Old Dublin is hard to locate these days—that city Joyce, Sean O’Casey, Flann O’Brien, and Patrick Kavanagh wrote about, with its tobacco-brown pubs, drizzle, and the sound of the Angelus on the radio every day at noon and six p.m. The Angelus is still rung on RTE, but the old, serious, repressed Ireland has all but disappeared. Attendance at Mass is down to about 1 percent in the urban centers. Ireland has become part of a prosperous, secular Europe; the Celtic Tiger has seen more than a decade of economic boom now, achieving a per capita income above that of the United States.

One has mixed feelings about many of the recent changes. A new, aggressively acquisitive attitude toward material things, in a country that once saw itself as “the land of saints and scholars,” can be distressing. I do like the smoking ban, which means that one can spend an evening in a pub without...


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