The Anglo Irish Bank sign, 2000-2011
A History of Ireland in 100 ObjectsOn April 20th, 2011, a small crowd gathered at St Stephen’s Green in Dublin to watch this sign being taken down from above the entrance to the headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank. They gave a “small cheer” as it was dismantled, probably in a spirit of bitter irony. When the sign was erected more than a decade earlier, an internal bank document explained the thrusting arrowhead logo as “a true merger of past and future, of security and progression”.
The design drew on iconic objects of Ireland’s past: “Based on early Irish references such as flint arrowheads, typography from the Book of Kells and crafted gold artefacts, the simplicity of the image sets the tone for a more cohesive corporate identity programme and spearheads measurable improvement in brand awareness.” By the time the sign was taken down, Anglo Irish had certainly achieved a very high level of brand awareness: it had become one of the most notorious banks in world history.
Anglo Irish was founded in 1964, but by 1987, its first full year as a publicly quoted company, it had loans of just £92 million and profits of just £1.45 million. Twenty years later, at its height in 2007, the bank was theoretically valued at more than €10 billion and its annual profits hit €1.2 billion.
Most of that growth was concentrated in the first seven years of the 21st century, in which Anglo’s share price rose by 2,000 per cent and its market capitalisation rose from €600 million to €12 billion. More than 80 per cent of its loans – and it lent a staggering €18 billion in 2007 alone – were related to property. As such, the bank epitomised the vast Irish property bubble that burst with ruinous consequences in 2008.
The Irish economy had begun to grow rapidly from 1995 onwards. The huge expansion of world trade that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of China; the boom in information technology; a young and increasingly well-educated population; favourable tax rates that continued to attract multinational corporations; and social changes that led to a huge increase in the number of women in the workforce – all of these were factors in a great surge of prosperity.
The value of Irish exports more than doubled between 1995 and 2000. Unemployment halved in the course of the decade, while gross domestic product per head of population rose from three-quarters of the European Union average to 111 per cent.
The outflow of people through mass emigration was replaced by a remarkable wave of inward migration from central and eastern Europe, Africa and elsewhere: by 2011, 12 per cent of the population was born outside of Ireland. Ireland became the great success story of economic globalisation.
In reality, however, the real Irish boom had come to an end by 2003. It was replaced by a frenzy of investment in property. Ireland’s membership of the new European currency, the euro, which came into circulation on January 1st, 2002, made credit cheap and easily available. The money, most of which came ultimately from banks in Germany, France and Britain, was mostly spent on property: bank lending for construction grew from €5.5 billion in 1999 to €96.2 billion in 2007 – an increase of 1,730 per cent. The lessons of past bubbles were forgotten.
When the house of cards collapsed in 2008, Anglo Irish was nationalised and eventually wound up, leaving Irish citizens with a bill of around €29 billion and an expensive lesson in the need to remember history.
Where to see itNational Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks, Benburb Street, Dublin 7, 01-6777444, museum.ie