FOR most people, investing in shares over the past five years has been a complete disaster. The banks, which most investors mistakenly thought of as a "safe" investment, have virtually disappeared.
Anglo has been nationalised, both AIB and Irish Life & Permanent are more than 99pc State-owned, while Bank of Ireland -- the one Irish-owned bank to avoid majority state ownership -- has diluted the value of the stock held by its existing shareholders by more than 97pc.
The virtual disappearance of the Irish banks from the Stock Exchange has meant that shares, which as recently as the spring of 2007 had a combined value of more than €50bn, have been almost completely wiped out.
Fortunately for some investors, while the banks were paying the price for throwing caution to the wind during the boom, other major Irish companies had built their businesses on far more solid foundations.
With people now watching their pennies, they are far more likely to book a bargain and fly Ryanair. Michael O'Leary has ruthlessly stripped aviation of its expensive luxuries, turning his aircraft into little more than buses with wings.
The public may grumble but last year 72 million people flew with Ryanair and the airline recorded pre-tax profits of €420m. The share price, which fell sharply at the beginning of the recession, has since recovered strongly and is now trading at €4.43.
With Ryanair having put its aggressive expansion plans on hold, it will no longer have to shell out hundreds of millions of euro every year to Boeing for new planes. Taking the foot off the growth accelerator also means that Ryanair has been able to gradually increase its average fare.
This means that Ryanair will be able to return tonnes of cash, either through regular or once-off dividends, to its shareholders in the coming years.
Dairy processor Glanbia has also ridden out the recession better than most Irish companies. Now by far the largest Irish dairy processor, it also has operations in the United States, China and Nigeria.
Growing prosperity in the developing world has pushed up food commodity prices, as newly affluent consumers "trade up" from basic foodstuffs to meat and dairy products. Cheese and butter prices have almost doubled on international markets in recent years.
Glanbia has been a major beneficiary of these higher commodity prices. In 2011, its sales grew by 26pc to €2.67bn, while its pre-tax profits were up by 4pc to €112m. These numbers have fed through into its share price, which now trades at €5.55, close to its all-time high.
The strength of the Glanbia share price has led to renewed speculation that the company will revive its plans to split its Irish and overseas operations, with the Irish operations reverting to 100pc ownership by the original farmer-owned Glanbia Co-op.
Although the majority of co-op members voted in favour of splitting the company in May 2010, the percentage 'yes' vote fell marginally short of the 75pc required under company law so the plan has been on the back-burner for the past two years.
Glanbia shows how, by being in the right place at the right time, when dairy prices boomed, the company was well-positioned to reap the rewards.
However, it is bookie Paddy Power which has shown that -- even in the midst of the deepest economic recession for more than three-quarters of a century -- it is still possible for clued-in, flexible businesses to thrive.
In 2006, punters wagered €1.8bn with Paddy Power. By 2011, the amount wagered by punters with the company had risen to more than €4.6bn. Over the same period, its pre-tax profits jumped from €49.9m to €143m.
This is despite the fact that, with its dependence on discretionary spending, gambling is very vulnerable to an economic downturn. National Lottery sales fell by 8pc between 2008 and 2010, while one of Paddy Power's main domestic rivals, Ivan Yates's Celtic Bookmakers, went bust in January 2011.
So how has Paddy Power succeeded while many of its rivals have stumbled? Paddy Power identified the potential of the internet to revolutionise the way bookies do business sooner than most of its more staid rivals.
Last year, more than three-quarters of the bets wagered with Paddy Power were online, while the group earned more than four-fifths of its profits from the internet.
By going online in such a big way, Paddy Power was able to cut its costs while at the same time improving the odds it was offering its customers. This allowed it to compete with the online betting exchanges, which have decimated the businesses of many traditional bookies' shops.
What the experiences of Paddy Power, Glanbia and Ryanair show is that, even when times are hard, there are still plenty of profitable business opportunities. The trick is identifying and exploiting these opportunities before your competitors do.