The first decade of the new millennium arrived with the conundrum of what to call it, but once the Noughties was named, it brought us on a roller-coaster ride. We look back at Saipan, property porn, bank crashes, new motorways, historic rugby matches, a Taoiseach for the ages, and a strong sense that we might never see anything like this again
WORLD CUP 2002
Most of the talk in the run-up to World Cup 2002 centred around tactics. Some felt it was best to go 4-4-2. That meant four cans of lager for your breakfast while watching the early kick-off, four more for lunch to take the edge off and then two for your tea because you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Others argued that the best approach was to drink through the night before and watch the early matches through one of your 18 eyes.
We weren't talking about tactics for long. Word seeped back that something had annoyed Ireland's captain, Roy Keane. It was obviously something big. He isn't the type to fly off the handle over just anything. The root of the problem was that Roy didn't travel to Iran for the return leg of the play-off. Some said he was injured. Others felt he couldn't risk being seen in the same stadium as the future president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, what with them being one and the same person.
Mick McCarthy called a meeting to clear the air. Roy ended up telling him he was a crap manager. This had a number of consequences. Mick McCarthy stopped coming up when you googled the term 'Conflict Resolution Guru.' Roy went home. Shops all over Ireland hung out signs saying 'Come Back Roy', alongside signs saying 'Crazy prices on cans of beer, please drink responsibly.'
And then something incredible happened. The World Cup went ahead anyway. We qualified out of our group, although we should have been docked points for Robbie Keane's cartwheels. We would have made the quarter finals if we remembered how to take penalties in the knock-out match against Spain. Not bad for a crap manager really.
Ireland's first Starbucks opened in 2005 in the Dundrum Shopping Centre. We haven't had a decent night's sleep since. In fairness, we'd been dabbling with espresso before Starbucks arrived. Anything that can have you goofed up at work without getting fired was always going to get a decent run in the Irish market.
Our first experiences with espresso followed the Golden Rule of Irish Consumption - if a drink makes you feel good, have another one. Suddenly there was a whole lot of shaking going on. People wrongly think that the phenomenal rate of building in the mid-noughties was all down to developer greed. You'd be amazed at quickly a brickie can work after five double espressos.
People turned on coffee after the crash. Four euro for your morning latte was Celtic Tiger excess, according to a newly formed army of Personal Finance Experts. A year earlier, these experts were mortgage brokers helping people to get a loan for ten times their salary. Behold the cockroaches of the Irish finance world. They'd survive anything.
The result was that coffee took a bit of a dive in the late noughties. Walk around town with a takeaway cappuccino in 2009 and you were a Sign of Everything That Was Wrong with this Country. (They were very angry times.) The early hipsters tried to flog us fancy tea. It didn't go well. People trying to emulate a double-espresso high with mugs of tea ended up actually living in their toilets.
We're back on the coffee now that it's no longer viewed as a badge of greed. The main change since the crash is the emergence of the Flat White. A Flat White is what you call a cappuccino if you don't want people to think you work with your hands. The hipsters are all over it. As you might have guessed.
THE SMOKING BAN
The introduction of the smoking ban in March 2004 marked the beginning of our golden age here in Ireland. We must be more like the rich and healthy Irish, said the rest of the world. For about four years.
You couldn't get into a pub around Ireland on the eve of the smoking ban. Even the smallest shebeen had a camera crew from Norway to record the most unlikely event in all of history. Irish people behaving like adults.
"Surely if Ireland can get its act together and ban smoking in pubs, it's only a matter of time before it happens in proper countries", said U.S. reporter after U.S. reporter. Locals responded to these patronising journalists by standing behind them and giving the camera a big thumbs up. This did nothing to dispel the notion that we're a nation of eejits.
Everyone got in on the act. Non-smokers coughed and spluttered their way through a final fag in the hope that they'd make the nine o'clock news in Budapest. Never mind that the tone of the coverage was 'feckless, child-like race does the right thing'. We were just glad of the attention.
It wasn't long before we started to witness a new phenomenon called Fag Dating. That's where you follow someone you fancy out to the smoking area and ask them for a light. Smooth. It remains hugely successful today. Chatting someone up is so much easier when you have things in common like emphysema and the prospect of dying young.
Some say the smoking ban marked the end of rural men enjoying a pint in their local. Others say it's nice to be able to have a drink in peace at home without listening to Mossie banging on about milk quotas. They would be the old lads who no longer have to maintain the fabric of rural Ireland. Finally they were free.
You're wrong. There is no way that Big Brother was the defining TV show of the noughties. The only person we remember from that show was the guy who did the voiceover. That's why a whole generation of us can't pass a clock without saying, "It's 2:45 aaa-emmm, and I'm passin' a clock on me way to the jacks", in a funny Geordie accent. (As if there's any other kind.)
The iconic show of the noughties was of course Location, Location, Location. People buying houses, just like us. It's still particularly popular with Irish people. We'll watch anything that proves our neighbours are a bit on the thick side. The proof here being that university-educated Brits seem unable to ring an estate agent and place an offer on a house. Instead they go to a hipster bar with a Kirsty and Phil to discuss strategy. The strategy is nearly always phone the estate agent (Jeremy, always Jeremy) and offer five grand under the asking price. Jeremy calls back ten minutes later and says it's a deal. The university-educated couple praise Kirsty and Phil for their incredible negotiation skills. Not to mention their ability to use large numbers on the phone.
Location, Location, Location is proof positive that Britain is a nation of goldfish. They must be on their fourth housing bubble since 1990. And still there is no shortage of yuppie couples willing to pay 750 grand for a one-bed flat in London because it's only three tube stops from an artisan bread shop. We're watching over here, the wounds still open after our own crash, shouting, "Don't do it, you crazy yuppie couple, you'll be stuck there for life." They never listen. Instead they go to a local cafe and ask Kirsty what happens next. "I ring Jeremy and offer five grand under the asking price", says Kirsty. "It's best to leave this sort of thing to the professionals", say the poor yuppies.
Fair play to Fianna Fail. They made it very easy to get around the country they almost destroyed. And they gave us the Last Days of Brian Cowen, which history will judge as the funniest thing of all time. But for now, we'll just have to be glad we can get from Dublin to Cork in just over two hours.
You could say that our new motorways split the country in two - BM and AM. BM, Before Motorways, is the generation that understands what a person means when they say, "Sure, that fella couldn't organise a sandwich in Kinnegad". The BMs still remember that August bank-holiday Monday, when the queue out of Kildare, on the old N7, stretched all the way back to Portugal. They are still inclined to wake with a start, howling "Fuck you anyway, Monasterevin" into the night.
Your typical AM, After Motorways, was born sometime after 1998. They are a blissful breed who will never know what it's like to sit motionless in Drogheda for an hour. (Unless they get lured into the yoga scene in south Louth.) Their earliest memory is having a slash by the side of the M1, because a first-world country managed to build a motorway network without any service stations. Their ancestors, the BMs, were often stuck in a midlands' town for so long that they had time to get out of the car and start a small family. But at least there was somewhere to have a leak. And a fry-up.
A word of advice to all you AMs out there. You should only bring an elderly person on a motorway journey if you can tolerate the following form of conversation. "When will we get to Cashel, son?" "We won't be going through Cashel." "What!!? How about Fermoy?" "No, we're not going through Cahir either." "Jesus, I've no idea what's going on any more."
For thousands of years, an Irish Farmers' Market meant hairy-nosed men spitting on their hands and saying "go on ya bollocks" over the price of a calf. Try any of that in a modern Farmers' Market and you'd probably end up getting tasered.
So what changed? Well, first of all, the building boom meant that all sorts started turning up in Superquinn and M&S. Posher types were seen running from the premises screaming "That was the closest I ever want to get to a carpenter." They ran straight into the comforting embrace of these new markets selling simple, traditional Irish produce like parsnips, brie, pak choi and chorizo.
These markets satisfied another deep need in the modern Irish soul. Which is to mimic American hipsters without once asking, "Hang on a second, is there any chance this is complete bullshit?" The minute some American college dropout decided to sell loose carrots in a parking lot, it was only a matter of time before it happened here.
And boy did it happen. Yummy mummies, (tight white jeans, sun-glasses on the head, it's a uniform) gathered wherever there were more than two people in beanies selling spuds. The market boom soured towards the end of the decade. Customers who previously said, "I don't mind paying extra as long as I don't have to meet my plumber", suddenly changed their tune. The most popular phrase in 2010 Farmer's Markets was "I can get that for 39 cent in Aldi." And yet the markets survived and prospered. Why? Sex. Money might have been tight. But there was no shortage of yummy mummies who wanted to talk kale and maybe more with a gorgeous hipster.
It's now clear that texting had one major flaw. It couldn't be used to turn Californian nerds into trillionaires. We can't have that, said the Californian nerds. It's time to share everything.
Two key moments were the Facebook launch in 2004, followed by the first iPhone three years later. It would be nice to say that nothing has been the same since. But the truth is that everything has been the same since, because everyone you know liked the same video of a drunk panda driving a bus.
You have to hand it to the Californian nerds. (I already did when I clicked Agree in their terms and conditions, says you.) They knew what we really wanted. It turns out it wasn't a better car, more money, climate change or eternal youth. That was all a bit 1990s. Noughties-Person wanted answers to the big questions. Like what did my cousin have for lunch? Did my ex get her hair done? Do people who post photos of their expensive lifestyles realise we all think they're a pack of pricks?
Irish people developed a particular fondness for Facebook. (A 2013 study found that we used it more than any other country in the world.) Some argued that photos of you snogging a bus-stop after ten Slippery Nipples might prove off-putting to HR and recruitment types. Others looked at the Facebook accounts of HR and recruitment types and realised they were in no position to judge. The current thinking is that if there isn't a photo of you vomiting into a flower pot floating around on social media, you're unlikely to get a job in modern day Ireland. The last thing companies want to do is hire someone who won't fit in.
The rate of bank lending relative to GNP tripled here between 1997 and 2008. You'll find this information in a paper called The Irish Credit Bubble, written by Morgan Kelly in U.C.D. If you find yourself asking what would Morgan Kelly know about the Irish economy, then welcome back from the moon.
And there we were thinking the noughties were about property. We now know they were about debt. We also know how this happened. At some point before 2006, a friend with no experience of anything would warn that you were dangerously under-leveraged. Dangerously was the key word here, because none of us had ever heard the word leveraged before. Not wanting to be left out, you would then tell another friend she was dangerously under-leveraged, often over a bottle of cava. You then introduced her to a broker with special powers who could secure her a 110% mortgage for ten times her salary. This is how you and your friends got out of danger.
We ended up as a nation that couldn't walk past a credit union. It wasn't unusual to see a guy sent out to buy a cake, arriving home with a mortgage. In a Range Rover. A loan wasn't just money. It was confirmation from the high-ups that you were a good person. This has always mattered to Irish people. When foreign banks started doling out loans, we nearly lost our lives. Foreign high-ups think we're good people. Oh Jesus, fill your boots.
Things are different now. The government has imposed tight controls on lending to prevent people getting access to crazy credit. So that's that settled then. We need a new government.
We turned to rugby during the noughties. That's hardly surprising. What's the point in being a property millionaire if you can't turn up your collar and talk like a complete nob. One of the high points was of course the visit of England to Croke Park in 2007. A lot of people worried we might make fools of ourselves during the anthems. But God Save the Queen was belted out with great gusto around the stadium. (Mainly by Leinster fans, said everyone from outside The Pale.) That memorable day answered a lot of questions. The main one being 'what is the sound of an entire nation clapping itself on the back?'
The decade marked the Fall and Rise of Brian O'Driscoll. Most of his problems started when he got his hair bleached. That kind of carry on is grand for French players, who could probably get away with playing in a pink tutu. But bleached hair on Irish men makes us look like the ugly friend in Home and Away. It didn't help that Brian's relationship with Glenda Gilson was branded as our very own Posh and Becks. Particularly since he was the Posh one.
Brian ended up facing the worst accusation you can level at an Irish person. Apparently he was 'up himself', which is as painful as it sounds. It did a lot of damage to his reputation. An Irish rugby player's most important skill is the ability to pretend that you are the salt of the earth.
He turned it around by appearing in public with a straight back and sides. And no that isn't a form of Cockney rhyming slang for Amy Huberman. But she was an important part of his rehabilitation. They were an austerity-friendly duo, perfectly in tune with the times. It's time someone made a movie about them actually. Golden Couple 2.0 - This Time they're Down to Earth.
Take a look at Reeling in the Years for 2007. Two things stand out. The first is that Bertie Ahern was re-elected Taoiseach with an impressive 78 seats, even though most of us swear we were wise to him at that stage. The second stat from 2007 is that a record number of Irish people did their Christmas shopping in New York. Could there be a link? Yes. Bear that in mind the next time someone starts banging on about the sophistication of the Irish electorate.
The problem with Bertie was that he gave us a headache. And not just because of the luminous yellow trousers he wore at the G8 summit in 2004. The pain was because we wanted to like him. See the previous paragraph in case you've already forgotten that people flew to New York to buy a pair of jeans. If rampant consumerism isn't your thing, don't forget the credit he built up for engineering the Good Friday Agreement. You could say that in a political sense, Bertie had some money in the bank. Until we learned that between 1987 and 1993 he hadn't any money in the bank, what with not having an account. A Minister for Finance with no bank account. That's when he started to wreck our heads.
The rest is a blur. There was a dig-out, cheques, a guy called Paddy, something about his Holy Communion money, a good day at the races, and so on. It finally dawned on us that Bertie was like a teenager with an answer for everything. There was a sense that if lawyers for the tribunal asked a question he couldn't answer, Bertie would repeat it back to them in a mocking voice. That was the end of his credit.
We'd had enough of him by the end of the noughties. It got worse. Bertie appeared in an ad for the News of the World in 2010. The ad was set in an ordinary looking Irish kitchen. For some reason, Bertie was in the cupboard. People will pretend to you that they managed to make sense of this and have moved on. That's not true. We buried this moment deep in our psyche because we just couldn't deal with it. In 20 years' time, we'll all be weeping uncontrollably on some psychoanalyst's couch saying, "You don't realise. Bertie was in the cupboard!! What was that all about?" As with so much else about Bertie, we might never know.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine