The Constitution of the Irish State guarantees
the preservation of the family and the institution of marriage. The state
provides pension support to the elderly and benefits for children and
single-parent families. Families are close-knit. Children usually live
with their parents until they marry and it is common for Irish families
to take care of elderly relatives, rather than sending them to retirement
Friendship is an important part of Irish culture. Loyalty to family and friends is highly valued and many Irish legends and songs describe the lengths to which people will go to help friends or family members. The Irish are also famous for their hospitality and there is a tradition of kindness to strangers and those in need.
In the past, Irish women stayed at home to raise
the children and were responsible for most of the housework. Women in
lower-income families also helped on the farm or held jobs to supplement
the household income. In recent years, more women from the middle
classes have entered the workforce and many Irish men share responsibility
for raising the children and taking care of the home.
More than half of the population lives in or around cities. In rural areas, living conditions are often simpler than those in cities. Traditional cottages in the countryside are built of stone and have thatched roofs. Newer farmhouses and buildings have replaced many of these cottages. Ireland has seen a dramatic rise in its standard of living in the past decade. Today fewer than 30% of all households are rented. Almost 80% of households have a television set and 50% own a car.
In the past decade, Ireland has undergone a social
revolution. Practices once forbidden by the Catholic church are now permitted.
Contraceptive devices are now legal in Ireland and abortions may be performed
if the life of the mother is threatened. Couples may divorce after three years
of separation. This change of policy has resulted in a large backlog of divorce
applications waiting for approval. The divorce rate in Ireland today is on a
par with that of other European nations.
Although Irish society has challenged the dominance of the Catholic Church, Catholicism remains an important part of Irish customs and culture. Many people belong to church organizations and participate in social events organized by their local parish.