Muzak, the music you hear, or don’t hear at all, playing in public spaces, keeping you relaxed and de-stressed, provides the framework for Dónal Horgan’s short book on modern Ireland. Why muzak? The refrain presented about modern Ireland, contrasted with Ireland of the past, is designed to keep the citizen de-stressed and avoiding undue overthinking about the state if Ireland today.
It’s an interesting concept, and this book, which is described as “part cultural history and part social and political discourse”, explores Ireland in transition between the years 2016 and 2020.
As the author notes: “the reality may well be that liberal Ireland’s own smug self-congratulatory accolades about itself obscure some troubling truths.”
Horgan observes that we are constantly told that Ireland is a much better place than the grim, repressive, country that was ruled under the iron-fist of the Church. Readers will be familiar with this refrain of Ireland in the past a place of cruelty where all the freedoms of the world were denied.
It doesn’t matter, of course, that those who lived in ‘old Ireland’ may have an entirely different view of their lives, and the happiness they garnered from their families, faith and culture. Their opinion, and their experiences, no longer matter.
Count your lucky stars, we are told, that Ireland has progressed. Yes, there are problems but these are absolutely in spite of all the good work that has been done in dissociating modern-Ireland from the past from whence it came, not at all because we have worked hard to amputate the present from the past – or the past from the present.
This is the narrative that Donal Horgan examines – and this is an important step in creating some balance to the prevailing spin which has been deemed the only acceptable assessment of the current state of affairs in Ireland.
Central to his argument is the centralisation of everything in and around the capital – a growing city which increasingly is dominating, culturally, economically, infrastructurally, politically, the rest of the 26 counties.
This is creating a hegemony of policy and practice that reflects the lifestyle of the ‘anywheres’ living in Dublin as opposed to the ‘somewheres’ who occupy the rest of the country.
Horgan’s attempt at broaching this issue is an entry point into a much bigger discussion, but it is a welcome introduction.
There are four or five important questions he considers:
- Ireland in its first 70 years was not as bad as the revisionists made it out to be and the people of Ireland were much more than the monochromatic victims of the hierarchy that have since been displaced by a more enlightened leadership. Mary Kenny’s most recent book The Way We Were: Catholic Ireland from 1922 covers much of this important ground but there remains much more to be said.
- Modern Ireland is not the utopia it is presented to be, and its problems are not just side-events to ever-increasing progress. Some are because of how modern-Ireland is now shaped and how it manages itself; others are because modern-Ireland has been so enthusiastic in discarding the past that the baby went out with the bathwater.
- Rural Ireland is largely been forgotten in cosmopolitan discourses emanating from the capital, treating society as a collection of atomised individuals rather than a collection of families and communities
- The dislocation of tradition as an important part of progress and the rapid marginalisation of conservatism in favour of social and economic liberalism masquerading behind a neo-moralism that is becoming its own religion with rituals and orthodoxy.
- The emergence of a new minority in Ireland – primarily Catholics, afforded none of the protections and tolerance offered to other minority groups, instead inheriting the ‘otherness’ which deserves to carry the blame for the ills of the past and to be the distraction from the failures of today.
He also looks at the outsize role of the “burgeoning NGO sector”- a sector that is rarely examined in relation to the colossal funding it receives (more than €5 Billion annually) and its effectiveness: whether it actually achieves the objectives of such enormous expenditure.
In fact, as Horgan notes, “in spite of its unrelenting trumpeting about equality, economic inequality has never been greater” in these peculiar days when families are being forced to emigrate because they can no longer afford homes in a country where the establishment prides itself on telling the rest of the world that everyone is welcome.
Horgan’s book touches on all of these subjects, and Muzak is an important read, especially for those who require an initial spark to look at modern Ireland a little deeper.
Muzak: Inside Ireland 2016-2020 is available from www.new-ireland.com
Dualta Roughneen and Máirín de Barra