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Ireland's Epic Boom and Bust

Fintan O’Toole is columnist and critic for the Irish Times. Like everyone else, he saw Ireland’s astounding boom, from the ‘90s and into the new millennium.

The Celtic Tiger, standing, roaring. New factories and jobs and pride and money everywhere. A dazzling Ireland as Europe’s sparkling icon of free-market globalization.

And then, it all came crashing down. Now Ireland is in deep trouble. And Fintan O’Toole is delivering a scathing post-mortem on the Celtic Tiger and what went wrong.

This hour, On Point: On St. Patrick’s Day, after the bust in Ireland.


Fintan O’Toole, columnist and critic for the Irish Times. His new book is “Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and corruption sank the Celtic Tiger.”

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  • Sam Wilson

    Even if they might have missed it the first time, it looks like they have learnt the lesson and are determined to NOT to repeat it a second time.

    How sure I am? Only time will answer that…

    All the Best, Ireland!!

  • http://n/a Adam S.

    I’d be interested to have your discussion take look at the economic philosophies governing countries under the Euro umbrella. It seems to me that Ireland, Iceland and to some extent the U.K. have embraced the sort of bubble-chasing laissez faire policies that we espouse here in the U.S., and have all suffered greatly for it in the downturn, while the more highly regulated economies of France and Germany, though certainly not immune to the recession, are less prone to these violent changes in fortune.

  • Bob of Newton

    We went back to Ireland in April 2006 after last being there in 1973.
    The first morning we were there, as we had breakfast in the B%B, the radio show was about buying property in Romania. WE could not figure out what was going on. Now we know.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    I predict a new Global Recession will hit us soon.

    Greece is almost broke and Ireland is another one.

    2nd wave of this Great Recession of the 21st Century is coming.

    Hold your wallet American Middle class!!!

  • Raphe O’Geaney

    For Mr. O’Toole,

    I too was in Ireland, both before and during the deluge of EU money. I remember the sudden appearance of airgead, big cars, brand new B&B springing up on the bogside,… in the hands of some who had been just a few months before on the dole. That in itself isn’t the problem. The loss of the unfounded wealth isn’t either. What is to be mourned is the loss of our soul– instead of the riches wooing us back to the spirit of the golden ages, when we were known for all that is great about the human mind and spirit, we became a superficial people. How can we take the present sad state and use it to reclaim what it means to be Irish?

  • David O’Brien

    I have two observations, asa Paddy livingin Boston while this was going on and going home often on holiday: My role in bringing back Ambercrombie and Fitch clothes – the height of fashion in Ireland even though there was no store that sold it there – a mark of someone who had the money to spend on a weekend away in New York, shopping.
    and when telling my mother that the boom couldn’t last and my siblings shouldn’t be pissing away the money, she’d say, and still does: “sure, you may as well spend it while you have it, because if you don’t, it’ll be gone anyway.” Not the only person with that view, after so many years scraping by.

  • Janet

    Ireland was an economic disaster for decades because of over regulation and socalism. At least the last decade they had some growth and jobs.

  • Rebecca M

    Married to an Irishman I’ve visited nearly yearly for the past decade…as well as dependence on “borrowed money” it seemed the country depended on ‘borrowed jobs’ – never managing to generate indigenous corporate growth (except for in construction jobs!)….as the EU expanded it seemed obvious that those US companies would be moving to other well-educated, and much lower wage countries, yet there appeared no investment in longer term planning.

  • elena castro

    Are you taking about Spain?

  • Richard

    Amazing that the guest would quote neo-con as a model that was embraced – ask about the unsustainable social network – the Irish concept of unmarried mother benefits, or the benefits provided to asylum seekers (who would be known as illegal immigrants in the US).

    Born and raised in Ireland – emigrated five years after college in 1992. Went back for 1 year in 1998/99. Sold out property there in early 2007 – the whole place was out of control and anyone who even whispered it was accused of being negative, or worse, stupid.

  • Sean

    While visiting Limerick in 1999 on vacation, my wife & I were talking with our late 60′s host at a B&B. She shocked me when she said that sooner or late the country was going to wake up to a big financial mess because of the extravagant way most people were living at that time. She pointed to the new housing developments with the Irish version of the McMansion as the primary issue. Having been in & out of Irealnd throughout the dacade for business, I thought she was crazy. But I never forgot the discussion. And now we have Ireland right in the middle of the P.I.G.S. I guess our host was right after all.

  • Jeff Clougherty

    I started visiting ireland in 96 and spent time almost every year. It was amazing how quickly the country changed before me. Old cars almost completely disappeared from the roads, new houses erupted everywhere, shops and towns went from drab to colorfully painted and full of fancier shops.
    But unfortunately I saw the soul rapidly draining from so many people. I saw so much greed, and much less friendliness in a great people. People began chasing money in a big way. I’m really glad ireland hit the skids, it was losing itself very rapidly.

  • john oleary


    my father was born in cambridge ma in 1915 to irish emmigrant parentage …
    he and his siblings were taken back to ireland 1916 because my grandfather inherited the family farm in co kerry ..

    i came to america for the first time in 1986 as an emmigrant in my 20ies ..
    and im still here ..

    airlines and technology keeps me over exposed to ireland …
    but i am shocked by what i have seen and its not just the economy ..
    as the father of a 12 year old, i am most shocked by the tolerance of teenage binge drinking….not to mention the drug culture …
    readers should check out the “HEADSHOP’ controversy.

    happy st patricks day …
    dont kiss till i puke…

  • http://www.wbur.org Sylvia

    As an Irish citizen living in MA, I have had the chance to go back home every year since I moved. It has totally changed over time, especailly this decade. The overspending was quite shocking at first, I could not believe everyone was suddenly wealthy, and when I questioned it, I was told it’s the way of the Celtic Tiger, and not to be jealous. I wasn’t, I was just stunned at the rapid rate of change; in people, in landmarks, in towns, in consumerism.
    How sad now, but it’s the same in many places, just change the name of the country and it’s exactly the same. But….we’ve had our arses kicked before and we survived. We can again, but with mush fancier stories to tell this time!

  • Brett

    Erin go bragh!

    In listening to this interview with the engaging Fintan O’Toole, I couldn’t help but think of this tale as a kind of modern potato famine. I suppose, by Irish standards, this is kind of a happy story :-)…at the risk of the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, such a shame after much economic boom in the ’90′s; I felt as if I was listening to a microcosm of what we have had here in the States!

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Slainte mhaith!

  • Patrick

    As an Irishman living in Boston for the last 15 year, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the goings on in Ireland from a distance. The recent bust in Ireland was not entirely caused by global economic downturn. Instead, the global downturn exposed what what was happening. Ireland was being run like a banana republic for the last 10-15 years. Corruption was rampant in the government and also in the banks from mid-management on up. Huge sums of money flowed from all over the world through Dublin. There is now an effort afoot to try and cover this up. The new CEO of Anglo Irish Bank is a former government minister! So much for bringing in untainted people from the outside.

  • cory

    Capitalism without oversight and strong regulation breeds corruption and suffering. We have proven throughout recorded history that we simply cannot be trusted with too much freedom.

    Free market capitalsim cannot be stopped or destroyed or even replaced. It can be harnessed for the common good. How much socialism should we add to the mix? I’m not sure, but more than the United States currently does.

    I hope a lesson can be learned from Ireland, Spain, Greece, and ourselves.

  • twenty-niner

    I’ve said this a million times:

    Require 10% down on the mortgage = easy to regulate = no accelerating house prices = no housing frenzy = no housing bubble = no financial collapse.

    And they still won’t do this because governments love to @#ing inflate housing.

  • Colin

    Fintan O’ Toole was part of the lies that lead to the rise of the celtic tiger and now he is making money on the downfall of the celtic tiger. He is part of the problem. He has ruined a nation with his written word and now all of a sudden it’s somebody else who has brought around the failure.

    Fintan give us a break. It’s people like you that broke the bank and had given the Irish a false sense and have helped changed all the morals that you pontificate about.

  • John

    Ashbrook continues hia annoying tendencies to talk over guests and callers amd “guide” the conversation and jam words into the mouths of everyone appearing on his show. I wonder why he even books guests when he NEVER allows them to tell their stories as they wish. He should just pick the subject and do a monologue.

  • Dr. Trajan Cuellar

    I moved to Ireland from the USA and trained as a surgeon from 2000-2007. As the country of my mother’s birth it was refreshing to finally understand what she was on about. I left to return to the USA when the end of the Tiger years hit healthcare there. I’ve have had to repeat my surgical training (I’m currently an intern in Gainesville FL). Irish resilience will shine but not for a few years yet.

  • Sam Wilson

    Dr. Trajan or any other Irish Healthcare people,

    I have got friends in Ireland who are in healthcare, and didnt hear from them any major reasons that they had to emigrate from the Eire, could you please let us know what forced you to emigrate from Ireland.

    Also, considering the Irish Education system I doubt you have any major student loans (~10,000 USD) that you had to worry about in Ireland.

    Your response will be greatly appreciated, as I have always envied people who got their education in the European educataion system.

  • Justin

    I’m an Irish citizen who, unlike most of my friends when I left school, didn’t emigrate (mostly to the US) and unlike maybe half of my friends when I left university, didn’t emigrate. So I rode the boom and I am now firmly entrenched in the bust. I saw the signs (indeed I was involved in some of the landmark boom real estate madness transactions and I could see they were mad) but didn’t get out fast enough. Now, while our inept politicians (truly none of them would gain public office in the US they are so frankly crass and talentless) who caused this with their stupidity rest secure with their bullet proof pensions paid for by the “super rich” (anyone earning over €100k per year) I have not much left but a still good job and a willingness and determination to work 20 hours per day and grasp every opportunity that comes my way. And we now have a uniquely young and educated population due to the many talented and hardworking immigrants. So we will be fine, don’t worry. It will hurt some more but we will be fine. PS we are still open for business and all the reasons to be here are even more compelling with price and wage deflation.

  • sean courtney

    Comment by:
    Paul Healy
    I thought that readers of these posts and listeners to the program would be interested in the comment below from a poster to a review of the book on another site. The purpose of my inclusion here is to draw attention to the web-based item at the bottom about the author of the book and his ‘role’ in the Celtic Madness.

    “Jan 3rd 2010 at 21:01
    I am currently reading the book with my jaw wide open, when not reading passages to my partner. She suggested I ask myself what was Fintan O’Toole doing at the height of the madness in 2006. Was he critiquing from the sidelines or participating in the madness. The answer sadly is he was right in it with the rest of us, applying for planning permission to QUADRUPLE the size of his SECOND home in Ballyvaughan. Reference here:

  • Ciaran

    Maybe Yeats had it right in The Fisherman…….

    ….All day I’d looked in the face
    What I had hoped ‘twould be
    To write for my own race
    And the reality;
    The living men that I hate,
    The dead man that I loved,
    The craven man in his seat,
    The insolent unreproved,
    And no knave brought to book
    Who has won a drunken cheer,
    The witty man and his joke
    Aimed at the commonest ear,
    The clever man who cries
    The catch-cries of the clown,
    The beating down of the wise
    And great Art beaten down…….

    All in all Ireland needed and deserved the boom. It has exported its two legged livestock for generations.The fact that we got pie eyed and lost some of our character is a proven fact….. Yeats recognised this flaw close to 100 years ago …..Sin e an sceal…

  • Gerard

    Erin go broke!!

  • Gege Le Beau

    Ireland was led up a garden path by its politicians (interested only in the short term and re-election) and bankers/property developers. There was no money put aside for the rainy day, no long term planning, no diversification of the economy, little to no indigenous operations. We were totally exposed (‘open economy’) to the financial wave that came across the Atlantic.

    We are now broke, with close to 450,000 unemployed and a population who saw no money during the so called ‘boom’ having to foot the bill through higher taxes, income levies, lower wages and benefit cuts in health and education. We also have the worst political leadership in the history of the State – the same people who largely caused the crisis are now ‘managing’ the aftermath!

    We played the neoliberal game to the max and got all fingers burned. Time we returned to what we were good at, welcoming tourists and the arts!

    Casino Capitalism just lost one of its players!!

  • healthy sceptic

    Mr. O’Toole never makes any mention of the fact that he wrote an article urging the Irish Labour Party to support the now discredited Bertie Ahern to run the Irish government.

    Mr. O’Toole makes no reference to the fact that he wrote for a newspaper that made a fortune of money out of the property ponzi scheme in Ireland.

    Mr. O’Toole has forgotten the absurd pay rises that the public sector has received for themselves as a result of pressure placed upon the government.

    Mr. O’Toole makes no reference to the monetary easing that came from the European Central Bank in the period 2002-2007.

    Mr. O’Toole spent a lot of the last ten years urging the Irish politicians to increase state expenditure in an already overheated, over inflated economy.

    So, from my perspective, Mr. O’Toole, is not being honest or consistent.

  • Healthy sceptic

    In the Irish edition of the book, there is no Irish flag.

    The flag is added to sell copies in the US. This is very disingenious.

  • Phil

    I returned to Ireland in 2008 for the first time in 14 years and saw the many changes since the advent of the Celtic Tiger. The Irish are a busier people and don’t go to each other’s houses for tea anymore, and as one person said: “people don’t meet at the crossroads to talk anymore.” When material wealth becomes the priority in any society, people live insulated isolated lives resulting in unhappiness, alientation, and a lost culture.

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