Ireland in the 1970s – a powerful new book by historian Diarmuid Ferriter


“But I would think poverty was very different to what you have now in that we’re coming from a much higher base. Even a country that is now officially bankrupt and in bailout territory, there is still a lot of money around in terms of people’s salaries and their material possessions.”

Ferriter is particularly strong in teasing out social change, and its ramifications. He applauds the advances made by the women’s liberation movement, citing the young legal advocate Mary Robinson as one of the most impressive people from his study of the period. Remarkably, though, marital rape wasn’t criminalised until 1990.

Pope John Paul II made his landmark visit to Ireland as the decade drew to a close. Church-going, in a country that was 94% Catholic, remained popular, although it seems it may have been as much to do with custom as conviction.

Perhaps the playwright Brian Friel, one of the intellectual titans of the era, sums up the spiritual attitude of the general populous best from an interview in 1970: “From the religious point of view I’m a very confused man ... I suppose I’m a sort of practicing lapsed Catholic ... and I don’t see any great contradiction in this either.”

Éamon de Valera, Ireland’s great political leader from the twentieth century, passed away in 1975. His death prompted mixed emotions. Ferriter quotes Eibhear Walshe’s memoirs of a childhood growing up in Waterford in the 1970s, which includes a celebration on the night of Dev’s funeral by the author’s granny and her Redmondite cronies.

“They waked the former president by confident assertions that he was illegitimate, though this was not the term that they used, and that his name came from a New York Coffee brand ... as Cissie and the others got more excited, Dev’s private life and morals, in actuality beyond reproach, all came into discussion and Cissie told us how her distant cousin, who was a bishop, had phoned her up to offer to drive her to Dev’s funeral, simply for the pleasure of hearing the violence of her response and the unchristian nature of her language.”

Diarmaid Ferriter’s Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s is published by Profile Books and is available on Amazon.