DUBLIN, Ireland – While reporting stories on contemporary Ireland, lines that W.B. Yeats wrote nearly a century ago kept coming back to me:
"Romantic Ireland's dead and gone, / It's with O'Leary in the grave," he wrote in support of a labor strike in 1913.
The rural Irish life, romanticized in such films as the 1952 John Ford classic "The Quiet Man," starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, or the "emigrant Irish" depicted in Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's "Far and Away" can seem like relics of the past when viewed against the growth of the country's cities and huge influx of immigrants.
For many years, Ireland suffered from wretched poverty and religion-based violence – hardships that built the nation's character and fed the country's unmatched literary heritage.
"It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while," wrote Frank McCourt in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 memoir "Angela's Ashes."
|VIDEO: Irish voices discuss the 'new' Ireland|
Now, Ireland has been ranked as the second richest European country (after Luxembourg) on a per capita basis. Corporations that have located major European operations to Ireland include Google, Pfizer, Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard and Jansen Pharmaceutical.
So, after reporting on the changes – chiefly, prosperity and multiculturalism – that have swept Ireland in the past decade, the question emerges: Has anything been lost in the "new" Ireland?
"Young people were taking control of their country again, because the brightest people … weren't leaving anymore. And you could feel it. It was actually tangible," said Duncan Maguire, who owns a Japanese bar and restaurant on Dublin's trendy Exchequer Street.
The 31-year-old was telling me of the nationwide boom that began in mid 1990s.
International firms, especially from the United States, took advantage of generous tax benefits and demographics – Ireland was cheaper than Britain; and it had a native English-speaking population, unlike other low-cost options like Portugal.
Now, cities like Limerick, where the author McCourt was raised, are still tough, but have benefited from the Celtic Tiger: Dell's main European Manufacturing Facility, the computer maker's biggest manufacturing plant outside the United States, is located in there. So is Analog Devices and contact-lens maker Vistakon, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
Meantime, while Ireland's emigrant population was once integral to the development of several countries, especially the United States, its own immigrant population has been vital in filling the demand for labor caused by its Celtic Tiger economy, which propelled Ireland from the "poorest of the rich" (in The Economist's phrase) to one of the world's wealthiest nations per capita in less than a generation.
An island at peace
Meanwhile, The Troubles, a euphemism for the religiously-tinged violence between pro-Republic of Ireland Nationalists and pro-U.K. Unionists in Northern Ireland (that reportedly killed around 3,500 people between the years 1969-2001) are effectively over.
The British province, which makes up part of historic Ulster, now has a significant measure of self-rule – an unheard of prospect just two decades ago.
The country's Catholic identity is also changing.
Another legendary mainstay of Irish life – pub culture – is evolving.
Maguire, the bar and restaurant owner, told me that his friends rarely meet in pubs anymore.
"There's a huge social shift going on," he said. "People don't go to the pubs like they used to. I don't meet friends in pubs anymore. I meet them in restaurants."
|John D McHugh for msnbc.com|
|People walk past the iconic Temple Bar pub in the heart of Dublin on March 4, 2008.|
Some older Irish people have complained that since the boom, pub owners' focus has also changed.
"In old times, an old man or a woman, they would go into a certain part of the pub to sit in comfort, but they wouldn't keep them seats for them now because there wouldn't be the same amount of money" spent compared to younger pub-goers, said Sally Keogh, a sprightly 82-year-old Dubliner while on her way to Mass on a recent weekday morning.
But, conversely, foreign workers may end up taking new tastes home with them.
Pawel Jaskowski, a Polish waiter in Dublin, said he can't go wrong with Ireland's legendary thick black beverage. "I like Guinness. Stick to Guinness. All the time," he said in a ringing endorsement of Ireland's most famous drink.
Still, visits to many rural pubs can be just as lively as years past, as well as old standbys in central Dublin like the Stag's Head, O'Neill's or the tiny Dawson Lounge. It seems unlikely that something as ingrained in a culture as pub life will vanish anytime soon.
Regardless, the famous Irish sincerity remains, evident in talking to people like Keogh, who referenced the Irish emigrant experience when framing the plight of current migrants in Ireland.
"I wouldn't like to be in a foreign country, looking for work, not knowing the language or anything. I just wouldn't. And, I mean, our people went away years ago and they should know what it's all about because there were notices against them: 'No Irish need apply' when they were looking for accommodation. So we should be the ones to show the example, you know?" the 82-year-old said.
South African-born Joshua N. Amaechi, who came to Ireland after living in Britain, said the Irish warmth was apparent in one of his first visits to a pub.
"I was on my own. These three Irish guys walked up to me and they were like, 'You're on your own? Do you want to join us?' And coming from England, I was like, 'Hello!?' … I ended up having a great time. … And that (friendliness) was one of the things that kept me here," he said.
Good on them?
James Joyce once wrote that "if Ireland is to become a new Ireland, she must first become European."
It appears that is precisely what has happened.
If the "new" Ireland has seen a change in some of the country's traditional aspects, which sometimes coincided with poverty, sectarian bloodshed and the often heartbreaking separation caused by emigration, can anyone be blamed for saying (as the Irish might put it), "good on them"?