals.
Until recently, most shops closed at the dinner hour (between 1:00 and 2:00 P.M. ) to allow staff to return home for their meal. These patterns, however, are changing, because of the growing importance of new lifestyles, professions, and patterns of work, as well as the increased consumption of frozen, ethnic, take-out, and processed foods. Nevertheless, some foods (such as wheaten breads, sausages, and bacon rashers) and some drinks (such as the national beer, Guinness, and Irish whiskey) maintain their important gustatory and symbolic roles in Irish meals and socializing. Regional dishes, consisting of variants on stews, potato casseroles, and breads, also exist. The public house is an essential meeting place for all Irish communities, but these establishments traditionally seldom served dinner. In the past pubs had two separate sections, that of the bar, reserved for males, and the lounge, open to men and women. This distinction is eroding, as are expectations of gender preference in the consumption of alcohol.
There are few ceremonial food customs. Large family gatherings often sit down to a main meal of roast chicken and ham, and turkey is becoming the preferred dish for Christmas (followed by Christmas cake or plum pudding).
The Art and Humanities
The literary renaissance of the late nineteenth century integrated the hundreds-year-old traditions of writing in Irish with those of English, in what has come to be known as Anglo-Irish literature. Some of the greatest writers in English over the last century were Irish: W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Frank O’Connor, Seán O’Casey, Flann O’Brien, and Seamus Heaney. They and many others have constituted an unsurpassable record of a national experience that has universal appeal.
High, popular, and folk arts are highly valued aspects of local life throughout Ireland.
Walls separate individual fields on Inisheer, one of Ireland’s Aran Islands.
Graphic and visual arts are strongly supported by the government through its Arts Council and the 1997-formed Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht, and the Islands. All major international art movements have their Irish representatives, who are often equally inspired by native or traditional motifs. Among the most important artists of the century are Jack B. Yeats and Paul Henry.
Performers and artists are especially valued members of the Irish nation, which is renowned internationally for the quality of its music, acting, singing, dancing, composing, and writing. U2 and Van Morrison in rock, Daniel O’Donnell in country, James Galway in classical, and the Chieftains in Irish traditional music are but a sampling of the artists who have been important influences on the development of international music. Irish traditional music and dance have also spawned the global phenomenon of Riverdance. Irish cinema celebrated its centenary in 1996. Ireland has been the site and the inspiration for the production of feature films since 1910. Major directors (such as Neill Jordan and Jim Sheridan) and actors (such as Liam Neeson and Stephen Rhea) are part of a national interest in the representation of contemporary Ireland, as symbolized in the state-sponsored Film Institute of Ireland.