January 1, 2000. Not just a new century, but a new millennium. Spotless, for the briefest moment, though far from empty. Arriving so brimful of promise and hope. “What will it be like?” we wondered, staring almost child-like at the clock as it approached the new era. A brand-new, unopened, ready-to-use millennium! And this time, with all we’d learned over past millennia, we would get things right.
“Do they have traffic lights in Ireland?” This was a naive question posed to my cousin on a visit to the United States in the 1980s. To my pre-teen intellect, this was the kind of insult that demonstrated the height of American ignorance my friends and I so often scoffed at. There was laughter at such a ludicrous concept.
The image of Ireland as backward bordered on comical and more often, irritating. After all, we were a nation with a deep history and a rich culture with literary giants like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and W.B. Yeats. Musically, we boasted the renowned talent of everything from The Dubliners and Thin Lizzy to the global phenomenon of U2. In our minds, we might be a small island, but we were extremely proud and accomplished.