The Great Famine of the 1840s was undoubtedly the most catastrophic event in Ireland’s history. With an estimated one million dead and another million lost to emigration, the population of the island fell by around 25% in the space of a few years. After a century and a half our population still hasn’t recovered to the pre-famine high of 8.4 million. Fast forward to today and the Irish constitute a tiny percentage of the world population – a minuscule 0.06%.
To befuddle matters more, this figure includes many foreign nationals who have been bestowed Irish citizenship in recent years. Contrast this tiny population with superpowers like India and China with 1.3 billion and 1.4 billion people respectively. Our insignificant, sparsely populated island must appear to be nothing more than a curiosity on the world stage.
The UN predicts Africa will impressively increase its population to almost two billion by 2050. Most nations outside Europe continue to grow as well, seeing the importance of a young population. Other countries discuss their demographic strengths and failings as regular policy points. Meanwhile back home in Ireland, the birth rate falls as Irish people have fewer children and have them later in life, if at all. The average age of first-time mothers in the Republic of Ireland is now 31 years old.
This country once held the honour of having the highest birthrate in Europe. Now dats suggests we are destined to join Germany, Italy, and the old Eastern bloc countries as yet another European nation with a shrinking population. The recent legalisation of abortion will almost certainly accelerate the decline, just as it has done elsewhere.
The old stereotype of the large Irish Catholic family is no more according to demographic statistics – we threw off the shackles of religion with considerable vigour, but one can’t help but wonder if we have now cut off our nose to spite our face.
German-born Prof. Ferdinand von Prondzynski, former President of DCU, once famously predicted that if current trends continue, the Irish will become a minority in their own homeland by the year 2050 – a prediction picked up by the Irish Times. It’s ironic that it’s often well-wishing foreigners who publicly announce concern at the rapidly changing demographics of Ireland. It is tourists that most often recognize that the Irish people and our culture are something unique and worth preserving, something we Irish seem blind to.
The double whammy of falling native birth rates combined with increased immigration does not paint a bright future for the Gael. Environmentalists will lament the declining populations of the Giant Panda and Black Rhino, but why isn’t the same concern shown for declining human populations?
Politicians will rattle off the old clichéd talking points: mass migration is necessary to take care of an aging population, replace retiring workers, pay our pensions, and so forth. While some immigration is valuable, they will inevitably neglect to mention that a 2011 CSO study found a vastly inordinate amounts of migrants from certain backgrounds to be unemployed, making their economic contribution to Ireland somewhat doubtful.
An alternative strategy that is often overlooked is the possibility of bringing home members of our massive global diaspora. They constitute a massive pool of untapped potential that could seamlessly integrate into Irish life much more easily than a totally foreign culture. This open invite to the diaspora was used with incredible success in Israel, where returning Jews cultivated desert wastelands in the fledgling state into high yield farmland and within the span of 50 years created one of the most advanced economies in the world. Today Israel boasts a high tech sector almost rivalling all but Silicon Valley.
The fact that hurts the most is that the population decline is not the result of measures imposed on us by a hostile foreign power, and then by tragedy and mismanagement as was the case with the Great Famine and our continued decline into the mid 20th century. It’s the result of political decisions made by democratically elected leaders and the personal choices of our people.
We have no one else to blame, we are the architects of our own demise.
Even more alarming is the apathy of the average Irish person when presented with these demographic predictions. The statistics suggest we are slowly fading from the face of the Earth, yet we simply don’t seem to care. This isn’t the natural reaction of people in such a situation, it is a product of the incessant demonisation of patriotism and nationalism over the past decades by a virulently biased media.
To be Irish is nothing of value, it’s nothing to be proud of, we are told. Merely an accident of birth. Some even suggest our flag is something to be ashamed of. In November 2018 when a motion was put before Fingal Council to fly the Irish flag outside the County Hall, Councillor Matthew Waine of the Solidarity People Before Profit party opposed it on the grounds that our flag could be offensive to minorities.
“I come from the tradition of the workers movement, the labour movement, which doesn’t see the country of your birth being anything really significant,” he proclaimed. “I would prefer to see the red flag fly outside county hall here. Maybe in the future that will be the case.”
The sacrifices of Pearse, Collins, and Tone appear to be all for naught. However, it doesn’t have to end like this. Our destiny is not set in stone. I implore all readers to revive the sense of patriotism lacking in our national consciousness. Inspire others to learn our history and celebrate our heroes. Fly the Irish tricolour with pride and refuse to cower when political opponents attempt to smear you. Their insults only have as much power as we allow them.
Ireland is our homeland and we can’t be afraid to say it.