Its haunting beauty, from the mysteriously fog-capped emerald hills of the Ring of Kerry to the barren and windswept expanse of the Burren, not to mention the hardy yet friendly character of its people and its checkered and heroic past, have all lent plenty of fodder to Ireland’s rich literary and musical tradition. Now world-renowned for the contribution it has made to English literature, Ireland is a favorite destination for millions of tourists, aspiring thespians, writers and actors who want to "walk where Joyce walked." Furthermore, though the ravages wrecked on the Irish economy and people during the Potato Famine in the mid-1800s left Ireland with a decimated population and more fuel for its political ills, Ireland slowly returned to health during and after the 1960s to emerge as one of the most vibrant economies in the European Union.
Ireland is now home to a thriving post-industrial economy much of which is supported by a large electronics, computers and telecommunications sector. About one third of Ireland’s exports originate from these industries, and together the industrial sector contributes over 40% to its GDP. Needless to say, the result has been a large influx of jobs and investment into Ireland over the past few decades, bringing a new vitality to the country. This vitality has been heightened by Ireland’s youthful population – about 50% of the population is under the age of 28 – which is likely a result of the massive emigration which followed the political and economic turmoil of the late 1800s-early 1900s.
The Irish government has also made a concerted effort over the past several years to implement programs "designed to curb inflation, reduce government spending, increase labor force skills, and promote foreign investment." Contributions from the U.S. government and private enterprise have been helpful in regenerating Ireland’s economy, and it is likely that a number of IT and telecom jobs are available with American firms operating and manufacturing in Ireland. Now, these firms employ approximately 100,000 people in areas ranging from manufacturing electronics, computer parts and software, and medical supplies to retail, banking and finance, and a number of other services (which together contribute to over 95% of Ireland’s GDP – agriculture is barely 3.6% of the country’s economy).
While the government is secular and separate from the Church, nonetheless because such a large majority of the population is Catholic, religion remains a powerful force in Irish culture, politics and society. In politics, the legal standing of abortion and divorce remains a contentious issue, as a large majority of the population is both Catholic yet liberal. The tension between the Catholics and Protestants, a hostility dating back to before the 1600s and the domination of occupying English Protestants over native Irish Catholics, remains a major area of concern for the Irish, British and U.S. governments, and the peace process is an ever-evolving political issue. Currently, the U.S. government contributes $25 million annually through the International Fund for Ireland, which seeks to provide economic incentives for cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland in order to promote the peace efforts there.
Certainly a major reason people visit Ireland is for a taste of its vibrant culture, rich musical tradition, and enthralling literature. In its infancy, Ireland was a pagan society, home to the Picts, and dominated by a druidic culture – where pagan priests served as educators, doctors, poets, guardians of magic and keepers of the law and histories. With the influx of Christian missionaries as early as 400 A.D. came a unique mix of Christian mysticism, Celtic mythology, and Gaelic art forms. The result was a style of art and writing with a distinctive Irish flavor – ornate jewelry with its characteristic intertwining snakes and animals, "roods" (stone crosses scattered about the island), sculpture, elaborate metalworking, and a highly developed style of manuscript illumination. The Book of Kells is one such masterpiece that resulted from this period of history. Presently, the allure of a lively Irish jig, a haunting ballad, a heart-wrenching or belly-jiggling piece of poetry, the famous Irish wit, or a cold pint of Guinness is what brings foreigners in droves to the doors of the Emerald Isle.