Recalling the Celtic Tiger: Insightful overview of the excitement and excess

Book review: Fintan O'Toole on the effects, symptoms and consequences of Ireland’s economic boom

Street Art, Celtic Tiger Bertie by street artist ADW

Street Art, Celtic Tiger Bertie by street artist ADW

The so-called Celtic Tiger was a dramatic period in Irish history when a troubled and economically backward country suddenly seemed to have discovered Aladdin’s lamp and all its wishes came true. It was liberating, exhilarating, self-delusional and ultimately disastrous and we are still living with its dodgy legacy. It left us with a morning-after hangover of €206 billion of public debt – or, if it sounds more cheerful, €42,500 for every person in the State. Its equal and opposite reaction – the years of austerity in which we were supposed to purge our sins by self-flagellation – damaged many lives. Yet it is also strangely veiled in amnesia. It hovers over us like a haze of embarrassment – that mad binge when we made a show of ourselves and that we prefer not to remember in too much detail.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the Celtic Tiger itself was a problem of epistemology – it was about the ways in which a society could fail to know itself. Even the name is problematic. There was nothing Celtic about the long boom in the Irish economy that lasted from 1994 to 2007. And it was not a Tiger economy. The term properly refers to the south-east Asian model of rapid growth that centred on state-led industrialisation. The State was certainly a huge force in what happened in Ireland (for both good and ill) but the boom was largely driven by foreign direct investment by US-based transnational corporations.

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