We leave England tomorrow. This has been the 'family' phase of the trip. We have stayed with family in Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Carmarthen, Cardiff and East Grinstead (south of London). We have been overwhelmed with hospitality; food, drink, sights, the works.
Ireland is in an interesting phase in its history economically and spiritually. They experienced a massive boom after entering the EU. however, the locals believe that they completely overcooked the whole thing. People investing wildly, banks backing any and every investment. What goes up, must come down! Once the economic boom ended, Ireland have crashed. There are few investments, businesses are under pressure, many have closed, unemployment is up, and they are very pessimistic. Whereas they delighted in being in the EU, they now are wondering. They are now expected to give assistance to poorer countries and they are not really able to. The problem for Ireland is that they don't really have any economic edge. Farmers are paid not to produce agriculturally as this would upset other producers in the EU, and so the Emerald Isle lies fallow. They have few industries. Their low tax rates mean people will invest, but this policy is under pressure from other EU countries. Whereas young people would leave uni and get work easily, now they are leaving for overseas. There are too many graduates and not enough jobs. There is a surfeit of university trained people and not enough tradespeople. So a brain drain will now develop. They are facing tough times.
Spiritually it is even more interesting. The Priest abuse crisis has caused a huge reaction. The once-full churches are now empty. People are second guessing Catholicism. There is an almost universal distaste for the power of the church. This has caused some of Emma's relatives to question their faith, something that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Others are responding by discovering a personal faith. Rather than a church/tradition invoked 'faith', they are finding God in the mess. Interesting. The problem in Ireland is that there are no alternatives that have great strength aside from the Catholics. If Protestantism was stronger, perhaps some would find a home there. While people are rejecting the church, they are deeply disturbed about the values of the young which are, like all western countries, in crisis. Alcohol, drugs, and a general lack of respect are problems. They want the Christian values but not the church. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Come to Wales and we find that they too are in the economic mire, but not as bad as Ireland. Spiritually, their churches lie empty in the main. In Cardiff, the biggest church I am told is around 500, one of which my cousin Philip goes to. The revival is a thing of the past and people just don't really go anymore. There is a vacuum.
I haven't really got a handle on England. We are staying in East Grinstead in Sussex with relatives of Emma. It is a lovely home. Nearby is one of Tom Cruises homes and Peter Andre! Religion here seems to hold a positive place for tradition and values. Many attend religious schools.
Next is France for a couple of days and then Cambridge.