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Celtic tiger down but not done

  • 21 November 2011

Europe is in a mess and anyone trying to describe the mess needs to be clear about where they stand in it. The mess in Greece will have a different feel from the mess in Ireland, and different again from the mess in France or Germany ... or Malta or Lithuania. Part of the problem is that no one has an overview. No one can say This is how things are in Europe without someone else saying No, it's not!

Recently I was listening to a chat show being broadcast from a coffee shop in one of Ireland's midland counties. The participants had gathered to talk about their town and what could be done to make it a more vibrant centre. They had lots of ideas and spoke with great enthusiasm.

When the compere referred to the problems facing the town they were genuinely reluctant to speak in those terms, though it was clear the problems were real. Their concern was with how to overcome them. There was talk of business closures, of the impact of big out-of-town retail outlets on the town centre. There was much praise for local teenagers and a suggestion that they might help make empty shop fronts more presentable.

There was something admirable about this talk — a determination not to be beaten by adversity.

Ireland's economy seems to be turning a corner, but only after many have paid the cost and only after the return of something we thought we had been left behind — involuntary emigration on a scale not seen for over half a century. Yet the Ireland which people are leaving is a very different country to the one which so many left in the 1950s. The new-found confidence of the Celtic Tiger years has not completely disappeared.

If we have come on tough times we are not the only ones. Of those who came to live in Ireland in recent years from the former communist European countries, some have returned home but many prefer to remain in Ireland, especially if their children are growing up with Irish accents and attitudes. This change is profound.

The prevailing mood in Ireland could be described as one of hope, which is not to be confused with optimism. There is a