Lately, the Irish have been in the spotlight. The beauty pageant, Miss Ireland, decided to boycott Israel and support Palestine in October, which lead to the country losing the Miss Ireland title.

But the attention wasn’t solely focused on politics. The Irish countryside became a setting for multiple hit TV shows, including The Handmaid’s Tale, which was filmed in part in Ireland. The success of The Handmaid’s Tale is a result of the country’s beautiful landscapes and stunning coastal views. However, The Handmaid’s Tale was originally inspired by the 2011 Great Ireland Floods, which turned a large portion of the country into a grim, post-apocalyptic landscape. Hopefully, nothing like that will ever happen again.

Political Ambiguity

The success of The Handmaid’s Tale is a great example of Ireland’s ambiguous relationship with Israel. Although the show’s primary antagonist is the Republic of Ireland, it’s clear that The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the present day. The show isn’t particularly critical of Israel, but neither is it an official ­pro-Israel narrative. In fact, the country’s leader, Eamonn Kelly, is portrayed as an anti-Semitic, backwards ­figure. In the Bible, God makes a specific reference to The Handmaid’s Tale when he compares the Israelites to handmaids, who were forced to provide sex to men in order to sustain their families.

Although the character of Serena Joy is sympathetic, she too is a product of her time. In an effort to keep her country safe, she forces ­homosexuality on all residents, which ultimately results in an AIDS epidemic. It’s a tragic story, made even more complicated by the fact that Serena Joy and her ­socio-political views aren’t entirely motivated by selfish ambition. The character was initially inspired by the real-life Serena Joy, the daughter of a well-known Irish politician. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Kerryman Roy Conroy said “I met her when she was 16. She was a wild child; she had long hair and wore men’s shirts and jeans. She was the spitting image of Angelina Jolie. I took a shine to her and gave her some pointers on how to make herself more man-like. To this day, I feel terrible about the way I treated her.”

The Sunday Times also reports that Roy Conroy had a sexual relationship with the then-16-year-old Serena Joy, which began when she was 17. He was later acquitted of sexual assault charges. Many Irish politicians, including the late Albert Reynolds, who was Irish Prime Minister from 1992 to 1997, have been accused of sexual harassment or assault. Reynolds’ successor as prime minister Enda Kenny is also facing a similar allegation. A senior government source told The Sunday Times that “this is a problem that has been swept under the carpet for too long. People just don’t talk about these issues. To make matters worse, there appears to be a power-hungry political class who are more than happy to step in where the state should not.”

Another example of Ireland’s political ambivalence occurs in the wake of the 2007 crimes committed by the British soldier, Lance Corporal Lee Arnold. Many in Ireland still maintain that his crimes, which included the rape of an 18-year-old girl, Aisling McCarthy, should be classified as sex crimes. However, Arnold’s supporters say that the British soldier was tortured and abused as a child and were therefore defending themselves against alleged paedophiles. In one of the most controversial verdicts in Irish legal history, Arnold was convicted of the lesser offense of indecent assault on an Iraqi girl, Zainab, and was sentenced to a year in prison.

The Successful Irish

It’s only natural that the Irish would be in the spotlight, given the country’s rich cultural heritage and thriving music industry. And it’s not only the political and historical landscapes that have made the Irish stand out. The people are also remarkable. In 2015, the HSE ­published a report which revealed that 3.4% of the country’s population are clinically obese. The following year, that figure jumped to 4.9%, making Ireland the overweight capital of Europe.

One of the main reasons why the Irish are so successful is because of the influence of their educational system. Thanks to the Gaelic language and the Catholic Church, many Irish people were lucky enough to receive a decent education, which instilled a sense of pride and community in them. In 2014, 81% of the country’s adults held a post-school qualification. In Ireland, only the Greeks have a higher proportion of post-school qualifications. That’s probably why many Irish people are so well-versed in various fields, from business to medicine, science, and art.

An Island of Inclusiveness

The role that the Catholic Church plays in Irish society cannot be overstated. To begin with, let’s look at how the organisation operates. The Irish nation is fairly secular, especially when compared to other Christian groups. However, the Catholic Church is a global organisation, which operates independently of the government. That independence is crucial for ensuring that the views of the church are never ­simplified or politicised. One of the key figures in the Catholic Church in Ireland is the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. Since 2014, Martin has been at the forefront of the LGBT rights movement in Ireland. In 2014, he established Ionad – the Irish Council of Churches – which represents all of the country’s religious denominations. One of its first actions was to call for an end to discriminatory laws, particularly in relation to the sexual ­orientation of minors.

The success of Ireland’s LGBT community and general acceptance of LGBT people is down to a number of factors. The country’s low divorce rate is also indicative of how comfortable it is to be different. The same goes for its open-minded attitude toward ­immigration. In fact, Ireland is one of the main EU countries to have a No Borders – open-door policy toward ­migrants. It also offers some of the most generous benefits in the world to ­newly-arrived immigrants, particularly its family unification programme. These policies have helped to create an ­island of inclusiveness in Ireland.

A Countrywide Church Attendance

Although atheism is legal in Ireland, the country’s ­Catholicism is alive and well. In fact, in 2015, 94% of the population attended Sunday Mass. That’s compared to 84% in the UK and 76% in the USA. The Irish Catholic Church is also remarkable when it comes to engagement with the population. Since its inception, the church in Ireland has always had a close bond with the working classes, who make up a significant portion of its congregations. In 1841, the Archdiocese of Dublin established a workers’ monastery, Coleman Peninsula, which still functions today. The monastery is open to all, providing ­accommodation, food, and spiritual guidance to individuals and families who cannot afford the ­privileges of a traditional parish church.

The popularity of the monastery among Ireland’s working classes is largely down to the fact that it provides a safe space, away from the distractions of the urban world. The monastery grounds also function as an extension of the parish, with workers frequently volunteering to help the monastery’s vicar, Fr William McKinney, with ­mass.

A Rich Heritage

It’s not only the working classes who have benefited from the strong Catholic Church in Ireland. The rich heritage that the Church has bequeathed to the country is also remarkable. The Irish Catholic Church ­collectively owns over 280 properties across the country. Some of these locations are open to the public, such as Brún Abbey and Mellows Library. The church also funds over 450 schools and colleges, as well as numerous nursing homes, hotels, and restaurants. There are also 57 convents, meaning that Ireland is home to some of the world’s most generous nuns and monks. Finally, it should be remembered that the Irish climate is ideal for growing grapes, which provide the alcohol for the country’s rich and famous brandies and whiskeys. The result is a veritable wine and spirits delivery service for the affluent and famous.