Struggle with church continues after emigrants leave Ireland
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“My dad would go to church in a new city to get a lay of the land, to understand his surroundings,” Corr said. “That wouldn’t even cross my mind.”
O'Leary also never worried about finding a church when he landed because he expected one to be on every corner.
“It would have been something I didn’t think about,” O'Leary said. “There would be air, there would be water, there would be a church.”
Most Irish emigrants – about 20,000 each year – go elsewhere in the European Union. The next largest groups head to the United Kingdom and Australia. About 3,000 Irish each year come to the United States. With job growth invisible during the past five years, people have left Ireland in numbers unseen since the mid-1800s Great Famine.
Kirby said the primary factors in choosing a country have been economic opportunity and cultural affinity. O'Leary saw the church as being interwoven with culture. Corr's generation would rather not associate with the church, even as a last resort.
Though Catholicism is booming in the emerging economies of Latin America and Southeast Asia, newer Irish emigrants aren't taking much notice. The mix between Catholicism and culture might be stronger in those countries than say New Zealand or the U.S., but emigrants are going to where the Irish always have gone. They've limited themselves to English-speaking countries despite the receding religiosity in those nations.
To be sure, there are some Irish pushing for more immigration to less familiar locales.
Steve Lydon, a doctoral student at Harvard University who grew up in Ireland, has visited Colombia on numerous occasions. He said both Ireland and Colombia have similar checkered pasts filled with sectarian violence. And for young adults looking for more cultural freedom, he said South America's the perfect place.
One of the stumbling blocks is the lack of second-language education in Ireland. Ireland and Scotland are the only two countries in the 27-state European Union that don't require students to learn a second language. Overall, 54 percent of Europeans say they are able to speak one additional language other their own compared to 40 percent of people born in Ireland, according to a 2012 Eurobarometer survey. The 2011 Irish census says it's just 25 percent among people actually born in Ireland.
“We tend to focus on things that are financially productive,” Lydon said. “Language doesn’t fit under that perception. It’s more of an irritation.”
So the chances of emigrants recapturing their Catholic faith diminish as they head to countries such as America, Australia or Canada. In a sign of their secularization, those developed, Westernized countries have twice the proportion of atheists as some countries in Latin America or Asia, according to a 2009 compilation of data by Pitzer College professor Phil Zuckerman.
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