Sunday 8 December 2019

Sacred Cows: Celtic-Tiger Bores

Don't listen to the party poopers who moan about the boom, says Eilis O'Hanlon. Something doesn't stop being great just because it leads to negative consequences - it's the bust we should be blaming for spoiling the best fun we ever had

Celtic Tiger bores
Celtic Tiger bores

Eilis O'Hanlon

Historical revisionism is a fine and healthy activity. Every country should examine its own past and subject the fairytales about the glorious things done in our name to a thorough kicking every now and then.

Right now, unfortunately, the Irish are engaged in a bout of masochistic revisionism, rather than the beneficial variety, and have decided that everything they once thought of as good was actually bad and everything they once thought of as fun was actually misery, they just didn't realise it at the time.

And right at the top of the list for a kicking is the Celtic Tiger, which everyone now agrees was a very naughty kitty indeed and should never have been let into the house, much less allowed upstairs to sleep on the duvet. You'll hear this new orthodoxy at all the best dinner parties these days, and, like most things said by hipsters in mismatched vintage clothing, it's utter tosh. The Celtic Tiger was great.

Those were the days when it was possible to have three holidays a year - and in places you actually wanted to visit, places with decent climates and vibrant cultures, not just a wet weekend in a caravan in Bundoran. Finally we'd discovered the Fourth Secret of Fatima, which is that the only thing that makes living in Ireland bearable is being able to escape from it regularly. Those were the days when anyone who wanted a job had one. When we actually welcomed Polish people and thought it was great that Ireland, at long last, was a place that immigrants wanted to come to rather than being the place emigrants left the day after finishing their Inter Cert in order to work on building sites in Kilburn and develop cirrhosis of the liver by the time they were 30.

Remember when your kids used to live in the same country as you and you didn't have to Skype them at 3am when you fancied a chat? That was the Celtic Tiger. Remember when you used to wonder about the size of the next pay rise rather than the size of the next pay cut? That was the Celtic Tiger.

Those were the days when you could go out to work in the morning, come home in the evening, probably after a few drinkies and a late supper in some chichi eaterie in town, to find that your house had increased so much in value that you could now afford another one of those nifty little apartments in Budapest. Time share in Marbella? Don't mind if I do.

Even the perpetual whingers on the Left were happy, as the unions soaked up so much public money that train drivers and garda sergeants used to buy a new car each weekend rather than going to all the bother of washing the old one. We ate well. We lived well. We slept well at night. The Irish were so cool back then, we were practically Italian.

What's not to miss about that? Of course it went wrong - but THAT was the problem. The fact that it went wrong, not that it existed in the first place. To say that the Celtic Tiger was terrible because it came to an end is like saying childhood's rubbish because it doesn't last for ever, or that the first flush of love is nothing to write home about because it's replaced in a few years with mutual loathing, messy arguments over child support, and rebound relationships with people you'd never normally look at in a million years. Something's either great or it isn't. It doesn't cease being great because it leads later to negative consequences. Wine is still fantastic whether it gives you a hangover next day or not.

It was the bust that sucked, not the boom that preceded it. House prices dropping faster than a glamour model's knickers at the sight of a Premiership footballer. Unemployment so bad it's like being trapped in a 1980s Liverpool soap. Nights in front of the telly rather than on the tiles. We're still Italians, but now we've gone back to being the downtrodden peasants in crumbling Sicilian villages rather than their sexy compatriots in Lamborghinis and designer shades up in Rome. Bargain basement again rather than penthouse suite.

You'd have to be clinically insane not to want the Celtic Tiger back again. In fact, there's not a single person in Ireland who, if given the chance, wouldn't hop into a time machine and head straight back there. Mainly in order to sell their house before the bubble burst and not have themselves trapped in negative equity. But also because they know it was more fun back then and they'd have a bloody good time. Who's having a good time now? The bankers, developers and assorted other fat cats, that's who. It's not even as if the end of the Celtic Tiger put some manners on them. They're still raking it in. All it did was put a stop to the little people sharing in the wealth for the first time ever.

Now normal service has been restored. The rich man's in his castle and the poor man's at his gate. During the Celtic Tiger, we all got a taste of what life's like on the other side of that barrier. Don't pretend it wasn't glorious whilst it lasted. It may ultimately have been a fantasy, but who said reality was so great anyway? That's just taking masochistic self-loathing to a ridiculous extreme, and that's another habit the Irish should have dumped a long time. Still, old habits die hard.

Sunday Independent

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