In this solid debut, USA Today global affairs reporter Lynch tells the story of a small nation that has changed profoundly in recent decades.
For centuries, Ireland was an impoverished backwater from which the educated fled. Even 30 years ago, writes the author, the country still lacked jobs, roads and reliable phone service. By the late 1990s, all of that changed. Breaking out of its malaise, Ireland began attracting U.S. investment and such technology companies as Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, becoming one of the world’s richest consumer societies. The “Celtic Tiger” growth miracle had the Irish flocking to large shopping malls and expensive restaurants, spending more than twice as much on personal goods and services in 2006 as they had in 1998. The housing market soared, and builders had to recruit foreign construction workers. “The long boom replaced the traditional Irish inferiority complex with a robust culture of entitlement,” writes Lynch. Vividly re-creating the heady era of excess, the author tells the stories of bankers, politicians and others who helped create the new, hip, more affluent Ireland. In 2007, the euphoria ended abruptly amid falling property prices and global recession. Much of the boom had been illusory, the result of over-borrowing by banks, irresponsible regulatory policies and corrupt dealings between politicians and business leaders. The author also covers the cultural flowering of these same boom years, in which Riverdance and the work of U2, Roddy Doyle and other writers and performers won global attention. Doyle’s novels and plays exploring domestic violence and other seldom-acknowledged aspects of domestic life became part of a broad debate on national identity. At the same time, there was a sharp decline in the repressive influence of the Catholic Church. Lynch attributes the social and cultural ferment to the new self-confidence of the era. Now struggling to recover from an economic collapse marked by soaring unemployment and collapsed banks, Ireland can look forward to a “more modest future as a modern European country.”Incisive and well-reported.