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Opinion: How will Ireland's rise, fall and humble recovery affect us as a nation?

Ireland is back on track – according to the ratings agencies anyway – but we aren’t the same people we were ten years ago. And we never will be again.

Image: klublu via Shutterstock

TWO OF THE ‘Big Three’ ratings agencies have now moved Ireland’s credit rating back to an ‘A’ grade status, as our borrowing costs became lower than that of the US and the UK. This, on the back of reports the same week that Irish consumer sentiment has hit a seven year high. Things finally appear to be turning.

But now that things are starting to look up, I wonder how having lived through such extraordinarily dark times will impact the collective psyche of this generation into the future? For those who came of age just as this country spectacularly imploded, how will us ‘Celtic tiger survivors fare’ in years to come?

I was a homeowner all of six months when the financial markets imploded in September 2008.

One year earlier on 14 September 2007, the day we buried my mother, Northern Rock experienced the first run on a British bank in over a century. She had most of her savings there.

I was four months pregnant in November 2010 when the IMF finally rolled into town. And seven months gone when my husband eventually lost his job.

It seemed that every time I reached a developmental milestone in my own life, another nail in the coffin of the Irish economy was driven home.

This is not a sob story. To be that, by definition, it would need to be in some way unique. Whereas, within our generation, our situation was far from unusual. In fact, in many respects, it was quite typical. My husband and I found ourselves overextended, and underemployed.

The crash down the Earth

We entered the working world at the start of what would become the greatest economic boom ever seen in this country. And less than a decade later, we watched all we had worked for spectacularly implode. We had been reeled in, hook, line and sinker, by the Celtic Tiger. And then unceremoniously spat out, only a few short years later, with just negative equity and some impressive ski snaps to show for it.

We came crashing back down to earth and were forced to grow up overnight.

We learned the hard truth – that wealth is something that is only ever earned, not simply acquired through an accounting exercise centred around the fictitious value of the roof over your head. That what you earn is your salary, not the additional bonus you had arrogantly grown accustomed to. That savings are there for a reason. And that when the music finally stopped, you didn’t want to be the poor fecker left standing with the huge mortgage and the uncertain prospects.

Let there be no doubt, what we have lived through has been traumatic. We endured shock after shock, year in, year out. Headlines which only years earlier were considered the stuff of television science fiction gradually became a reality. And we all looked helplessly at one another and wondered ‘Is this all really happening?’. Our country had become a poster boy the world over for how wrong things could go. And our generation were the unknowing actors in the drama that played out as things went from bad, to worse, to unimaginable.

A trauma to the national psyche 

We endured negative headlines day in, day out. We watched as Sky News broadcast news of our bail out on a cold November Sunday in 2010, as something akin to a national day of mourning descended across the land. We felt hushed embarrassment. Shame. Betrayal. And fear.

And those feelings remained. Remain even now. No matter how many positive news stories start to emerge. We have become a ‘glass half empty’ nation. We have forgotten how to assimilate good news. And who can blame us?

So how will it impact us into the future? How will all those dramatic experiences at such a young age shape us in years to come?

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So perhaps this generation will eventually surpass everything achieved by our forefathers. Perhaps the maturity we have gained through everything we have endured will ultimately be the making of us. Perhaps now that the worst of the storm has passed, the only way is up for us Celtic Tiger Survivors?

Or perhaps we will never fully bounce back from all we have lived through? Perhaps we will always be just that little bit too fearful of the unknown, that little bit too cautious, to fulfil our potential. The feelings of instability and insecurity, which have dogged us for almost a decade now, will undoubtedly be hard to shake. Those of us who bought into the bubble felt naive and angry, hopeless and stupid for having been so entirely sucked in. We won’t be so impulsive again. We will be cautious. We will be measured. We will be determined not to make the same mistake twice.

Interesting times

We are not the same people we were ten years ago. And we never will be again. The only unknown is whether we will ultimately turn out to be stronger in the long run, or weaker as a result. Whether we will turn out to be braver, or more fearful. Eternal pessimists owing to how bad things became, or optimists because the storm did, eventually, pass. Only time will tell.

There is a Chinese proverb that was much cited during the worst days of the recession by the few who retained the ability to be so philosophical – ‘may you live in interesting times’. One wonders whether, with the benefit of time and experience, we will look back at the past decade when we are old and grey, with continued disbelief at all that transpired, but also with some level of pride, that ultimately, we survived. Well done us.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer.

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