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The Female Workforce (2:52) Excerpt from film "Mixed Blessings", July 2006
Irish women discuss social and economic changes that have taken place over the last half century.

Country: Ireland

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Guiding Questions
  1. Name three ways that Irish women's lives prior to the 1970s were different from their lives after 1990.

  2. What indicators of urbanization do you see in this clip?

  3. As Ireland changes from a rural to an urban society, how do you predict that life will change? Is the societal price of economic growth too high?
Background Essay
Traditional Ireland, before the economic prosperity of the 1990's, had self-sufficient towns which stressed family and religious values but suffered from poverty-driven emigration. The female workforce in Ireland has increased 50% in the last two decades. This incredible trend has been one of the main drivers of the Irish economic boom.

Modern Ireland is now one of the most prosperous nations in Europe, for several reasons: economic dependence on the UK has decreased, there is reverse immigration, and a global economy is expanding. Real estate prices are soaring, women are entering the workforce in record numbers, and droves of foreign workers, particularly from Eastern Europe, have come to Ireland hoping to find work. For once in its history, Ireland is prosperous, modern, and a country full of immigrants to the country, instead of emigrants away from it.

All this prosperity is not without its downside, however. As a result of the economic transformation, self-sufficient towns with strong community ties have been replaced by cities, with their share of urban problems. The increase of women in the workforce has also created a change in family structure - family size has decreased and there is a struggle to balance home and work responsibilities. Furthermore, the Catholic church is in jeopardy - gone are the days when the parish priest was revered and Catholic doctrine was central in both government policy and private life.

The city of Limerick, which is located on the River Shannon, is an example of the transformations happening in Ireland. Limerick was historically an agricultural area. Since the 1990s, Limerick's industries and its fortunes have turned - the city has prospered in an economic boom and many multinational companies such as Dell, Analog Devices, and Vistakon are now based in Limerick. These companies now employ thousands of people and contribute substantially to the Irish Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Some see this rapid economic development as a mixed blessing, because at the same time as Limerick becomes more prosperous, traditions and beliefs are also being threatened. People who fondly recall "the good old days" are concerned about the changes within their city and country.

This clip is taken from an episode of WIDE ANGLE called MIXED BLESSINGS. In this film, many aspects of Limerick's transformation are explored. These include economic development, increased immigration and decreased emigration, urbanization, agricultural problems, real estate bubbles, working women, and secularization.
My Mom would have been a 'stay home' mother. She wouldn't have worked outside the home but she'd have worked very hard within the home. The marriage ban in Ireland was only lifted in 1970, so once you got married, you were actually not legally allowed to work, if that's the best way of putting it.

You raise the number of kids now that you can afford to have and to give them a good childhood. Things are a lot more expensive now; it's more expensive now to raise a child probably per head than it did years ago, in my mother's time.

The female workforce has increased 50% in the last two decades. This incredible trend has been one of the main drivers of the economic boom.

Kitty Leyden who emigrated from Ireland 50 years ago now works at Bunratty Theme Park - set up in the 1960s to illustrate a nostalgic vision of Ireland.

I grew up in West Clare. Like, we were 12 miles from the nearest town, we were 30 miles from Ennis, we were 4 miles from the village and we were 3 miles from school and when people married in the country, where I grew up, it was an arranged marriage. He could be 50 and she could be in her 20s and she had to have a dowry...

My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, I'm going to be the big 7-0 and I'm looking forward to my — Ann is coming from New York and Tommy and Patrick and James. So they're all coming for the birthday.

How many of your brothers and sisters went to America?

We all went, 11 of us.

And how many of you came back?

I, mise!

Kitty lives in Tulla - a rapidly expanding rural satellite town of Limerick. Villages are becoming towns and towns are becoming cities as Irish people leave the land and commute to work in technology, construction or service sectors. Kitty's daughter Ann left Tulla in the 1980s when emigration was the norm.

I worked in Ennis for a year after I came out of secondary school and the factories then started letting people go. So there was huge unemployment, I mean it was the same as anywhere in Ireland in the mid-'80s, there was no work. And again as I said you either left or you went on the dole.

But Tulla was a great little town in all the things it had going for it. It had great community spirit, it had great sporting clubs, it had a great youth club, it had a drama society, it had a great infrastructure for the people who lived here, but money-wise there just was no money.

Related Links
Mixed Blessing on PBS.org

CIA Factbook: Ireland

Economic and Social Research Institute

Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Ireland

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