WE’RE CRAP AGAIN
It shows just how confident we were then, that the event which really condemned to us a terrible downfall was actually greeted as just another Irish masterstroke when it happened. Seriously, the papers which came out just after the (shudder) bank guarantee took the view that this was a stroke of tactical genius on the part of Brian Lenihan which would make us (uhoh) the envy of Europe.
But that wasn’t how it turned out, and as the economy went down quicker than an intern in Bill Clinton’s office, all our confidence drained away and we began to beat ourselves up with an enthusiasm which would have gladdened the heart of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch himself.
We were cross with the bankers, but mainly we seemed to blame ourselves. Politicians went big on austerity, not so much because they thought it would work, but because they seemed to think we deserved it after all that unaccustomed happiness and self-confidence. Michael Noonan even revived the old Garret FitzGerald line and told us to grin and bear the pain because the Germans would really respect us if we did.
People who hadn’t committed any sin more terrible than buying houses with wages from jobs they had no idea would vanish because of the financial mistakes of those further up the ladder, started to bewail the fact that we’d “lost the run of ourselves”. I can remember one poor lad telling an RTE presenter on the radio that he had “bought all kinds of luxuries”. “What kind?” the presenter asked. “Like patio furniture.” “Patio furniture isn’t a luxury,” replied the presenter, and even if that happens to be the most Celtic Tiger thing anyone ever said, he was right, too. That man could have kept buying patio furniture to his heart’s content if the bankers hadn’t screwed up his life.
But now we were back feeling guilty about everything. When the ‘ best supporters in the world’ went to the 2012 European Championships, they were roundly criticised at home for having the poor taste to keep cheering for the team even when Ireland was losing. The good-natured band of fans were now criticised by a Labour Party TD for bringing a flag into a pub and for consensually licking the breast of a representative of the Croatian Tourist Board — acts which, back when we liked ourselves, would have passed without much adverse comment.
And just as we’d gone on too much about how great we were, we now became bores on the subject of our inherently corrupted nature. When racist comments started to be made about Irish immigrants in Australia, there was never any shortage of keyboard warriors to chime in with a, “It’s true. We are awful. We are the worst”. You couldn’t move for claims that we have the world’s most terrible drink problem, though the last WHO survey showed us at number 22 worldwide — not great, perhaps, but just another example of how we’re rarely done exaggerating both our woes and wonders.
Meanwhile, there was a fashion for articles by young middle-class emigrants saying how they were never going to come back because Ireland had let them down, and displaying their immense sophistication by revealing that when they were abroad they never hung out with Irish people at all. Though really, these articles, perhaps, weren’t all that different from the speeches of the winos who used to stagger out of North London tube stations and shout, “I’m never going back, I’m never going back. I never go to fuggen Mass”.
Generation Emigration? Generation Flagellation. We couldn’t just be crap, we had to be more crap than anyone else. It was like the whole country had gone out to one enormous 1980s night.
Politicians went big on austerity, not so much because they thought it would work, but because they seemed to think we deserved it — Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in September 2010