Like many nationalist revolutionaries, Éamon de Valera was a deeply conservative man. Born in Brooklyn to an Irish mother, he was a leader for over 60 years of the movement that took Ireland from a British colony to independence, from Civil War to a Republic. It was a violent time, and de Valera sought to mold an Irish identity that would hold the country together after centuries of English oppression. His building blocks were the conservative values of the peasantry, the Irish language and, above all, the Catholic Church. And a gloomy disposition settled over the land, particularly on Sunday mornings. But anyone who enters an Irish pub on Saturday night – and much of Ireland does – learns quickly that gloom is not the default position of the Irish spirit. Here people spar with words and sometimes fists. The lyrical Irish language seems fashioned for poetic jousting – so de Valera made Irish mandatory in the schools and almost nobody speaks it anymore. Then came the revelations of what the church had done, not to young boys only, but to unmarried pregnant girls, and people reacted with the special anger of betrayed believers.
But as the old foundation came down, it seemed to release something deeper than the “us-vs-them” mentality to which Ireland had clung for so long. It's impossible not to be struck by the gaiety that infused last week’s marriage referendum, the sheer joy of reaching out. Memo from Ireland to us: inclusion is good for the soul.