The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Taming the Celtic Tiger

Fred A. Wilcox • 20 June 2004

My wife and I arrived in Rosslare harbor one bright fall morning in 1970. No was around to check passports, so we simply lifted the trestle, walked into Ireland, and stuck out our thumbs. A farmer moving his cows to pasture greeted us. “Top a the morning to ye,” he said. For a moment, we thought we might be acting in “The Quiet Man,” but I don’t look much like John Wayne, and Kathleen, though lovely, was not Maureen O’Hara.

There were few cars on the roads, and those that did pass were crammed with mom, pop, kids, at least one priest or nun, and a couple of dogs. People waved and shrugged in commiseration, wishing us the best with their cheerful smiles. Passing through run down villages in the West, we could almost hear the cries of starving children coming from abandoned houses. What happened to the people who lived in those wee hovels? Were they forced to work on famine roads until they dropped dead from exhaustion or starvation? Had they converted to their oppressor’s faith in order to save their children from an early grave? Perhaps they had sailed away on coffin ships, never to be seen again. Wind roared in off the North Atlantic and when it rained we huddled inside of those ruins, feeling the presence of a million ghosts, hearing the lament of a people starving next to granaries stuffed with food that would soon be exported to England.

I fell in love with Ireland not because it was a poor country, but because the people Kathleen and I met carried themselves with a quiet dignity, because we were made welcome by a naturally generous people who shared what they had and asked nothing in return. In Ireland, I never worried about being short changed. Actually, people seemed rather shy about asking for what they were owed. When we asked our hosts about a key to their door, they laughed. “It’s there,” they said, pointing to a key stuck into the front door lock. “And that’s where it will be when you need it.” When we questioned the good judgment of young women who were hitchhiking on the outskirts of Dublin, the response was politely indignant. “And why should they not? They’re going home to see their families now they are.”

Over the years I have returned to Ireland many times, walked its beaches, conducted Writers Workshops, spent evenings with friends in great pubs, and served as an international observer in Belfast and Portatown during the marching season. I have watched the West rise out of the doldrums of neglect, stretches of ruin replaced by tidy towns with bustling shops all bright and well stocked. I’ve watched the Celtic tiger grow more confident and more determined to transform a small rural country into an industrialized, urbanized, capitalist nation.

While it may be showering Ireland with Euros, the new prosperity seems to be sucking something vital from the character of an ancient people. Each time I return to Ireland, Dublin looks and sounds and feels more like New York City, parts of Galway have begun to resemble an American strip mall, and towns like Tralee, County Kerry, appear to be on a competitive—who can carry home the most packages—shopping binge. If the Quiet Man were to return to Ireland today, he would surely wonder why people are moving so fast, where they are all going, why so many people are driving oversize cars on undersize roads while chattering away on cell phones—talking, one assumes to other drivers in oversize cars on undersize roads speeding to some important deal-making destination.

Yes, Ireland is starting to look and feel like the hyperactive, frenetic workaholic country in which I live and work. But why, I keep asking myself, would anyone care to emulate a country where billionaires parade their ostentatious wealth before 30-40-50 million impoverished citizens, where wealthy politicians absolutely refuse to create a national health care system, choosing instead to allow 45 million people to survive without health insurance, where unscrupulous robber barons like Donald Trump are exalted for being ferociously ambitious and insatiably greedy, and where desperate welfare mothers who dare to hustle a buck under the table are cut off public assistance and even hauled off to jail.

In the United States of America, tens of millions of people are squeezed into poverty-stricken urban ghettoes, while Native Americans and the rural white poor have been left to eat rocks. One of every American children goes to be hungry, more black men are in prison than in college, and guns kill thousands of innocent Americans very year. In the U.S.A., politics is a game played by and for the rich, who send working class men and women around the world to kill and die for Wall Street warlords and multinational profiteers.

Beautiful parts of the United States are being destroyed in the name of progress, avaricious developers are cutting down orchards, bulldozing woods, and spreading concrete over the habitat of birds and beasts; highways are smashed through lovely towns, cities have been ripped apart by freeways, family farms are being subdivided into ugly stretches of oversize look-a-like houses and fast-food shopping malls.

Ireland hasn’t reached this stage of capitalist greed yet, but it is obvious and not just to me (other visitors have said similar things), that the champions of capitalism expansion are on a major and very destructive roll in this country. The capitalist binge in Ireland will undoubtedly escalate, some people will get rich, and others will feel better off for a time. But Ireland is a small country. Unlike the United States, which can afford to pave over New Jersey but still keep Montana in layaway, Ireland’s resources are limited. Americans, and I’m sure tourists from around the world, are drawn to Ireland’s undeveloped beaches, its winding roads, open countryside, wild bogs, clean air and fresh (not factory farmed) food. I’m not suggesting that Ireland base its economy on tourism, but only that this gorgeous land be preserved for future generations.

Every American school child learns that capitalism and democracy are synonyms, and every day the empire’s propaganda machine tries to sell this lie to people throughout the world. After all, only the most boorish politician would rely on gun-toting enforcers to control ordinary people. A “market economy” (translate unbridled greed) is an altogether cheaper and more effective way to persuade people that the best world is one in which everyone competes—the “survival of the fittest model—against everyone else for limited resources.

I really hope that the Irish people will stop the Celtic Tiger from turning Ireland into a theme park—straight roads filled with crowded tour buses that rush from site to site, grand hotel to grand hotel, gift shop to gift shop, shopping plaza to shopping plaza, disgorging weary-eyed travelers who will fly on to the next international hot spot that, no surprise, looks and feels and sounds so very much like the one they’ve just visited.

Some Irish readers might say, “Sorry yank, but if you don’t like Ireland you can stay home.” Fair enough, but the problem is that, after so many visits, I still love Irish music and Irish literature. I love the aroma of a turf fire, love to see sheep wandering the roads, and to hear the sea crashing against cliffs. I love watching fishing boats bop into bay with their catch, and to hear the wind howling and the rain lashing at night. I love drinking good Irish tea by the fire, listening to good story or a lively row.

I grew up poor, and lived for many years on the streets of New York City, so I do not idealize poverty, but each time I visit Ireland it appears that the Celtic Tiger’s appetite is growing by leaps and bounds. And I can’t help but wonder if anyone will reign in this carnivore before it clones itself and, in the name of progress, turns this beautiful island into a charming Celtic shopping mall.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

22 June 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Eyes Right
Anthony McIntyre

"Rumour Mill" - Safeguarding Nationalist Community
Sean Mc Aughey

From Alternative Press to Corporate Mainstream: The Case of the Andersonstown News
Liam O Ruairc

Taming the Celtic Tiger
Fred A. Wilcox

Weapon of Mass Destruction
John Kennedy

The Reagan Bitburg Doctrine
Francis A. Boyle

God's Command to Angels
Allama Iqbal
M. Shahid Alam (trans.)

Plan Puebla Panama And Free Trade - The Corporate Contribution To Low Intensity Warfare
Toni Solo

17 June 2004

A Day That Comes, Also Goes
Tom Luby

One of the Nine
Anthony McIntyre

IRPWA Delegation Targeted By British Army/RUC
Martin Mulholland

'The Confines of Republicanism'
Liam O Ruairc

I Was Only Following Orders
Fred A. Wilcox

Reagan's Legacy
Sean O Lubaigh

The Humanity in Us All
Dorothy Naor


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