1. 9/11. Fully 40 percent of the firemen and 30 percent of the policemen who died that tragic day at the World Trade Center were Irish Americans. Many of the civilians were too as well as 12 Irish citizens. Ireland itself called a full day of national mourning, the only country outside the U.S. to do so. Tens of thousands turned up to pay their respects at the American Embassy in Dublin.
2. Fall and fall of the Catholic Church in America and Ireland. Child sex abuse cases, cover-ups by Bishops, slow responses from Rome, all led to the greatest crisis for the Catholic Church in Ireland and America. It culminated in America with the resignation of Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston in December 2002 and in Ireland with a series of horrific reports detailing how deep and extensive the scandals were.
3. On May 8th, 2007 the unthinkable happened in Northern Ireland when the Reverend Ian Paisley, the scourge of reconciliation efforts for decades, agreed to share power with Sinn Fein, hitherto his mortal enemy. He was sworn in as First Minister with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein as Deputy First Minster. The red sea had parted, the mountains had come to Mohammad, the unthinkable had occurred. A great good news story
4. Rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger. For several years in the early and mid 2000s Ireland's economy looked like the miracle child of the global family. By the end of the decade it had become the orphan no one wanted to claim. The dizzying rise and fall left many in Ireland shell shocked and Irish Americans dumbfounded by the suddenness of the crash.
5. Defeat of Hillary Clinton running for president. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton had become deeply involved in Ireland and in the Irish peace process and her run for the White House was widely viewed in Ireland and Irish America as an opportunity to put into power the most pro-Irish president in history. It was not to be but there was some scant consolation when Barack Obama turned out to have Irish roots.
6. Death of Senator Edward Kennedy. The lion of Irish America had been to the forefront in every major piece of legislation affecting Ireland and Irish America most notably the Irish peace process and immigration reform. The American role in the peace process would never have happened without him.
7. Death of immigration reform. The John McCain/Ted Kennedy bill would have legalized thousands of Irish undocumented and possibly allowed many Irish to at last begin emmigrating legally to America. Alas it was not to be. Since the 1965 immigration act, ironically authored by Kennedy, which essentially barred most European immigration to the U.S., Ireland has had far less than 1 percent of all green cards issued.
8. Flowering of Irish culture in the U.S. From smash hit plays on Broadway to U2's continuing extraordinary success to Riverdance to 2009 National Book award winner Colum McCann it was a fantastic decade for Irish arts and culture in America. Whatever other ills have affected the Irish economy, the creative gene still runs very strong.
9. GAA allows soccer and rugby in Croke Park. The best sports story of the decade. The Gaelic Athletic Association, Ireland's largest sporting organization, had long been tagged with an anti-British, narrow and insular reputation. By opening their sparkling new headquarters to soccer and rugby they defied the conventional wisdom and moved Irish sport into a new era. The first game against England in rugby in Croke Park will never be forgotten with some Irish players and many in the crowd in tears during the Irish national anthem. As other bastions of Irish society crumbled all around, such as the church with its sex scandals and the political system beset with corruption, the GAA went from strength to strength.
10. What didn't happen? No Irish politician served a significant jail term for corruption, no bankers were put on trial for raping and pillaging the banking system, no construction magnates were jailed for corrupting the planning and political process with bribes.
Happy Earth Day! Ireland sure looks gorgeous from outer space