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October 25, 2004

News 10/25/04 - It Still Pays To Be Irish

News about Ireland & the Irish

NT 10/25/04 Opin: Globalization Drives Economy, But It Still Pays To Be Irish

(Poster's Note: Thanks to Patrick for passing on this article.


Editorial Observer

Globalization Drives The Economy, But It Still Pays To Be Irish

By Karen Freeman
October 23, 2004

About as far north as you can go in Ireland, seven miles and one
stomach-churning ferry ride from Magheroarty, the ceili was in full
swing at the social club of Tory Island. Lauren O'Boyle sat on her
father's lap, dwarfed by the traditional drum, a bodhran, in her
lap. She held a short stick firmly, thumping the drum in time with
the jigs and hornpipes and reels. As a bodhran player, she wouldn't
knock your socks off. But just wait till she's 10.

You'd think you would be able to walk into pubs all over Ireland,
the country that put the green in "colorful," and hear the kind of
authentic music played on Tory Island, a speck of land that offers
little besides Lauren's bright golden hair that isn't hard and
rough and shades of gray. But as the pull of prosperity harnesses
Ireland to its growing European identity, it also tugs it away from
its traditions.

Twenty-five years ago, the idea of a cosmopolitan Ireland that
would need more than the pubs to keep its musical heritage alive
might have seemed far-fetched. But now waiters in Dublin seem to
come from anywhere but Ireland, and Filipino nurses walk the
hospital halls. For the third year in a row, A. T. Kearney and
Foreign Policy magazine have picked Ireland as the world's most
globalized country. So the Irish are investing time and money to
hang onto their Irish identity.

More than half of the two dozen musicians in the room that night on
Tory Island were Dubliners, among them an engineer and a software
developer, a hairdresser and an architect. They are in one of the
more than 400 branches of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann
(Gathering of Irish Musicians), and were there to soak up the
musical tradition of Tory, the home of more than 200 Irish-speaking

Many of the same Dublin musicians were in Clonmel, in County
Tipperary, in late August for an annual Comhaltas (pronounced KOL-
tus) competition for 10,000 musicians, most of them children.

In both places, there wasn't a "Danny Boy" to be heard. Truly
traditional Irish music is something of an acquired taste, with
subtleties that novices can have trouble discerning, but it's also
the bedrock that commercial Irish music is built upon.

Even on isolated Tory, the encroachment of the world is visible, in
modern windmills and solar panels. The islanders have long since
given up their cramped stone dwellings and turned to tourism and
primitive painting. An incongruously loud diesel generator powers
the islanders' televisions and DVD players - and at least one
George Foreman grill.

No longer able to count on the old ways youngsters were taught the
music - families and friends would pass on thousands of memorized
tunes - the Comhaltas now uses the Internet (,
and has even committed the heresy of actually writing down tunes
and making CD's available.

The goal, said Brian Prior, the Comhaltas's projects director, is
to help aspiring players learn enough on their own to handle the
give and take of informal social sessions. "Spontaneity and
interpretation are important," he said, "not playing just as it
looks by the dot." Outreach is so important that the Comhaltas has
recently adopted a five-year development plan that will cost 27
million euros.

Of course, this is the 21st century, and the economic appeal of the
traditional arts - burnishing "Ireland" as a brand that attracts
foreign investment and tourism - is not lost on the more practical-
minded. The 10 newest members of the European Union, which are
looking to Ireland in hopes of emulating its success since it
joined the union, ought to take note.

Eamon O'Cuiv, the government minister for rural and Irish-speaking
areas, drew the link when he opened the Clonmel festival: "It's
good not just for community and tourism, but for Irish products as

It's hard to miss the links Mr. O'Cuiv was talking about. Stepping
onto Tory Island, the Dublin musicians walked past a plaque
recognizing the European Union's help with the new ferry dock. And
when an Irish marching band strutted through Clonmel, the
traditional flag of nationalism, a golden harp on a green field,
was flanked by the emblem of commerce, the 12 stars on a blue field
that is the flag of the European Union.

Fortunately, this is still Ireland. Madonna was in County Meath for
her first Irish concert on the weekend of the Clonmel festival. The
score: Clonmel, 200,000; Madonna, 80,000.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

--- News

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