Boom to bust to a better life
As the economy hints at another upswing, four people who were riding high in the Celtic Tiger before crashing and then reinventing themselves offer lessons on keeping your head in good times and bad, writes Tanya Sweeney
Look carefully, and you’ll find evidence aplenty that we’re rounding into a new bout of economic prosperity: cranes puncturing the city sky lines. Michelin- starred restaurants no longer taking reservations. Coats retailing in Dunnes at ¤ 950. The statistics hint at a new boom, too: the Irish economy grew by 7.8 per cent in 2017, and GDP is expected to grow by 4.8 per cent in 2018, three times faster than any other European country.
Economics is often called the “dismal science” and this all may sound like ambrosia to the ears for some. Yet there is a sizeable faction of people likely to be experiencing a queasy case of deja vu.
Fifteen years ago, much of Ireland was marked with a new, abominable swagger. Helicopters to the races, limos to the First Communion, Swarovski chandeliers in the utility room, champagne in the hairdressers, weekend flights to New York. Those who didn’t acquire much materially didn’t have far to fall by the time the bust arrived in 2008, but many others flew close to the sun, and had a shuddering bump back down to earth.
At 23, Jason O’Callaghan succeeded Terry Keane as the Sunday Independent’s social diarist in 1998, and found that every door in Dublin’s social set suddenly opened for him. For a decade, the weeks were a blur of restaurant openings, clubs, high- end store launches and fashion shows. Thanks to loans, he bought a Harley Davison and a Porsche. Later, he acquired multiple properties, including a bolthole in Cannes.
“I was getting 100 calls a day from celebrities like Pierce Brosnan, Michael Flatley, U2,” he recalls. “I was having dinner and free drinks with models – not bad for someone who became a waiter when he left school.” In retrospect, he refers to himself as “someone at the pinnacle of the bullsh** t generation”. “I bought into my own bulls** t and became too big for my boots,” he admits. “Journalism, it turns out, is hugely detrimental in relation to anxiety and depression.” Overnight, he lost his job, and the phone abruptly stopped ringing. He broke up with his girlfriend and hit rock bottom. “Within two years of losing my job I found myself working on the Samaritans’ helpline,” he reveals. “By the time the recession hit in 2008, it was all about retraining and rebuilding and rebranding.” As a musician, O’Callaghan was able to gig on weekends while getting a Masters in Applied Psychology at Trinity. He started his hypnotherapy practice, the D4 Clinic, out of his front room. He recently moved to new premises in Blackrock, and these days O’Callaghan, a father of three, is happily living the suburban life and doing the school run. His saving grace during the heady boom years was that he never took drugs. “We all had shedloads of money and champagne but the one thing is I never got involved in any of that stuff,” he recalls.
I was getting 100 calls a day from celebrities like Pierce Brosnan, Michael Flatley. . . not bad for someone who became a waiter when he left school