x close to the next moment
But neither they nor anyone else could have predicted what happened next.
And yet this is not a book about economic attitudes. The economy is simply a catalyst for a broader conversation. The rapidity with which financial optimism turned to a bleak concern even while this book was being prepared allowed a more questioning series of perceptions to be put in the frame. What are Irish values? How have they changed? How do new and pressing cultural realities affect the old arts of language and image which have been so important in Ireland?
These questions allowed me to turn this book in the direction I wanted it to go. My chief interest has been to see how the makers of a culture – and Irish artists have always been that – view the events happening in their own country. Do they, like MacNeice, believe that politics, economics, artistic expression and disillusion in a faith are indivisible realities? Do they believe, as MacNeice did, that there is still such a thing as Irishness?
In the spring and summer of 2009 I was able to take up these conversations again, with the poet Theo Dorgan and playwright Ursula Rani Sarma. They made valuable additions to the debate. I continued with the artist Dorothy Cross and the playwright Conor McPherson. Here too the conversations were illuminating. By now the economic collapse was all too obvious in Ireland. That summer several conversations turned, perhaps not surprisingly, to a sombre view not just of cultural change but of the peril confronting a whole planet.
The desire to look through a wider lens had a parallel in a desire to turn back to history. This is what Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill does as she looks at what has changed in the Irish language and what is vanishing in an Irish-speaking culture. Both Marina Carr and Barry McCrea echoed some of this. And occasionally now, as these conversations went forward, a note of anger entered some of the answers – anger with government, anger with the Church. This would be reinforced by events such as the publication of the Murphy report in the autumn of 2009, with its harrowing accounts of child abuse and cover up.
It seemed appropriate that these interviews took place against a background of different landscapes and constantly changing terrains. In the West of Ireland Mary O’Malley discussed the vanishing life of Irish fishermen and related it to the disappearance of maritime