Saturday 10 December 2016

Ruth Dudley Edwards: Our unlovely peasant traits at the root of our ills

We will be better people for facing up squarely to our unpleasant past, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Published 11/09/2011 | 05:00

I reeled at Mary Raftery's revelation that in the 20th Century, per capita, more people were locked up in mental hospitals in Ireland than anywhere else in the world. Our prison population, on the other hand, was tiny.

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I don't know why I was surprised. Those who dominated our tribe were mainly peasants, and peasants tend to be cruel and secretive. Read Andrew Forrest's Worse Could Have Happened or Brinsley MacNamara's Valley of the Squinting Windows on the viciousness of Irish rural society: read Guy de Maupassant on similar horrors in France.

Like peasants everywhere, we treated the powerless appallingly and our whole society was imbued with a fear of truth. Did the mighty not tell us that prostitutes, like snakes, had been eradicated from Ireland after independence -- and this at a time when you could see them plying their trade within spitting distance of the Dail? We wanted to believe we were a virtuous people, so if they wouldn't clear off, we sent the troublesome or the nuisances or the people who came between us and a bit of land to institutions officialdom could ignore.

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