It was the epicentre of our Celtic Tiger excess. Each year, like a scene from Apocalypse Now, a swarm of helicopters would arrive, the limos would line up and the sound of champagne corks would pop like a twenty-one gun salute to our greed.
But seeing the rogues gallery, including the likes of Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy, return to the Galway Races this week has rightly left a sour taste in many people’s mouth.
I was as guilty as the rest of them. Yes, while the Celtic Tiger roared I was to be found in Galway wining and dining with the best of them. But I was probably considered a nobody, because it used to be a case of if you didn’t have a helicopter you just weren’t at the races. And then reality struck. The cruel winds of recession not only ravaged our country but also gave us the cold slap of reality across our faces that we needed. The endless champagne, helicopters and horse races had to stop.
But while some of us have moved on, Bertie and Charlie were still to be seen swanning around amid the Champagne tents and the caviar, while the rest of the country still struggles to get back on its feet.
They both were not only the architects of our economic boom but also of our disastrous fall from grace. So even though they are now private citizens and can do as they please, different rules of decorum apply for the former head of state and finance minister.
There are loads of horse races around the country, but the reason people swagger around Galway this time of year is to be seen. Of course, people used to say great deals were done as the powerful and the mighty converged on this orgy of excess, but to be honest this is simply a myth. The only thing to emerge for most after the excess of champagne, lobster and caviar would have been a hangover.
So as the country deals with its hangover of recession, Bertie should be keeping his head down.
However, further salt was rubbed in our wounds when news that Bertie bags €40,000 for, as the Irish Independent put it, “tips on Celtic Tiger ‘success’” made the front pages. It is beside the point that for such speaking engagements the figure he gets, just like Tony Blair, is actually double that. While Bertie has every right to earn a living, he should not in the current climate be flaunting it.
While the Americans embrace failure and are eager to learn from it, in Irish culture it is still considered taboo. Bertie achieved great things while Taoiseach, the most outstanding being peace in Northern Ireland, and despite what people currently think the blame for the collapse of the economy rests on many shoulders, not alone his. But at present he is seen as a pariah.
Today in Ireland people in the public eye almost need to be seen to be going around in sackcloths and ashes. It has gone from one extreme to another and this is no bad thing.
But with a deal on Ireland’s bailout repayments easing our burden this week, the signs that we are thankfully seeing light at the end of the tunnel are growing.
It is time for the country to rise up, but maybe not to the crazy old days of the Galway Races.