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Thursday, 11 September 2008

Luck of the Irish: History of Change: Celtic Tiger Celtic Myth...

"Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000" is a book, by Roy Foster, that looks at the development of the Celtic Tiger...



"Cuddling Up With the Celtic Tiger"...is a report by Adam Kirsch, on the New York Sun, which gives an interesting American 'take' on "Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change"...


"When you consider how large a place Ireland occupies in" the Americian "cultural imagination, it's astonishing to realize how small a country it really is. Its current population is slightly more than 4 million; more people live in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens than in all 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland. If the island seems to loom like a continent, the reason is, first of all, the Irish emigration that did so much to shape America in the 19th century. According to the Census Bureau, some 34 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, more than any other nationality except German.


But you don't have to trace your family back to Cork or Limerick to feel that Ireland is part of your cultural heritage. Anyone who reads English literature is inevitably exposed to the war of imagination and memory waged between the English and the Irish since the days of the first Elizabeth. The dilemmas and reproaches of Irish writers stand out like a sharp discord in the harmony of English literature. Jonathan Swift, in "A Modest Proposal," straight-facedly urged the Irish to eat their babies; Oscar Wilde summed up his countrymen as "a nation of brilliant failures"; W.B. Yeats gibed that "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone." James Joyce spoke for them all when he described Irish history as "a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

So ancient is the literary association of Ireland with suffering that it comes as something of a shock to turn to the actual condition of modern Ireland. Even today, the country is most likely to be in the headlines when Protestants and Catholics kill one another in the North — or else when the politicians announce yet another installment of the peace process. But in fact, for most people in the Republic of Ireland, the last 15 years have been a time of unprecedented good fortune. R.F. Foster, the eminent Irish historian and biographer of Yeats, opens "Luck and the Irish"...his pithy survey of recent Irish history, with a blizzard of statistics on the economic boom known as the Celtic Tiger. "Output in the decade from 1995 increased by 350 percent, outpacing the per capita averages in the UK and the USA, personal disposable income doubled, exports increased fivefold, trade surpluses accumulated into billions." Most remarkably, for the first time since the Great Famine, Ireland has become a destination for immigrants, rather than a point of departure. A line from Philip Larkin seems appropriate: Ireland has never known "success so huge and wholly farcical."

The hilarity of that success can be felt on every page of "Luck and the Irish," a short book based on a series of lectures Mr. Foster delivered in Belfast in 2004. Mr. Foster, the author of "Modern Ireland: 1600–1972," takes evident pleasure in producing this sunny sequel to his magisterial survey. This does not mean that he is uncritical or boosterish; on the contrary, he writes with most relish when attacking the excesses and idiocies of the Celtic Tiger, or shooting darts at the politicians in his personal rogue's gallery. But his linked essays — on economics, religion, politics, culture, and the Northern problem — are energized by a constant sense of Ireland's liberation...

The basis for this hopefulness is the sustained boom that Mr. Foster calls, with typical wryness, "the miracle of loaves and fishes." Because he is a historian, not an economist, he does not attempt to give a conclusive explanation for why Ireland's economy suddenly took off. Instead, he surveys the two major schools of thought on the subject, which he names "Boosters" and "Begrudgers." The Boosters point to Ireland's entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, which brought the country generous subsidies and a lavish new market for its agricultural produce; to its low corporate tax regime, deliberately designed to lure international employers, which helped to create new jobs in microchips and pharmaceuticals; to its educated English-speaking workforce, well suited to an age of outsourcing, and to the "social partnership" of government, employers, and unions that helped to ensure labor peace.

The Begrudgers, Mr. Foster writes, come from "the left, or from the nostalgic shores of neonationalism." They point to Ireland's increasing income disparity on the American model; to the decline of public services and the loss of cultural distinctiveness, and to the fact that the corporate profits of multinationals generally get exported back to America or Japan, instead of being reinvested in Ireland. As a result, Mr. Foster notes, Ireland is exceptional in having a greater gross domestic product than gross national product.

While he gives the Begrudgers their due, Mr. Foster's very name for them implies that he is not on their side. For the sheer fact of increasing prosperity, despite its associated costs, has brought a new buoyancy to all areas of Irish life. "The economic and psychological boundaries that defined the country have altered and expanded," Mr. Foster writes. "What has changed, perhaps decisively and forever, is a question of attitude." The most obvious of these changes has to do with the declining role of the Catholic Church in Irish life. The Catholic Church's rapid loss of moral influence was partly self-inflicted...As with similar scandals in America, Mr. Foster writes, "the Church's moral authority was further destroyed by the hierarchy's apparent inability to apologize for its inaction in practically every case."

Yet the declining role of Catholic moral teachings in Irish life, Mr. Foster shows, long predates these scandals...Just opening up these subjects for debate was an important step in a country where, as late as 1971, the archbishop of Dublin could declare that "civil divorce is evil and contraception is evil; there cannot be, on the part of any person, a right to what is evil." A good emblem of Ireland's evolution is Mary Robinson, who began her public career as a controversial feminist activist, and by 1990 was popular enough to be elected Ireland's first female president.

...He approvingly quotes a businessman who exclaimed that dealing with Ulster's Protestants and Catholics was "like dealing with children. Big, Mad Children." The heroes of Mr. Foster's story are the Irish politicians who gradually gave up the irredentist ambitions that lingered after the partition of the country in the 1920s. In a 1998 referendum, he notes, 96% of Irish voters agreed to amend the constitution to eliminate the words, "The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland."

If Ireland's prosperity sponsored religious and political progress, however, it also brought splendid new opportunities for corruption. Mr. Foster's chapter on Irish politics during the last 30 years is the least accessible to an American reader, depending as it does on a fairly thorough knowledge of Irish parties and personalities. Even so, it is a pleasure to read, if only for Mr. Foster's gleeful flaying of his bĂȘte noire Charles Haughey, three-time prime minister or taoiseach of Ireland. Haughey emerges in Mr. Foster's portrait as so exuberantly, shamelessly corrupt that even indignation fails; only amazed laughter is possible. "An odd combination," as Mr. Foster puts it, "of Napoleonic enigma, Ascendancy hauteur, Gaelic chieftain and Tammany boss," Haughey used his position to amass bribes worth tens of millions of dollars, mainly from property developers. The rampant corruption of an increasingly prosperous society puts Foster in mind of France's Third Republic; but so, too, does Ireland's remarkable creative renaissance, which has given the world artists ranging from Seamus Heaney to U2.

Haughey's reign finally came to an end in 1992, when one of his biggest donors, the Irish supermarket heir Ben Dunne, was arrested in a hotel room in Orlando, Fla., "carried from the hotel hogtied to a pole" after "an incident involving a bag of cocaine, call girls, and a violent psychotic episode on a seventeenth-floor balcony." The ensuing scandal and inquiry exposed Haughey's web of offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands. "This is the point," Mr. Foster deadpans, "where the story of modern Ireland demands its Zola rather than its Balzac." Mr. Foster is not a novelist, but in "Luck and the Irish," he has given contemporary Ireland the sharp, funny, illuminating chronicle it deserves." New York Sun


Although it's now 2008 and the Celtic Tiger has vanished into the mists of our memories and has been added to our many other Celtic Myths!

The luck of the Irish has finally run out!!!

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