Caroline Crowley and Denis Linehan (eds), Spacing Ireland: Place, Society and Culture in a Post-Boom Era (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2013) 224 pp. £17.99 Pb. £75.00 Hb. ISBN: 978-0-7190-8679-3
The transformation of Ireland from a country with prosperity and rapid development to one undergoing a stark recession is the starting point for Spacing Ireland: Place, Society and Culture in a Post-Boom Era. Caroline Crowley and Denis Linehan’s book is a comprehensive and multifaceted approach to Ireland’s current situation and daily life. The volume is divided into three parts and thirteen chapters with ‘space’ and ‘place’ as all-encompassing concepts. Generally, in modern usage, ‘place’ refers to a site where consumption or performances happen, and ‘space’ refers to leisure, housing or migration; a fact that shows that this book has relevance well beyond a specialist audience. The contributors, mostly Irish men and women, have various backgrounds (geography, food sustainability, music, etc), indicating the interdisciplinary approach of Spacing Ireland. The various chapters illustrate and explain the cultural, economic and social developments the Emerald Isle has undergone since the economic crisis of 2008. This transition, as well as the country’s role in a fast-changing world, is on display in the volume. It is a 'mapping' of the new Ireland after the economic boom of the Celtic Tiger that lasted from 1995-2007. Ireland’s material and imaginative landscape were changed by the boom and the bust that followed it (4f.).
Part One, 'Spacing Belonging', deals with questions of identity and place; migrants and their role in post-boom Ireland are discussed as well as the problem of ghost estates in the Irish countryside. Cian O’Callaghan starts his convincing chapter on ghost estates by defining the term. It refers to estates where 50% (out of ten or more houses) are under construction or vacant. Originally, David McWilliams coined the term for describing Famine villages; a fact that gives the term historic significance. From 2007 on, the newly built estates were no longer a symbol of growth and wealth but an uncanny sign of emotional distress due to the failing of the Celtic Tiger (18-29).
In Chapter Four, Caroline Creamer and Brendan O'Keeffe draw attention to the so-called Emerald Curtain, the inner-Irish border, as a place with distinct needs. In the Celtic Tiger years, inter-community collaborations were the norm and cross-border partnerships existed (58). Still, borders divide spaces physically and politically – it will be interesting to observe the developments in Ireland in the coming years due to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. In this regard, it is also fruitful to have a look at Sara McDowell’s essay 'Flocking North: Renegotiating the Irish Border', which offers a continuation of the arguments and ideas considered in this chapter by pondering on the question of renegotiating the Irish border.
Part Two, 'Mobility, Space and Consumption', focuses on the quality of life by looking at, among others, the challenges of lone parents, the expansion of the Irish motorway and life in urban spaces. Due to the boom, Ireland became a country on the move (75), a development reviewed by Denis Linehan in 'Reading the Irish Motorway: Landscape, Mobility and Politics after the Crash', where he notes that the newly created commuter state made an expansion of the motorway necessary. Just as the railroad changed Victorian England, so did the motorway change Ireland at the turn of the last century. The distance from the desired place of living to the working space as well as the distance to leisure activities had to be renegotiated. Thus, the motorway could be considered as a state-building project, turning into a symbol of progress and growth (76). Still, it had had ambivalent implications from an early stage; with so many people commuting, the motorway was also a space of congestion and a place without a history. That the Irish motorway indeed is a contested space can be seen from the example of Tara, the Neolithic landmark, through which now the M3 runs, despite ample protest. Tara had long been of such enormous symbolic importance for Irish identity that it even became part of popular culture by giving the name to the O’Haras farm in Gone With The Wind. Today, it is also the epitome of the Irish story of boom and bust: the M3 had been built by a Spanish company so that the promised national benefit of progress cannot be found on the emerald isle. (83f.) Thus, the assured future of prosperity and comfort and of liveable (urban) environments did not (yet) become a reality.
'Culture and Place', the final part of the volume, gives insights into traditionally Irish fields such as farming or the renowned pub session. In this regard, the chapter on traditional music and sessions by Daithí Kearney offers particularly rich information because the author regularly participates in sessions in a pub in Cork. Like other events and parts of Irish life, the session has changed during the last decade. In the boom years, it had been extremely popular but due to the recession, the pubs face difficulties in attracting customers. Traditional music has a connection with the past and can always be located between tradition and innovation (174f.). It is part of the nature of a living tradition that it regularly undergoes changes. As long as sessions attract listeners and participants, they will renew themselves and the genre, Kearney explains. Interestingly, during the boom years, what was considered to be Irish traditional music became internationally popular. In turn, the popularity and internationalisation lead to an inner-Irish wish to rediscover the origins of the songs and their primary meaning. Now, the session and its diverse songs help creating a sense of belonging in challenging economic times.
While the first twelve chapters depict Ireland from the inside, Chapter Thirteen offers a transatlantic perspective: Patrick J Duffy reviews how America’s National Geographic perceived the Emerald Isle over the course of almost a hundred years and thus shaped America’s idea of the small European country. The characterizations range from a poor place, to a laid-back or even exotic space. The appendix gives an overview of the articles discussed (ranging from 1915-2005).
Overall, Spacing Ireland helps to understand the effects the economic crisis of 2007 had on the island. The volume reminds us of the interconnectedness of economy, nature, history and our daily lives. It shows the changes the island underwent from the boom to the bust years and highlights our inevitable dependence on economic factors. With its interdisciplinary approach it addresses various key aspects that shape Ireland’s post-boom era. Those characteristics invite us to reflect on our own post-boom societies, being ones which could easily be transferred to any other country.
Marina Fleck, Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt