Chains Forged in a Quest for Freedom

30 Jan

Sitting as I am across from the skeleton of a new law school building under rapid construction on UCD’s campus, it’s easy to forget that construction across this island has almost completely halted. But reflection on my time in Dublin brings to mind a different picture, one more in keeping with the financial straits in which this country finds itself. Abandoned scaffolding; large mounds of earth graced only by machines lying tilted and disused; finished and half-finished housing standing empty. This was a view of Dublin and its surrounding areas to which Lewis’ Vanity Fair piece helped open my eyes. The finances of this country were demolished by the crash of its real estate and construction bubble, and the easy money and immigrant workers which fueled this building boom are gone, dried up and vanished.


Abandoned homes mar sections of Ireland’s beautiful countryside.

What strikes one most about this crisis, however, is how the unique nature of Irish history has led its people to be so completely trapped by the success they so briefly enjoyed. As Lewis suggests, the past injustices visited upon the Irish people have led them to be much more easily tempted by the promise of easy home ownership than others. The Irish have been dispossessed of their property, sovereignty, and freedoms many times in the often tragic history of their small island. British Penal Laws in the 18th century severely restricted the liberties of Irish Catholics and forbade them from purchasing or holding certain properties without breaking allegiance with the Pope in Rome and professing themselves as Protestants. An “Act of Union” with England in 1801 robbed the Irish of their very right to govern their own country as a sovereign entity, and even today, after a successful rebellion and founding of a new Irish state, about a quarter of the country remains in the hands of another power. These transgressions are not so long removed for most people; their wounds are far too recent to have healed, and their impact remains visible today.

After so much forced landlessness in the past, the Irish see the opportunity to own their own homes now as an opportunity which must be seized, and the responsibility of paying for those homes is a responsibility which is not easily lifted. The Irish bought homes in droves for unreasonable prices during the boom, and now are determined to pay them off, though of course their economic situation makes that nearly impossible. Irish law doesn’t permit homeowners to escape their mortgages and leave the bank with the property, however, so these citizens have no choice but to knuckle under a new oppression, this time bound by chains of their own making.


Lewis, M. (2011). When Irish Eyes Are Crying. Vanity Fair, March

University of Minnesota Law School. Laws in Ireland for the suppression of Popery commonly known as the Penal Laws. Retrieved from

Victorian Web (1997). Britain and Ireland 1789-1801. Retrieved from

Wall, M. The age of the Penal Laws – 1691-1778. In Moody & Martin (Eds.), The Course of Irish History.


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