Saturday, June 02, 2012

Celtic Tiger 1

The Generational Impacts of Ireland’s Economic Crisis

Tyretracks in the sand, Donabate Beach, 2007 or 2008
The Celtic Tiger era came to an abrupt end in a generally unpredicted hard crash landing with much collateral damage, as opposed to the rather gentler kind expressed in the euphemism of the “soft landing” peddled by most politicians, economists, speculators and banks at the time.  That this term was adapted to economics from its origins in the early days of flight, when it historically was the method of the landing of hot air balloons, may be somewhat ironically appropriate as indeed the predictions of these experts proved to be nothing short of “hot air.”
One need not be an expert in the field to know about the causes and consequences of this economic crisis because every citizen lives with its impacts on a daily basis.  As recently as April 18th last The Irish Independent reported that an elderly couple had lost their €1.25m life savings in a failed investment that a judge said could only be described as a "Celtic Tiger tragedy”[1].  That Ireland’s economy has gone from boom to bust in as short a period of time as twenty years is now worldwide knowledge.

Setting the Scene
We Irish are a small nation with all-too-recent peasant roots, not yet a hundred years old as a nation among nations.  Also, as a nation we have a long memory of a rather bloody and often humiliating past. The one time professor of history at U.C.G., Professor P.L. Henry (1978, 21) argued some years back that the constantly diminishing number of native speakers of the Irish language learned from 1795 onwards that “they and all they represented were inferior, unfashionable and gross; moreover, they were impoverished.”[2] Barely 150 years before the birth of the mythical Celtic Tiger, had the people of this small island experienced the desolation and devastation of the potato famine.  It could also be argued that the Irish in general have a sort of national inferiority complex due to hundreds of years of occupation by an outside power.  Kiberd (1995, p. 6) argues similarly that colonialism took various forms in Ireland over the centuries, forms that were accompanied by a “psychology of self-doubt and dependency among the Irish, linked to the loss of economic and political power but also to the decline of the native language and culture.”
What I am getting at here is that, in a strange sort of way, the attitude of the Irish during the Celtic Tiger era - where “we all partied” as the late Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said [3] - was literally an unconscious reaction to such long years of poverty and humiliation.  “Paddy Irishman” literally took to his newly found wealth and accompanying more positive identity, with the conviction and passion of a reformed alcoholic.

Defining our Terms
Without a doubt the “generation” to which each of us belongs places our personal narratives in a broader context – that of the present writer being a youth and young adulthood experienced during the decades of the sixties and seventies respectively of the last century.  Having already lived through the recession of the 1980s and having “come out the farther end” situates the writer in a broader meta-narrative that would suggest that even if this recession lasts longer and bites deeper, that an up-turn is most likely even if it will be later appearing than the last one.  
The Jewish Hungarian-born sociologist Karl Mannheim (1893 – 1947) could be regarded as the grandfather of generational research. He suggests that a generation could also be defined in terms of collective response to a traumatic event or catastrophe that unites a particular cohort of individuals into a self-conscious age stratum.  He was probably thinking of the angst faced by German population in the wake of World War I.  Our traumatic event is undoubtedly the collapse of the Celtic Tiger era as heralded by the Bank Guarantee of September 29, 2008. As well as being of the 1960s and 1970s chronological generation, this writer firmly belongs with many others of different age groups who have been forged into a “Mannheimian” generation by virtue of the fact that we are all part of a collective response to our particular shared catastrophe.[4]  Hence, it is to the impacts of Ireland’s economic crisis on this generation that this essay directs its attention.  However, first we must look at a brief history of that fateful era called The Celtic Tiger.

[1] Tim Healy, Irish Independent, Wednesday April 18, 2012.

[2] See “Anglo-Irish And Its Irish Background” in The English Language in Ireland, (Mercier, 1978), edited by D.Ó Muirithe, for an extensive account of the fortunes of the Irish language and how its decline led to a sort of “inferiority complex” on the part of Gaelic speakers.

[3] Brian Lenihan, 'We All Partied', in an interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on Prime Time 24/11/10.  Accessed 6/05/2012

[4] As the quotation from Mannheim, given in class, puts it: “People are ‘contemporaries’ in the true sense of the word, not because of their location in chronological time, but because they are subjected to similar intellectual, social, political and economic circumstances.  Thus, individuals who experience the same constellation of influences arising from their location in society and history – even though they are various in their early, formative or later years – can be termed a ‘generation’.” From lecture notes by Sweeney, J. (2012), PowerPoint, Slide 1, March 6th.

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