10 ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years

40 years can be a long time in the development of a nation. Ireland is no exception. In this article, we give you the rundown on ten ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years.

Ireland, perhaps like all countries, has changed dramatically in many ways over the last four decades. If you were to rewind back in time to the early 1980s, some of Irish society’s most prominent features would indeed be painted quite differently.

From hotly contested topics, such as religion and politics, from war to peace, and from everyday wages and standards of living in Ireland, the Emerald Isle is a different entity from what it was before and indeed may still change in other ways over the coming decades.

Here, we give you the rundown on ten ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years, from the 20th century to the 21st. 

10. Population growth – more and more Irish

One of the main ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years is the growth of population.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

One of the first ways that Ireland has changed over the last 40 years is that it has seen an increase in its population.

By the end of 1980, the south of Ireland had a population of 3,432,800 people. In the North by 1981, the population estimates stood at 1,543,000 people. Thus, bringing the total population of the island of Ireland to 4,975,800.

Fast forward 40 years, and the 2016 census showed 4,757,976 in the south and the north 1,857,000. Indeed, population growth is one of the ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years, as it now stands at 6,632,976.

9. Infrastructure – Ireland interconnected

Improvements in infrastructure and roads have changed Ireland.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Another way that Ireland has changed over the last 40 years is that the country has invested in better infrastructure. This has improved public services and enhanced connections between cities and towns across the four provinces. 

There were numerous infrastructure projects funded by both the Irish Government and the European Union (EU) throughout the 80s and 90s, which, by 2013, saw €6billion invested by the Irish government.

8. The fall of Catholicism? – once a mainstay in all strains of Irish life

Has the fall of Catholicism been one of the main ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years?
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Perhaps one of the most dramatic and impactful ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years is the waning influence of the Catholic Church.

The southern Irish state was founded as a distinctly Catholic state, and this infected all areas of Irish life. However, over the last number of decades its influence has stifled, perhaps initiated in 1973 when the Catholic Church’s “special position” was removed from the Constitution.

Fewer and fewer people are identifying as Catholic in Ireland according to previous Census results, with declining numbers nationwide in mass attendance and religious practice.

7. House prices – rising and rising

The increase in houses prices is one of the ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years.
Credit: Instagram / @cocogoodwater

Perhaps one of the most debilitating ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years is the exponential increase in house prices across the country, which is now at alarming rate in 2022.

The average house price slid from €400,000 in 2008 to €175,000 in 2011 as a result of the recession. However, the average price of a house now costs around €258,000. Adjusted for inflation, in the 70s, this was €100,000.

6. Employment and wages – one of the ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years

Wages have increased, which is one of the ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years.

In the 1980s and 1990s, around 30% of college graduates had left Ireland and formed part of the brain drain that affected the country. This was, in part, because of a lack of employment and poor wages.

However, the average wage for Ireland now stands at €40,283 per annum (€3,356 per month) and the minimum wage is set at €10.50 an hour, effective from the beginning of this year.

Ireland has gone from being one of the poorer countries to one of the rich countries in Europe. 

5. Ireland is more multicultural – where Irish and global cultures combine

Multiculturalism is one of the ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years.
Credit: Flickr / William Murphy

Ireland is now regarded as a multi-racial and multicultural society, embracing citizens of all nationalities and cultures. It is one of the European countries that has shown exponential growth here. 

Perhaps the most pertinent example of this is Parnell Street in Dublin, where an Irish Times article in 2018 noted how the street is home to people from Brazil, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, Korea, and China

4. Politics changed irrevocably – breaking the duopoly of the Irish state

Sinn Féin have now become the largest party in the Irish state.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

One of the most significant ways in which Ireland has changed over the last 40 years is the political landscape.

Since the creation of the Irish state, both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have ruled the country at one point or another. However, in the 2020 election, Sinn Féin won the popular vote and the duopoly of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were forced into a coalition for the first time.

Sinn Féin have now topped poll after poll and are on course for Government in the next election.

3. Stronger employment – Ireland is a richer nation

Ireland now has higher employment, one of the ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years.
Credit: Flickr / William Murphy

In the 1980’s, unemployment in Ireland stood at around 20% and the country suffered from poor budgets, making it one of Europe’s poorest countries.

However, the country began to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) in the 1990s, buoyed by the “short-lived” Celtic Tiger.

While the country suffered from the 2008 recession and relied on subsequent bailouts, the Irish economy has recovered.

The Irish economy is now a highly developed knowledge economy and is set to grow by 8.7% this year. Then, over the next two years, it is expected to create 167,000 new jobs.

2. From war to peace in the North – peace in Ireland

Stormont is now the seat of peace in the North.

The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought an end to the 30-year conflict that afflicted the north of Ireland.

Thankfully, that peace lasts to this day due to political leadership, government, and EU funding and reconciliation between the Catholic and Protest population.

In 1982, 110 people died in the North as a result of the conflict. In 2022, this figure stands at zero.

1. Liberalisation of Ireland – progressive policies moving with the times

The liberalisation of Ireland is the main way Ireland has changed over the last 40 years.
Credit: Flickr / William Murphy

Perhaps the most significant of ways that Ireland has changed over the last 40 years is the liberalisation of its social views and mores, as is seen in the majority of countries in Europe. 

As was noted earlier in the article, the Catholic Church exerted immense influence over Irish society, which led to the implementation of conservative laws. However, this has changed irrevocably over the last 40 years.

Divorce was legalised in 1995, gay marriage was legalised in a historic referendum in 2015, and the commissioning of abortion services was also legalised in 2018. Such changes would be unimaginable in 1982.

Other notable mentions

Dublin has become one of the most exciting cities in Europe.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Technology: Like the rest of the world, Ireland has also been affected by the dramatic development of technology in the last 40 years. Ireland is now tech-hub, attracting the likes of Apple and Facebook, and the proliferation of mobile phones is another example. 

Dublin: Dublin city has emerged, especially over the last number of years, becoming one of Europe’s most exciting cities.

Life expectancy: There have been life expectancy improvements in Ireland, as it has become one of the richest countries in Europe. More people in Ireland now have a healthy life expectancy, as well as improved female life expectancy. 

Mental health: Mental health care has improved drastically, leading to better care of people suffering from mental health. 

FAQs about ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years

Membership of the EU has led to the many ways Ireland has changed over the last 40 years.

What are the main reasons for this change?

A mixture of better tolerance, admission to the EU, development of business, immigration, emigration, political leadership, an engaged citizen body and other factors.

Can we expect further change in Ireland?

As one of the richest countries in Europe, there will likely be further change. The world is changing all of the time, and Ireland is not exempt from this. Who knows what we will be writing in this article in 40 years’ time?

What has stayed the same?

Despite the changes, some things never changed. Irish hospitality, culture and sport has remained a mainstay in society and always will do.

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