Ireland is a small country.  The Republic of Ireland is 27,133 square miles, not even 30% the size of Oregon, and just over 10% the size of Texas.  Add in Northern Ireland, and the whole island is 32,375 square miles.  That’s not a lot of space. 

Which might explain why everything is so small here.  The cars are small (a Ford Fiesta is a relatively large car here), the streets are narrow (which partly explains the smaller cars), the shower in our four-week self-catering apartment was small (24 inches by 24 inches, and I’m not making that up), the cribbage board we bought is short (90 holes), the refrigerators are small, the milk containers are small (2 liter jugs often being the largest available, but they fit nicely into the small refrigerators) and even the people are small. 

No, I’m not talking about the Little People, but the average Irish person weighs much less than the average American.  According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 34% of Americans over the age of 29 are obese (Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater while overweight is defined as a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9).  Here, while the population is getting fatter each year, only about 18% of the Irish are obese, while 36% are overweight.  This was really noticeable to us as we made our way through the holiday crowds and there were times we would look into a large crowd and not see a single large person.   

Still, the conditions that make the Irish a slimmer people may not last long.Fast food exists here, in the form of McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Dominos, and others, but it doesn’t seem as prevalent in Ireland yet.  And while of course it’s still quite possible to buy and cook your food at home, one large chain of small markets (Centra – think 7-11 or Circle K) has a slogan “For the way we live today,” implying that fast and convenient is the new way of life in Ireland and they may be right.  Intake is only half the equation, though.  Until its economy took off in the 1990s, the Irish way of life was different than it is today, and fewer people drove than they do today.  According to a 2004 report of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United States has “the highest car ownership in the region [the United States, Canada, Europe, and parts of Central Asia] with 776 cars per 1000 population” while Ireland has just 359 per 1000 (although a different study by a financial firm that same year reported that the Irish rate was 391 per 1000, and with trends at that time of around 5% per year, it’s gone up since then in any case). 

From stories in the news about traffic problems and an outdated transportation system, to the huge number of television shows and newspaper articles describing the looming health crisis, the Irish know that their economic growth comes with a price.  But, as one of the hosts of AM Ireland recently said,  the days before the boom were not good ones for the country, and he for one has no regrets about the growth of Ireland’s economy.  I’m sure he’s not alone, but while the Irish may not like it, they’re becoming more like Americans every year, spending more time in their cars and less time walking, and it’s beginning to show.