Irish - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. By any measure, Ireland is a profoundly Catholic country and culture. Weekly mass attendance continues at nearly 90 percent of the population, and the influence of the clergy on all social as well as narrowly religious questions is enormous. Ireland, alone with Malta in Europe, has no legal divorce, and abortion—never legal—has recently been made unconstitutional. The central tenets of the Catholic church are mainly accepted, but various local heterodox usages continue in some areas. Notably, holy well cults are still an important aspect of local practice. There are more than three thousand holy wells listed for Ireland, most of them associated with a Roman Catholic saint and with beliefs about curing, indulgences, honor, prayer, etc. Major pilgrimage points within Ireland (Knock, Croagh Patrick, Station Island, Lady's Island) attract tens of thousands annually, and the Irish are disproportionately represented at Lourdes.

Arts. Language remains perhaps the most important form of expressive culture: from the oral narrative that still characterizes much local Irish life to one of the most vibrant literary traditions in Europe. Although less well-known, there is a lively visual art scene in the urban centers. Music, always important in the folk tradition, has made a great resurgence in recent decades with much creative interaction between folk and rock forms.

Medicine. Although most Irish avail themselves of whatever modern medical facilities are available, many will combine such treatments with propitiation of saints and/or pilgrimages to the above sites.

Death and the Afterlife. For the vast majority of Irish, the rites of the Catholic church are followed scrupulously on the occasion of death. Wakes held in the home of the deceased for two or three days, however, continue to provide a central communal focus to the event in many areas. Appropriation of the powerful act and rites of death has characterized Irish Political activity, especially in the twentieth century.

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