Great preacher's audience rapt, even without answers
AFTER a week-long break in west Cork, I decided to ease my way back into work mode by attending Professor Morgan Kelly's lecture on Saturday night, which formed one of the centre-pieces of the always wonderful Kilkenny Arts Festival.
It's easy to become absorbed with the technical detail of this ever-changing financial crisis.
A new financial vocabulary has emerged again in the last few weeks with talk of billions moving to trillions and terms like soft default, eurobonds, private sector involvement and structural debt fast becoming the new lexicon.
While all this is crucial to finding a solution to the financial crisis, last week I found most people were looking for answers to the same few questions:
•What will happen to my savings and are they safe in Irish banks?
•When will the banks start lending again?
•Should I emigrate?
•How will I pay for care in my old age?
•Is it worth continuing my business in the hope that things will pick up?
•When will it all end?
It was therefore no surprise that Prof Kelly's lecture in St Canice's, one of Ireland's most charming and beautiful cathedrals, was sold out long before the world economy went into a nose-dive again last week.
His lecture style, like his writings, is a highly entertaining octane-fuelled account of how Irish politicians, bankers and developers bankrupted the nation.
For two hours, he spoke, unscripted, pacing back and forth across the altar as his audience sat in their pews and listened. People have come to the cathedral for centuries looking for solace and hope. Morgan Kelly's flock weren't going to get much hope. But then, they knew that.
On the negative side, he proclaimed that Ireland was effectively insolvent -- the next crisis would be mass home mortgage defaults, Ireland's national debt would rise to €250bn by 2015, house prices had yet to bottom out, the banks would turn into loss-making, gold-plated semi-states, unemployment would remain a huge issue and it would take a decade for the economy to recover.
On a positive note -- yes, he did mention some positives -- the euro crisis, he told us, would be solved, and despite his previous assertions that Ireland should walk away from the bailout, he now felt we were better off in the euro club, mainly because we are simply 'stuck' with it.
Kelly has been described as "a specialist in medieval demographics" and as he stood in one of the country's finest medieval sites, he said he never thought the nation would end up in as bad a state as we have.
The congregation looked up at him hoping that he'd say how they were going to get out of this mess.
The half-dozen questions that are on everyone's lips hung in the air around the cathedral. Some broached the subjects from the floor, others chatted to him afterwards looking for further enlightenment.
As an economic historian, Kelly does a fantastic job at explaining how we got here. Drawing from historical booms and busts, he also explains why we ended up here and he is especially good at telling us just how damn tough it's going to be to move on from here.
But like many other preachers that have stood in St Canice's down through the years, he doesn't have the answers to, what many believe, are the most obvious questions of all.
This is no fault of Kelly's. This crisis has shown us time and time again that there are no simple answers.