For most Irish, the nuclear family unit plays a major role in their day-to-day lives. The extended family continues to be an essential part of Irish society. In the past, extended families would live near one another, but this is becoming less common today due to the ongoing impacts of urbanisation. Nonetheless, the family remains fundamentally important to the individual. Indeed, the unique personal relationships that family members share and the support they receive from one another is highly valued.
The Irish are encouraged to be independent and self-reliant as they grow up. Children will live with their parents until they leave to attend university, to move in with their partner, or once they have become financially independent. In rural areas, children will usually leave home at around the age of 18 to 19 to attend university or to look for jobs in larger cities.
Family cohesiveness remains a focal point for many of the Irish. For example, when study or work takes a relative away from the family to larger cities or abroad, it is common to find their ties to home still quite strong. Many will make great efforts to return home periodically, especially for Christmas.
Death in Irish Culture
When a family member or close friend passes away, it is a common tradition for people to celebrate the person's life before and after the funeral. Often, the wake after the funeral continues with food and drinks in a local pub, while people sing songs and share stories about the person they have lost. Afterwards, the family member is usually buried in a family burial site. Such traditions are common throughout Ireland and reflect the value of mateship and family for many Irish.
Household Structure and Gender Roles
In Ireland, the traditional family structure of a husband, wife and children is still the norm, but there is growing acceptance of other living arrangements. Indeed, there are many alternative households, including single-person households, single-parent families, couples without children and LGBTQI+ couples with children. In turn, there is a growing tolerance within Ireland towards a multiplicity of choices in family structure.
Traditionally, the ideals within Catholicism emphasised the traditional role of the mother and the dominating beliefs about women in Irish culture. This is changing; gender stereotypes are no longer as strong as they once were in determining a person’s role or duty in the family. Indeed, with the high cost of living, it is common for both members in a couple to work.
This gender equality is more common in urban areas. Rural areas tend to be more conservative and maintain traditional views regarding household and gender roles. For example, women in rural areas often stay home to care for the children and household. This may contribute to the tendency of married women having a considerably lower participation rate in the labour force compared to other European countries.
Dating and Marriage
Dating practices in Ireland are similar to those throughout the English-speaking West. During high school, teenagers will begin to socialise in group activities with peers from school or those living in the same neighbourhood. Some couples may meet through social events such as a sports club or church. The average marriage age has been steadily increasing in recent years. Today, most people marry in their early- to mid-thirties. It is common for many to have a Catholic wedding. Ceremonies held in a church contain two parts, a religious ceremony and the civil component of signing the civil register. Those who do not have a Catholic wedding will choose a civil wedding.
Views on marriage, abortion and divorce were once heavily informed by the attitudes of the Catholic Church. However, the church's influence on such matters is diminishing. One of the most notable examples is marriage equality. In 2015, Ireland voted in a nationwide referendum to legalise same-sex marriage. Out of the 60.5% of the population who voted, 62% chose ‘yes' to change the Constitution to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples (The Irish Times, 2015). This means that Ireland was the first country to introduce marriage equality through a national referendum. Some interpret this as a sign of Ireland becoming more secular.