A “guide” to Dublin’s affluent south side appeared in Irish bookshops in 2008. With the subtitle “How to get by on, like, €10,000 a day”, the book was written by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly
O’Carroll-Kelly is, in fact, a fictional Irish twenty-something created by the journalist Paul Howard. Mr Howard, who is in his thirties, lampooned the pretensions of the Dublin middle classes and focused on a new generation of Irish, many of whom had been weaned on relative prosperity and some on outrageous wealth.
As Ireland comes to terms with its €85bn ($111bn) rescue from the European Union and International Monetary Fund – and years of austerity and debt repayment – the “Celtic cubs” who grew up in the boom have encountered a dramatic reversal in fortune.
“My dad’s a builder and there’s just absolutely no work,” said Róisín McGrane, a shopworker from Greystones, a seaside town on Ireland’s east coast. “He’s on the dole and it kills him, not being able to support his family.
“I’m a Celtic Tiger baby so all this is new to me,” Ms McGrane adds. “It’s the little things I’m noticing now. Like not eating chicken three times a week because chicken is expensive. And our TV being cut off was something I would never have experienced.”
The prospect of an exodus of young people looms, after a 10-year period when the country became a magnet for immigrants.
“I finished college in 2009 with a degree in business studies and accounting,” said Barry O’Loughlin, a student from Thurles in County Tipperary.
Mr O’Loughlin is studying for a master’s degree in Athlone, a town of about 25,000 on the banks of the river Shannon.
“I spent a year trying to get a job to do with my degree but I couldn’t get anything,” he said. “So I ended up working in a cattle market in Thurles. I thought if I did a master’s, I’d be able to walk into a job afterwards. But with everything that is going on at the moment . . . I may have to just emigrate. Some guys I was in class with have gone to Canada.”
Statistics show a high level of net emigration for 2009, largely due to a fall in the number of immigrants coming into Ireland. The number of Irish-born emigrants did increase 50 per cent, however, and the Economic and Social Research Institute, a think-tank, believes net emigration could almost double next year, from 34,000 in 2010 to 60,000.
A life abroad will become more attractive as jobs disappear. Unemployment among those aged 15 to 24 increased from 13 per cent in 2008 to 24 per cent last year.
For Ireland’s youth, widespread unemployment and emigration are all the more worrisome for being unprecedented in their lifetimes. Although most did not grow up in wealthy households, theirs was the first generation whose members could feel confident that they would be able to find work at home.
Most Irish people over the age of 40, by contrast, can remember a time of material deprivation at home – or were themselves emigrants at one time or another. Even many Irish people in their thirties remember growing up in an environment of constrained means if not poverty. For these people, the prospect of Ireland’s straitened circumstances will be bruising, but less of a shock.
But even though the spectre of unemployment lurks in the background of many young people’s thought, there are also a lucky few who remain untouched by the recession.
“Things haven’t really changed for me in the past few years,” said Aron Kennedy, a high school student from south Dublin. He is confident of securing a place to study medicine at university next year but said even if he did need to find a job, his father would be able to “sort him out” with one.
Nor is this optimism confined to those with qualifications or the promise of further education.
“I just dropped out of college, which was probably a mistake but I still got a job,” said 21-year-old Danny Finnan, carrying a pair of new jeans as he emerged from Ireland’s swankiest shopping mall, the Dundrum Town Centre.
“I now work for Betfair as a systems and games analyst. Things are still looking pretty good for me, so I guess I’m pretty confident about my future in Ireland.”
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