Thursday, October 16, 2008

Erin Go Bust - OpEd in The New York Times

Erin Go Bust


IN the ravening years of the Celtic Tiger we had a dinner-party competition to define the figure most representative of the suddenly prosperous Ireland we so bafflingly found ourselves in. Someone came up with “a non-tax-paying businessman’s trophy wife.” This seemed right, and as time went on we added more and more details; at last count we had arrived at “a non-tax-paying businessman’s trophy wife driving her 14-year-old daughter to her drug rehabilitation session in an S.U.V. at 60 miles an hour down a bus lane while speaking on her cellphone, smoking a cigarette and making a rude gesture at a passing cyclist.” Over the past couple of weeks, however, the game has lost its savor. As one dinner guest murmured, “That poor little girl.”

The old saw “safe as houses” no longer cuts. And money in the bank is no longer “money in the bank.” We did not think the system could fail, but late last month government officials, in a dawn announcement, told us they had been compelled to give a 400-billion-euro guarantee to the banks, which were running out of money. It has been estimated that if the banks have to call in that guarantee, it will bankrupt the country for the next 37 years. And it will get worse.

In Ireland we live in a 30-year time warp. What for most of the rest of the Western world was “the ’60s” did not arrive for us until the 1990s. Indeed, the start of our Age of Aquarius can be dated to that week in the spring of 1992 when the news broke in Ireland that a prominent and popular churchman, Bishop Eamonn Casey, had carried on a long affair with an Irish-American woman, and that he had a 17-year-old son by her. It was the first of a series of religio-sexual scandals to be exposed here, each one worse than its predecessor.

The bishop had been a pillar both of church and state — he was a ubiquitous presence during Pope John Paul’s visit to Ireland in 1979, but he had also done much to highlight the plight of the urban homeless — and his downfall should have been a disorienting shock to a country that was proud of being 95 percent Catholic. However, all we knew was that the church’s centuries-long stranglehold upon our necks had suddenly been loosened. Freed, we did what all free men like best to do: we started making money, and spending it. The ’90s and the first half of the noughties were our coming-of-age party. Oh, how we roistered.

And now, as Nancy Pelosi observed, the party is over. That “poor little girl” will be far more emblematic of the coming years than her appalling mother was of the past decade and a half.

These are strange days in Ireland, though for once no stranger, it seems, than they are anywhere else in the world. Those of us old enough to have lived through it are reminded of the Cuban missile crisis: that nightmarish sense of being suspended somehow in midair, looking down upon ourselves and our poor, fragile world in wonderment and slow terror. Can this really be happening? Can all that wealth really have vanished so quickly, so comprehensively?

And yet there is, too, a curious trace of wistfulness in the air. We seem to be asking if it was really so bad in those days before Bishop Casey liberated us. Were we, if not happier, then at least more content, when we were poor? Did we not behave more courteously toward each other — did we not more readily forgive each other and ourselves for our failings? Shall we not perhaps regain something of the “real” Ireland when the suddenly toothless tiger is dead and buried? As our mothers used to say to us children when we had lost something, “You weren’t meant to have it.” Grim comfort.

One feels most sympathy for the young, who have known only tigerish days. How will they cope with what now seems certain to come? Again the dole queues, the mass emigration, the grind and grayness of life lived from hand to mouth. Poor little girls, poor little boys.

John Banville is the author of the novels “Eclipse,” “The Untouchable,” “The Sea” and “The Book of Evidence.”


Lava Flow said...

The difference now is that Ireland is in the EU. Irish people can emigrate to Spain, Germany, Poland, and Lithuania - legally.

Anonymous said...

Well wrote but you feel most sympathy for the young.
The young that had it great for 8/9 year's. Nothing to worry about everything handed to them. (you feel sympathy for them)

How about some sympathy for the irish that had to come out of school at 14,15 & 16 just to help there mum & dad make end's meet.
And had to come to america when there was no work in ireland. And are now living in fear as they are undocumented. (have been trying for year's to get legal).
Now you feel sympathy for them young ones.
You know them young one's got our visa's of the irish gov't. (F,F)
Were over here living our life in the shadow's and in fear. (and you feel sorry for them) lol
Has the people at home lost there marble's.

School Marm said...

Dude, ur English is atrocious

Anonymous said...

Over 700,000 are on minumen wage in Ireland there is 250,000 on the welfare out of a workforce of 2 million there never was a celtic tiger for most on this Island.
Eddie Reynolds

Anonymous said...

Dude is not a word in the English vocabulary. Also, maybe you should learn to speak properly before you write - UR I think you mean "your". Get it right school marm before you start criticising other people.

Anonymous said...

School marm tell me something i dont know. Did you not read i left school at a young age.

Is that all you got ????.

Im looking for a visa not a engilsh lesson.

Anonymous said...

Why is this author being posted on the ILIR web page? What are we supposed to run out and buy his book? (No thanks).
What has this got to do with the undocumented in America, WE know that there will be more irish coming here. The great Irish gov made sure of that by giving the spoiled Celtic babies our visas.
Well said anonymous, I was one of those people who left school at15 to help my parents. The difference today is the Celtic babies have never seen their own sweat.

Anonymous said...

Why do some of the posters on this sight show such fury and vitriol towards the young people living in Ireland? By admission, they say they cannot go home because they are undocumented yet they seem to have this great insight that the young people of Ireland are spoiled brats.
While it may be true in some cases, I would tend to believe that it is no more widespread in Ireland than in any other industrialized nation.
I understand people here are upset that 20,000 visas are being granted to young Irish applicants, but you are doing yourself and your cause a disservice by making statements like this.

Keep the negative and malelolent comments out of the debate please.

Lou Ferpo

Anonymous said...

I fail to understand why this article was posted on this sight, It does not help or encourage anyone.
I would ask the sight administrator to be more selective on what posts are allowed.

And to the other blogers .... stop using derogative and insulting terms.
Remember God is listening. Let's keep him on our side.

Peter Nassey.