Cagey Tiger: signs the boom is (kind of) on the way back
The Celtic Tiger is dead, long live the Cagey Tiger. Most of us still aren't feeling the warm glow of economic recovery that is trickling down, ever so slowly, from the top.
But amid a backdrop of struggling rural towns and villages, some moth-eaten urban wallets are being dusted off. This is an altogether more watchful and cautious beast than his lavishly ostentatious Flash Harry cousin.
Stealthy, silent and always on his toes; this new cat in town is keeping a keen lookout over his shoulder for the next big risk - ready to spring right back from whence he came.
Approach him with caution as he prowls within a very tight territory.
It's different now. Stung by the bust, we demand more bang for our buck. Too ashamed to ask the price? Never. It is with pride and devotion that we tote around our tattered bags-for-life from the German discounters.
The Bundesbank would shed a tear of pride at just how more-German-than-the-Germans themselves we have turned out to be.
The proof lies in the old reliables the Celtic Tiger once held so dear. Like a little bubbly, for instance.
The Cagey Tiger prefers the fashionable and far more cost-effective effervescence of a glass of Prosecco over a flute of Champagne.
Michael Foley, chairman of the Irish Wine Association and marketing Director at Findlater Wine & Spirit Group, said they have seen no growth in Champagne sales.
However, they have seen "a steady increase in the number of customers spending in excess of €11 on a bottle of wine, and a decrease in the numbers purchasing wine below the €9 price point".
In the recession, people used to stick to what they knew to ensure they were getting value for money, explained Lynne Coyle, buyer at O'Briens Wine.
But now customers are branching out, open to sampling a Gruner Veltliner rather than just opting for the same old bottle of Chardonnay.
"In general, people are definitely a bit more adventurous," said Lynne.
She did say that O'Briens have seen "marked interest" in Champagne of late, adding that Prosecco can hardly be compared.
In recent times, when it came to fancy cars on our streets, you could tell by the 08 reg plates the year the Tiger curled up and died.
But thanks to the finance situation improving, the buyers are back, confirmed Jeremy Beshoff, luxury and sports car specialist in Howth, Co Dublin. The funny thing is, they are now keen to query the cost of the road tax - even if they're spending €250,000 on a motor. Jeremy revealed that in recent times, they have sold "a lot of new Range Rovers, a couple of new Ferraris and a few Bentleys".
"We wouldn't have done that over the past five years," he said, adding that they are now seeing clients that "wouldn't have been to us in ages".
The downer is that because of the current high rate of sterling, prices are now much higher. "In 2008, you could buy a high end Ferrari for €300,000, now it's €400,000 because of the currency rate," he said.
Meanwhile, new car sales have already reached 109,960 this year, the first time they have exceeded 100,000 since 2008.
Dining out on an expense account in some swanky haunt was one of the Tiger's favourite things.
The Cagey cousin pays for himself - and expects more on his plate, for less. There are 35,000 dining chairs in restaurants across the wider Dublin area and the sector is "thriving", said Adrian Cummins of the Restaurant Association of Ireland. "But we are a long way from Celtic Tiger pricing levels and we don't anticipate them for a long, long time," he said.
The only expense accounts being flexed are those of the aviation finance industry while the bankers are "keeping a very low profile," Adrian revealed.
The Celtic Tiger liked to stick it all on the credit card - but the cousin knows cash is king. Irish household debt fell by the most in five years during the first quarter of 2015, according to the Central Bank. Its latest Quarterly Financial Accounts show total household debt fell to €154.6bn or €33,530 per capita during the period, representing a fall of €3.7bn - the largest decline in debt since the second quarter of 2010.
The Celtic Tiger was fond of a few jaunts a year - hitting the slopes sometime after Christmas, taking in a city break or two, and then a "proper" summer holiday in the sun. The recession saw the ski trade all but collapse.
But the Cagey Tiger is also now learning to ski, according to a travel industry insider, who said bookings have picked up considerably for the first time since the crash. In general, travelling overseas is well on the up.
According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), Irish people spent over €1bn on foreign trips between January and March, with the UK the most popular destination, followed by Spain and France.
Anecdotally, the multitude of festivals around Ireland have also done extremely well this year, according to Alex Connolly of Failte Ireland.
The tourism sector in general is thriving, he said, adding: "I'm hearing in Dublin that the hotels have never had it so good."
The Celtic Tiger was nothing without his designer duds and his cousin is no different - on the surface.
Last night, 34 people were patiently queuing for the privilege of shelling out €200 for a pair of (exceptionally ugly) Kanye West-designed Yeezy Boost sneakers.
Just 25 pairs are in stock at BT2 on Dublin's Grafton Street. However, some canny customers revealed that they can turn a neat profit on the deal, with potential to sell the shoes online for €1,243.
In general though, sales of fashion and footwear are picking up, said Tom Burke, Director of Retail Ireland.
Six or seven years of dwindling retail sales have now seen a modest but significant rise of 2.3pc.
The strongest growth is being seen in the areas of furniture and homewear, which were worst hit - a real blow for the Celtic Tiger, who was extremely fond of remodelling his den.
With his fondness for building, the snatching of cranes from the horizon cut a lonely swathe across the skyline.
Now, they're back. But they're not much use to the vast majority of people desperately seeking housing right now.
The property market in the first half of 2015 saw house prices soaring ahead of last year's figures - especially outside Dublin where prices are up by around 11pc.
Meanwhile, the rental market is in actual crisis.
The Celtic Tiger would have loved to talk about it - the Cagey Tiger is far too weary.
Last on our list is drugs. With more money around, the illicit drugs trade has, regrettably, bounced back, according to gardaí. Almost three quarters of a million euro worth of cocaine was seized last Thursday.
The Cagey Tiger may think he's smarter but he still has a few things to learn if he wants to secure a firmer footing.