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Hibernia (The Land of Winter)

A comment was made some years back that the only apparent outward semblance of Ireland achieving freedom from Britain was the fact that the post-boxes were painted green instead of red. This should be taken in the humorous context in which it was meant to be delivered. In 1921 we did not have an awful lot to start with but we were fortunate to inherit the British Civil Service. Some time ago I noticed two wall mounted post-boxes in Cork bearing the royal insignia underneath the green paint. The original British Post Office boxes were bright red. When Ireland gained Independence in 1921 the post-boxes were retained, even the postage stamps were retained with overprints for some time. Now the post-boxes are painted green, but the royal insignia can be clearly seen. The ones I have come across are those of Edward V11, this was Queen Victoria’s son who reigned from 1901 until his death in 1910. When I saw these it struck me as to how short a time we have been out on our own as a Country.

Sometimes I get the feeling that we can lack confidence and belief in ourselves as we are a small nation on the outer edges of Europe. In the early 1920’s when our first independent Government looked around at what they had to start with, they realised that they had very little. In the previous centuries of colonisation we had become an agricultural market garden to feed Britain and its Colonies. The Industrial Revolution was never allowed to reach us and apart from some areas in the Northern part of the Country there was no industrial base in the South of the Country at this time. However, with a strong innovative spirit that launched and developed projects like Ardnacrusha, Shannon Airport, Bord na Mona and the attraction of a Multinational Industrial base we have achieved a great deal in the past 80 years, and we should be very proud of this.

Yes, we were certainly restrained during the colonial period but if we journey upstream a bit in time we will find an Irish people with a great economic and cultural tradition that has helped the advance of civilisation in a global context. In the Monastic period we travelled extensively throughout Europe, providing the people in these areas with learning and religion. Newgrange was constructed over 5000 years ago, at the same time as the Egyptian pyramids, by an Irish race that had a knowledge of trigonometry. We also produced intricate and priceless works such as the Book of Kells, the Ardagh Chalice and knowledge of navigation may have seen St. Brendan reach Newfoundland as early as the 6th century. We have also produced literary giants such as Swift, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, Joyce and Heaney that are now globally respected.

Not bad for a small island country at the edge of Europe. There will be little downsides from time to time, but if we formulate an economic policy that develops value add and innovation over volume manufacturing and that also embraces the agricultural, fishing and leisure industry, our future is guaranteed to be very bright and long lasting. As a nation of less than 5 million people we have hosted the European Presidency representing a landmass of over 450 million people. This should not surprise us, we will never be a huge player but we can certainly be a very effective smaller one.

‘The possibility of the Future far exceeds the accomplishments of the Past’ - Thoreau