History, a famous Irishman once said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. And for awhile it seemed that Ireland had at last awakened from its impoverished past. Propelled by tax cuts, an open door to investment and adoption of the Euro, Ireland was soon known as the Celtic Tiger for its galloping rate of economic growth from 1991-2007.
But a real estate bubble inflated by cheap money (sound familiar?) finally popped, and Ireland had to bail out its three largest banks, guaranteeing their deposits. The boom and the inevitable bust have left the republic's fewer than 5 million people with huge budget deficits and a growing national debt at a time when they can least bear it, given unemployment of 14 percent.
A European bailout will keep the Emerald Isle afloat, but won't be enough to keep the Irish from hardship. Ireland became a magnet for immigrants during the boom. But with jobs scarce and years of austerity likely ahead, Ireland has resumed exporting people, recapitulating a painful history of emigration that has helped populate so much of the English-speaking world - including New York.
In retrospect, it was all too much, too fast. Traditionalists may note that the current downturn will at least prevent any more of historic Ireland from being swept away by the creative destruction of prosperity. That may be true, but what a painful form of preservation. hN