Ireland after its belated Age of Aquarius…

On Sunday Killian Forde picked up a theme, I vaguely touched on a few weeks ago on Brassneck, the similarity between the current crisis and a pyramid selling scheme. John Banville takes a more human look at the roller coaster ride some Irish people have been on over the last year or so… (H/T Susan!)

…the start of our Age of Aquarius can be dated to that week in the spring of 1992 when the news broke in Ireland that a prominent and popular churchman, Bishop Eamonn Casey, had carried on a long affair with an Irish-American woman, and that he had a 17-year-old son by her. It was the first of a series of religio-sexual scandals to be exposed here, each one worse than its predecessor.

The bishop had been a pillar both of church and state — he was a ubiquitous presence during Pope John Paul’s visit to Ireland in 1979, but he had also done much to highlight the plight of the urban homeless — and his downfall should have been a disorienting shock to a country that was proud of being 95 percent Catholic. However, all we knew was that the church’s centuries-long stranglehold upon our necks had suddenly been loosened. Freed, we did what all free men like best to do: we started making money, and spending it. The ’90s and the first half of the noughties were our coming-of-age party. Oh, how we roistered.

And:

And yet there is, too, a curious trace of wistfulness in the air. We seem to be asking if it was really so bad in those days before Bishop Casey liberated us. Were we, if not happier, then at least more content, when we were poor? Did we not behave more courteously toward each other — did we not more readily forgive each other and ourselves for our failings? Shall we not perhaps regain something of the “real” Ireland when the suddenly toothless tiger is dead and buried? As our mothers used to say to us children when we had lost something, “You weren’t meant to have it.” Grim comfort.

Indeed. Some of the problem Banville alludes to is the close identity between the church and the most significant forms of social capital, which have often either been generated through the church or closely associated with church institutions, such as the Parish.

No doubt the fear will pass in time, but need to find new viable forms of social capital will doubtless remain…

, , ,

  • Why am I still a UUP voter?

    Given that Nationalists rather absurdly spent the better part of a decade telling Unionists, “you should join up with the South – look how economically successful they are!” – when exactly will the first Nationalist poster follow his own logic and argue that the imploding South should join back with us in the UK again?

  • Why am I still a UUP voter?

    ‘Imploding’? I think you’re losing the run of yourself entirely.

    If economic success was what attracts you to another country, then I guess you think that the UK should have joined Germany years ago. It’s a bit of a silly argument, don’t you think?

  • Mick

    Anyone actually going to talk about the post?

  • Greenflag

    ‘when exactly will the first Nationalist poster follow his own logic and argue that the imploding South should join back with us in the UK again?

    Not I said Greenflag 😉 But then I’ve never been a proponent of a UI based on the ‘economic success’ model .

    Ireland (ROI ) will survive this mess -political intacto . What’s not clear is if NI will still have an Assembly by Christmas.

    A new economic world order is on the way . Not since Bretton Woods (post world war 2) will the order be changed as much as we can expect it to be in the coming months .

    The ‘triumph ‘ of Anglo American ( Irish included too ) capitalism post the collapse of the Soviet Union is now seen to have been in part a mirage . Pieces of paper / derivatives / CDO’s/hedge funds / naked short selling cannot replace the ‘real ‘ economy . In the ‘real’ economy Joe the Plumber needs customers who can afford to pay for his services as does every business . If those customers (USA predominantly) have been emisserated (in relative terms ) over a 20 year period as they have not had ‘real ‘ wage increases to match inflation or received commensurate benefits from productivity increases then ‘debt’ is bound to be accumulated . When the ‘ponzi /pyramid scheme is unveiled to all and sundry, that the way out of the gradual ’emisseration’ trap is property investment then that’s where the money goes . Seeing where the money was going the ‘shadow banking ‘ world moved in with complex financial instruments to build even greater mountains of worthless and inflated paper based on castles in the air .

    What we have and are experiencing on a world wide scale is an extension of the Savings & Loan Debacle back in the late 1980’s when again ‘deregulation’ allowed one Charles Keating to loot the retirement savings of thousands of elderly Americans and turn their paper money into ‘junk bonds ‘

    We have seen a perfect example of ‘bad capitalism’ driving out good capitalism and as Thomas Gresham said a couple of hundred years ago ‘Bad money drives out good money – but good money does’nt drive out bad money ‘

    The USA under a Democratic President will have little recourse to accepting a new world economic order just as Britain and Germany and Japan had to do post WW2 when the USA was still a ‘creditor’ nation .. The Europeans will have a strong role in as well Japan , China and those other countries (OPEC) who have kept the USA from utter bankruptcy by agreeing to sell their oil for dollars and keep their huge holdings of dollars re-invested in the USA economy via US Treasury Bills .

  • Greenflag

    Mick ,

    ‘but need to find new viable forms of social capital will doubtless remain’

    Banville’s comments are somewhat overdone . Ireland is not going back to ‘mother church’ anytime soon . There is no going back -too much has changed . A new paradigm in the making to replace both Mother Church and our recent bout of Baal (Golden Calf) worship) will be needed . The former we ditched and replaced with the latter -by the ourselves alone method i.e Celtic Tiger . The replacement of the Golden Calf ‘god’ will however be an international project extending from Tokyo to Berlin to London to Dublin to Rejkevick to Washington etc .

    But first it has to be established that the ‘new ‘ Golden Calf can get up on it’s feet following the demise of it’s predecessor . As of now the new ‘calf ‘ is still in utero somewhere I suspect between Paris , London , Beijing , Tokyo and Frankfurt .

  • Rory

    Freed, we did what all free men like best to do: we started making money, and spending it.

    If I heard this from a Tory-boy in a City wine bar I would simply shake my head and think, “Get a life you poor sad cretin” but coming from a writer of Banville’s stature I ask myself is this an observation of his that he makes from some lofty height of moral rectitude and that the reader must assume that the author is not included among the money-making “we”? Which is not to say that Banville did not make money during this period but of course any money that did come his way was only as a happy side effect to the world’s appreciation of his talent, he did not conciously grub for money in the way that the vulgar did.

    He writes of the great sport he and his dinner guests had as they made mock of the spiritual bleakness which they projected on to the noveau riche trophy wife and mother. Why then does he feel compassion for the child when she presumably will be untainted now by riches and free to pursue that satisfaction of the inner life previously denied to her by hedonism and enjoyed before only by the great and the good who dine with the literati.

  • Ulster McNulty

    “The ’90s and the first half of the noughties were our coming-of-age party.”

    Ireland – Welcome to the adult world, now go out and get yourself a proper job.

  • Big Maggie

    Ooh, what a beautifully written piece! John Banville proving yet again that he’s Ireland’s greatest living writer. Who else would (or could) use ‘ravening’ in the very first sentence?

  • susan

    A bang on the ear to you, Maggie, I agree. Rory, as we used to say when we were waiting for our turns to shout into a banana on a Jobsearch scheme, just because a man is gifted and accomplished doesn’t mean he has nothing to say.

    He might be a bit caustic, but plenty of sharp-eyed cabinet makers and shopkeepers, not to mention quietly aghast Northerners, took a similarly dim view of some of the cocaine, helicopters and spray on tan excesses at the tail end of the Tiger.

    Reading Banville’s last paragraph, I really do shiver thinking of the bright, confident smiles of the generation that’s come of age expecting summer hols in Spain and the odd shopping spree to New York. We know what may be coming; they have no idea.

    “One feels most sympathy for the young, who have known only tigerish days. How will they cope with what now seems certain to come? Again the dole queues, the mass emigration, the grind and grayness of life lived from hand to mouth. Poor little girls, poor little boys.”

    One feels most sympathy for the young, who have known only tigerish days. How will they cope with what now seems certain to come? Again the dole queues, the mass emigration, the grind and grayness of life lived from hand to mouth. Poor little girls, poor little boys.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    “Ireland – Welcome to the adult world, now go out and get yourself a proper job.”

    Yes, we are looking at the moment!

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    “when exactly will the first Nationalist poster follow his own logic and argue that the imploding South should join back with us in the UK again?”

    UUP voter-

    Sorry, but this will never ever happen!

    ….and actually it was after the Act of Union that saw economic decline of the south!

    BTW, the UK and NI ain’t doing too good at the mo either!

  • Rory

    Like Susan and Big Maggie I too am impressed by Banville’s elegant literary style. Yet when we strip it all down do we find anything other than an old money “What else could be expected of them?” hauteur towards the noveau riche?

    Not so much a question of the problem of people suddenly becoming rich but of the wrong sort of people?

  • susan

    Rory. What’s Banville got to do with old money? By reducing the piece to your projections about who you think was present at a dinner party you were not invited to you managed to bypass all conversations except between you and the chip on your shoulder.

    I married into a Galway family. In a decade I saw them go from having to tramp across a damn field to make a call “out” and endless trips to the hospital for asthma and bronchitis brought on from the damn damp to summer jaunts to Majorca and even a cruise or two. No exageration, literal truth. I’ve never been to Majorca or on a cruise in my life, Rory, but I was happy and relieved for them. They are overall a cautious lot and didn’t overspend, so please God they’ll come out of this alright, but if you think cabinetmakers, shopkeepers, and painters don’t wonder the same sorts of things Banville and his dinner guests wonder about you are the elitist Rory, not Banville.

    If I had a door available, I’d slam it. ;o) take care, Rory, must make what hay I can while the sun shines.

  • Big Maggie

    Susan,

    Like you I married into a poor family, having come from one myself. That was a long time ago, I won’t say how long! But we all prospered over time, slowly, as we made a bit here, a bit there. And because the journey was hard and long we appreciated every penny/cent we earned, and so did our children. And here’s the thing, because our neighbours and friends were in the same boat there was a real sense of solidarity.

    That’s been absent among the brash new rich of Ireland for some time. I’m afraid the Celtic Tiger brought out the worse in some people who were selfish to begin with. In a way I’m glad it’s over. Maybe that sense of pulling together will return.

  • Greenflag

    greagoir ,

    ‘it was after the Act of Union that saw economic decline of the south! ‘

    That is undeniably true. For the very same reasons that large American corporations can now make bigger profits from their subsidiaries in China , Mexico etc than in say West Virginia or Louisiana, British companies found much greater rates of return from the West Indies Sugar Cane or the Indian cotton trade etc etc . And that’s where the capital went .

    A small area around Belfast did better than most of Ireland simply because of the ‘competitive ‘ advantage flax growers had in that part of Ireland and the port facilities of Belfast ,Larne etc .

    The ‘memory ‘ of Belfast’s golden age in the Industrial Revolution is what keeps many bowler hats brushed up with pride even if the old engineering and industrial skills have since vacated NI for better returns elswhere or have been forced into extinction by a changing world economic order .

    Looking ahead 4 to 5 years or even 1 year on the economy is a job for gypsy fortune tellers right now but we can all safely assume that once the waters from the Wall St overflow recede one can be sure that the ‘dreary steeples ‘ of Fermanagh and the backstreet bethels of Belfast will still be in place:)

    Now I don’t know why that thought makes me feel good nut in a peculiar inexplicable way it does .

  • Greenflag

    susan ,

    ‘must make what hay I can while the sun shines.’

    It’s October . Historically throughout Europe the period August through September was the time of harvest and the accounting of food supplies to see if they would last through the winter etc . If things looked grim because of poor weather etc etc then the local King had a quick gecko at his army and reckoned his chances of stealing the requisite ‘calories’ from any of his weaker neigbours .

    It should come as no surprise that October is the month for financial surprises in this era . As nations at least the democratic ones can no longer easily recourse to war to redress food, resource (oil) or financial shortages , the ‘stresses ‘ build up on the home front (Wall St ,City , Frankfurt , Tokyo etc) and the fit hits the shan so to speak .

    Best to make hay whether the sun is shining or not particularly on these rain soaked islands .
    Don’t leave it to October 😉 a month not renowned for the lenght of it’s sunshine hours 🙂

  • Greenflag

    correction to 15 above .

    Now I don’t know why that thought makes me feel good BUT in a peculiar inexplicable way it does .

  • Gilberg

    Do not forget that the Irish cotton industry was sacrificed for Manchester’s benefit in “the good old days”.

  • Rory

    Susan,

    How dare you suggest that I have anything so vulgar as a ‘chip’ on my shoulder. I assure you it’s a pomme frite.

    Though actually that’s a load of baloney too as the term “a chip on his shoulder” derives from the custom of combative young males in the rural USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries whereby, when two squared up to each other needing a legitimate excuse to begin fighting, one would place a chip of wood on his shoulder and dare the other fellow to knock it off, “I dar ya”. Whereupon battle could commence. A variation of this was to place a log on the ground between the two and one would dare the other to spit over it and a wonderful example of this practice can be seen in John Ford’s magnificent film, The Searchers, when Francis Ford and Jeffrey Hunter square up to fight for the hand of the lovely Vera Miles. Aren’t guys just great?

    But back to Banville. I have no idea what Banville has to do with old money but I do (or at least I did) say that his article takes the snobbish stance of old money over new. I was, perhaps unusually for this site, critiquing the written word not the writer – the ball not the man as Mick more colourfully puts it. Maggie and you obviously don’t see it that way. Fair enough.

  • susan

    Maggie, good post, although you know, we were never poor we were always middle class. ;o) Some of what the vulgar old TIger chased away, good riddance to it — the damp, the fear, the coughing, the repression of healthy sexuality and healthy ambition, and the claustrophobia that stayed with you even in your sleep. But there was a way of life and a neighbourliness and a gentleness and a generousity even in the language that receded at the high tide of the Tiger, and it is to be missed.

    Don’t worry, Greenflag — it may be a long way from baling to bailouts and the pages of the NY Times, but I never underestimate the timeless beauty of a man with a good strong jaw and a working red Welger.

  • Big Maggie

    Susan,

    My apologies for accusing ye of being poor! I suppose I should look up to you – cue the old Python sketch ‘I’m upper class so I look down on him, I’m working class so I look up to him’ etc :^)

  • susan

    lol, Maggie. Baldrick and his turnip were middle class too, as I was reared.

  • Greenflag

    susan ,

    ‘but I never underestimate the timeless beauty of a man with a good strong jaw and a working red Welger. ‘

    You might want to peruse the Wicklow Mick or the Longford Reader or some such ‘culchie’ paper where you may see advertisements of this ilk.

    ‘Bachelor farmer with strong jaw seeks female woman of the opposite sex with red tractor -Please send photo of tractor ‘

    maggie .

    ‘Maybe that sense of pulling together will return.’

    There’s no going back to what was but there has to be a hope for building something new based on our common humanity regardless of class , income , creed or colour . I’d like to think that Obama with his world wide family background might be a help in ushering in such a world .

    The celtic tiger will return no doubt much wiser for the experience and somewhat less exuberant which is no bad thing . But whats more important for the world economy is that tens of millions of people all over the Anglosphere and beyond are thanks to the ‘internet ‘ learning that caveat emptor applies just as much to depositing money in a bank or the stock exchange or even making a mortgage application . We are all learning that just because it wears a suit and tie and calls itself a banker or investment professional or bond salesman or minister of religion or priest is no guarantee of ethical conduct and may indeed be a marker for suspicion on the part of any consumer :(. And so we add the above ‘suits ‘ to the list of lawyers , car salesmen , homeopathologists and other vendors of ‘nirvana ‘ from a bottle or tube and other wretches it’s best to avoid if at all possible 😉

    BTW -IIRC Baldrick was a turnip and on that point Tony Robinson has a list of his productions at

    http://www.unofficialtonyrobinsonwebsite.co.uk/pages/book

  • Greenflag