Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Celtic Tiger cubs: citizens of the world

As Ireland came to terms with the death of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, chief amongst the mourners at its funeral were the Celtic Tiger Cubs, a generation who until then had been sheltered from economic hardship. How are this generation coping in a post Celtic Tiger world, asks William O’Carroll.

Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 10:02


As Ireland came to terms with the death of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, chief amongst the mourners at its funeral were the Celtic Tiger Cubs, a generation who until then had been sheltered from economic hardship. How are this generation coping in a post Celtic Tiger world, asks William O’Carroll

Free third level education meant that this crop were amongst the most educated in the history of Ireland. We were granted places in Irish Universities which had never been as highly rated in international standings; and ultimately were richly rewarded with Degrees, Masters and PHDs. I in no means wish to detract from the hard work this generation put in to accomplish themselves, nor do I seek to trivialise the sacrifices many parents made to ensure their children got a good education, more I aim to highlight the fortunate economic circumstances which made the journey much easier. Multinational companies went to war with each other to sign up this talented bunch. We in turn took our place in the world of work as Analysts, Auditors, Associates and in other such lofty titled positions, assured that ours would be a bright future.

Those who opted for a trade were by no means forgotten. Their skills had never been in more demand as they undertook to service the insatiable appetite of the Celtic Tiger for plumbers, plasterers and electricians. This group prospered as the country gorged on construction and property development. Then along came the most unexpected twist in what had been a fairytale.

In late 2007, following the demise of Lehman Brothers the Celtic Tiger was weakened by illness, as time passed the prognosis became grimmer and the stark reality began to take hold that this was no ordinary illness; our much lauded Celtic Tiger was riddled with a terminal cancer. The lethal tumour of banking debt was inoperable. Despite the hopes of a nation there was no remission and on that dark November day in 2010 when the IMF arrived in town it was finally announced that our old friend had passed away. The long, drawn out and painful death of the Celtic Tiger left her cubs exposed to a harsh new economic reality. Emigration and recession words which this group did not have in their vocabulary became daily parlance.

For a group who grew up knowing emigration as a phenomenon represented by a candle in the window of Aras an Uachtarain, it has now taken on a very real meaning. Where once taking a year out to work in Australia or other such far flung destinations was a choice, for many it has now morphed into a needs must reality.

The Celtic Tiger cubs are perhaps one of the most travelled of Irish generations. Summers spent in mainland Europe, on J1s in the States, or backpacking around South East Asia have all helped them to develop a sense of travel lust which allows them to see emigration not as a ‘fait accompli’ but as a great opportunity. In some strange way, did growing up in the boom help equip them for the bust? Did all this globetrotting lead them to develop a hunger for adventure that, irrespective of economic circumstance, would have seen them spread their wings regardless? Have the weeks and months spent in Irish Colleges, on Foreign Exchange,  and on Erasmus programs developed in them an independence and hunger for adventure that lay dormant in previous generations?

This often criticised generation see themselves not just as children of Ireland but as citizens of the world. They are enjoying the experience, the culture and the ideas that their new destinations offer. They are taking up employment in skilled positions across a broad platform of industries; this experience will grow them as people and shape their future. Unlike previous generations of Irish emigrants they are highly skilled, well educated, an asset to any economy, but sadly not Ireland’s. Fear not, for their future is bright, that potent cocktail of Irish charm combined with a high skill level, is endearing this bunch to a global audience.

Some will view my analysis as a look at emigration through rose tinted spectacles. But I am acutely aware of the pain caused by emigration, I have waved goodbye to my sister and countless friends and am aware of the pangs of homesickness that can torment their souls. Ireland is saddened by their departure, weeps for the lost opportunities, mourns the lost intelligence, and craves the lost tax revenue. But currently emigration is a necessary evil, and we need to look at the potential positives it can bring.

When this bunch return, the wealth of their experience will be invaluable in building an Ireland for the future, in an Ireland full of bold new ideas and unhindered promise. Some will not return, they will set up home in a distant corner of some foreign field. Such a destiny may be by choice or by necessity and for the latter I have great sympathy, it tugs on the heart strings of Eire to see her offspring spread around the globe, but she has provided them with the skills, education and life experience they need to survive.

Those who entered the Irish working world have found the lofty careers promised in glossy recruitment brochures have been pushed aside. To have a job is a rich reward, but the excelled growth in salary and career progression experienced by those just 3 to 4 years older is now unimaginable. To their credit this generation is proving their worth, they are growing their roles to encompass responsibilities traditionally the preserve of those more senior, and they are showing flexibility and understanding. They are learning their trade in one of the harshest business environments ever experienced. Should things ever return to some sort of normal they will be best placed to succeed for not only do they hold degrees from Irelands finest universities they will have learned valuable lessons from the University of Life.

I have seen friends who have been made redundant go on to start up their own successful companies. The crisis has forced an entrepreneurial flair which, might have been quenched, in a business as usual tiger economy. As these start up ventures grow and prosper they will form a new wave of indigenous Irish industry.

This generation’s true colours are shining through and despite the harsh realities and the constant uncertainties, this generation is doing what it must to survive and dare I say it, thrive. This is a generation who still dream, hope and work towards a brighter future.