Will Ireland ever be good again asks a returned emigrant


It’s what all of those things mean when they are more than words and statistics, when they are someone’s life -- when they become Monday to Sunday until they can’t face Monday ever again.

It’s what stats and figures and debts and news stories are when they are reality. It’s when all of that accumulates. It’s what it does to us.

It’s the toll all of those blows take on our self-respect as a nation, on our collective mentality. It’s the lack of respect, both internal and external, for your country and for yourself. 

These are things I often wonder if we can get past, if we can recover from.

In the summer of 1990 the Irish soccer team went to the World Cup for the first time. The qualification for the tournament and our participation didn’t cause excitement among the population -- they engendered mass hysteria. A nation collectively lost its mind amid a sea of sporting escapism.

It left a legacy that carries on to this day. It is one of our fondest collective memories, and it came during the tail end of one of our bleakest periods.

An entire nation lost control of itself for a summer. It was a time when we were inclined to willingly lose our minds.

Somebody offered an escape, and every person who hadn’t left the country went running towards the light.

In the summer of 2012 Ireland qualified for soccer’s European Championship, our first visit to the competition since 1988. We dreamt of a repeat of the 1990 World Cup, when we had gone as underdogs and come back with the world’s respect.

What we got was a global humiliation. Three games, three defeats.

Europe’s best toyed with Ireland’s best. We were made look like amateur oafs pitted against the superior master.

A nation quickly went into the mass grieving process, and pre-tournament elation evaporated with hoarse notes of “The Fields of Athenry” drifting into the skies above the Polish host city of Poznan.

Europe lauded the good nature and indomitable spirit of the Irish supporters; those plucky masses in green who turned up, drank plenty but never caused trouble and, even with a good humiliation in the back pocket, kept on singing their charming songs.

There was even a trophy for the best fans. Really.

It was utterly patronizing. What we wanted was to win. To be respected on merit. In the way we once were. What we got was a pat on the head while Europe’s best kicked us up the arse.

It all felt very familiar. Like, maybe, this is just how it is now. It just is. This is our lot.

There was redemption -- or relief at least -- at the London Olympics. Katie Taylor, a young boxer from Co. Wicklow.

The hunger for an Irish victory, of any kind, became apparent when the crowd inside the Olympic boxing arena, almost entirely made up of Irish fans (despite Taylor facing a British boxer), set a record for decibel levels at the Olympic games.

Taylor won gold and we enjoyed a wonderful moment when, for the first time in a while, the world looked at us with fair eyes and saw something good. There would be no pat on the head this time.

It was an overdue reminder. We remembered what it was like to stand up and be proud of ourselves.

But there are only so many sporting moments into which we can escape as a nation, only so many ways we can live vicariously through the victories of others.

Ultimately, how we see ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, will be composed of how we live the rest of our lives, how Ireland is as a place to live.

And right now it feels like we are under a cloud where life gets harder and staying here gets harder to justify.

As much as it’s a wonderful gift to explore the world, as many young Irish now do, you wish it didn’t have to be for these reasons.

Personally, I have to consider myself lucky. Although that is, of course, all relative.

I have a job, albeit temporary, and have avoided the very worst of the effects of the economic collapse. I am prepared for the reality that I may have to leave Ireland again, but I know I’ll survive. That’s enough for me.

I’m always aware of how much worse it could have been. Many have not been so well insulated.

Those people who face debts they know they can’t pay, and find themselves swallowed whole by a beast far bigger than them -- those thousands for whom the term recession feels like a tidy byword for disaster.

The longer we can’t find pride in who we are, the deeper the scars will run.