“Never go back, never go back, never go back.” That’s what my father hears every time he sits on a train.
“It’s what the old fellas said to me when I sat on that train to Dublin, trying to break you down,” he remembers as he thinks back to 1960, when he left his parent’s home in County Mayo, Ireland to join his older brother in England where work was plentiful. He was sixteen years old and at the time “so thin that Kevin [his brother] nearly put me on the boat back home.” For the last half century he has worked in every town and city in England before finally setting up home in London some thirty years ago, in various parts of the city.
What he found in England were small pockets of Ireland. Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Manchester were all refuges for the migrating Irish back in the sixties, towns that had more money and work than anywhere in Ireland could provide. At the same point places such as New York and Boston saw a new influx of emigrants from the Emerald Isle, following the cousins and uncles who had migrated to the promised lands of the new country during the last great exodus that followed the potato famine at the start of the twentieth century.
Ireland has always been a nation of emigrants. For a country that has so many yearning to see its beauty and personality, it’s never been very good at keeping its own people entertained.
That was until the rise of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ - a time where Ireland’s economy was one of the most dynamic and booming economies in the world. On family holidays since 2000 we would always be amazed by the wealth seemingly floating round ‘home’ as my parents still call it. Apartment blocks would rise within six months, business parks grew and expanded at exponentially. That was before the financial world brought itself to the precipice. That was before Ireland, and the reckless lending of its banks led to its bubble bursting.
The financial crisis was like a delicately placed spear into the Celtic Tiger’s side. The Irish government had hoped a package of €8.3 billion would suffice it’s largest bank, the Anglo Irish, with enough capital to recuperate.
However on September 30th, that bill increased with the central bank determining that another €6.4 billion would be needed. It also needed to double the cost of recapitalising Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS), a small but troubled state-owned lender, to €5.4 billion.
The Irish Government had hoped to keep this year’s deficit to around 12% of the GDP, but with these cost revisions it now stands at around 32% of the GDP, increasing public debt to 98% of GDP. To try and claw some money back, the Government has taken severe cuts to public spending but there is still talk that Ireland, together with Greece, may have to go cap in hand to European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). This, as The Economist noted last week, is unlikely. Ireland has enough money to finance this year’s borrowing and a large cash buffer, which was notably lacking in Greece’s financial crisis.
What could make this situation worse however is the Irish people’s tendency to flee the country. Financial crisis’ are cyclical, with a relatively short time span between and we’ve hopefully seen the worst that will come to pass during our lifetime. The drain of intellect, creativity and expertise that Ireland is now suffering can take generations to overcome. I spoke to him by phone last week and we spoke about Ireland. He sighed. “Something like this always happens,” is all he said - and then I saw this report on CNN.
I have only seen my father’s childhood home twice; once when I was too young to remember. The other time was four years ago. The roads were quiet, not much had changed from when he was younger. He walked the streets and bogs and farmland he did as a child with a mixture of excitement, love and bitterness.Maybe that’s what always happens when the old you goes home and sees how disconnected you’ve become from the young you, but I think it was more to do with the resentment he has towards home not being everything it should have been for him. Let’s hope that the current generation leaving home don’t return with the same wearied view.