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After Advent, a January flower

IN 'Advent', the poet Kavanagh wrote memorably of the desiccation that always follows when young lovers have "tested and tasted too much".

Even a less than devout Catholic like Kavanagh knew that excess was always the prologue to remorse, but as we know to our cost in different but equally fleshy matters, the heart will have what the heart wants. However, whilst too much of desire may lead inevitably to "the Advent darkened room" with its "dry black bread and the sugarless tea", even a natural misanthrope such as Kavanagh could see past the equinox to the prospect that Christ would come "with a January flower".

Advent may just have concluded for us in the Christian sense of the concept. Sadly, the economic version that our Calvinist 'friends' from Europe are imposing on a country which, in its time of tawdry Celtic Tiger glory "tested and tasted" a little too much, will last well past January. But though there will be no shortage of the economic equivalent of "black bread and sugarless tea" next year, we should not succumb too easily to the morose tendency of our post-colonial Celtic nature to embrace the brackish dog of pessimism.

There is nothing so facile as the idiot -- and it is generally a politician -- who calls on everyone to don the rather too tight green jersey of optimism. The 450,000 (and rising) unemployed citizens; the overworked frontline public servant; the struggling self-employed entrepreneur who has no safety net from the State that their taxes funded, or the high-street trader, will struggle to echo the catch cries of visionless idiots about "attitude" solving all woes.

The pressures our citizens now face are cruelly real, to such an extent that hundreds of our citizens have responded to the dark days they are facing by extinguishing the light of their own lives. But amidst the current triumphant days of European central bankers and Mistress Austerity, we should not lose sight of the potential for delight, even in everyday existence.

Though the simpler pleasures are underestimated, even in the age of the garden centre, it is unlikely that we will, like Kavanagh, embrace the delights of "barrowing dung under apple trees". Delight, though, can come in different ways -- in the smile of a child; in defying a bank manager and telling him you won't be carried out in a coffin on his behalf; in embracing the craft that invents the delights of a farmers' market or the touch of a lover's hand.

We will never again be what we once were in the Tiger years. We should remember, though, that much of what we cherished then was dross. And whilst we may be much reduced in strength, defiance, desire and purpose will bring us to a better place than where we are now. Our colonial heritage brought with it fatal flaws but also hidden strengths. We have heard much of our weaknesses in recent times but we should allow ourselves to recall that one of our key characteristics is a resilience which to this day impresses Europe.

Strength of purpose, a refusal to bow and an absence of Greek-style theatrics represent the best chance for our resilient people. Endure, surrender neither to European autocrats or local Tetrarchs, keep our natural "animal spirits" and some day the black tea of austerity will be replaced by the "January flower" of recovery.

Sunday Independent