I may be a Boston native, but for the past 25 years, I've had the privilege of living in three different European countries – each of them called Ireland.
When I moved to Dublin in 1992, the Emerald Isle was struggling with some familiar afflictions. Unemployment was running at 14 percent and homeowners were routinely saddled with mortgage rates as high as 17 percent. Plus, emigration was still the only viable option for thousands of doctors, nurses, and skilled tradesmen denied an opportunity in their chosen fields, with the result that Ireland lost many of its best and brightest to England, Australia, and the US.
Only a few years later, I was on hand to witness the emergence of the Celtic Tiger, the code name for the phenomenal economic outburst that brought unprecedented growth, vitality and even chutzpah to the Irish way of life from the mid-1990s until the inevitable worldwide crash in 2008.
These days Ireland is yet another country, having at last thrown off the legislative shackles of the Catholic Church by overwhelmingly endorsing same-sex marriage and a sensible abortion regime in recent referendums. Meanwhile, the Irish economy appears back on track, regularly outperforming its EU counterparts while continuing to offer attractive tax rates for multi-national giants such as Google, Facebook, and Apple.
So plenty to work with if, like me, you're a columnist and aspiring novelist who sees opportunity in current events such as a succession of economic mood swings – or an Irish presidential election. (Ireland goes to the polls on October 26 to choose from six candidates who are contesting the country's highest office. Incumbent Michael D. Higgins appears the clear favorite to secure a second seven-year term.)
In fact, that's just the approach I took with my debut novel, a comic spin on contemporary events.
In Designing Dev, the Celtic Tiger is roaring across Ireland and the country is going to hell in a handbasket. Office blocks and apartment buildings are springing up like weeds on every corner. Mercs, Jags, and Beemers crowd each new kilometer of the EU-subsidized motorway. And bank executives and politicians are reveling in it all, indulging themselves like Saudi royalty. There’s only one solution: Bring back Eamon de Valera – the Abe Lincoln and George Washington of Irish historical lore – to restore the nation.
So when an Irish-American look-alike by the name of Mike Doyle pops up in a Boston suburb, that’s precisely what displaced Corkman Brendan Quigney and his Friends For A Contented Eire set out to do, putting forward the soft-spoken Yank for president of Ireland. The result is a comic roller-coaster tour around modern Ireland as Mike Doyle comes to grips with the ruthless chicanery of Irish politics and finds love in the most unlikely of places – behind a stack of chick lit novels in a Dublin bookshop while hiding from a vengeful mob who've been denied a free burger after a sabotaged campaign rally.
If you're looking for familiar markers, my book is a combination of Carl Hiaasen and The Quiet Man, a contemporary tale with satirical bite but also with a lot of heart. In fact, reflecting real-world concerns about the neglected rights of the Diaspora, my fictional candidate advocates a passport-based voting system for Irish citizens living abroad.
So to any Yank like me who has also relocated to Ireland, I'd say: Maybe creating a presidential avatar is the easiest way to make sense of your new home.
* Boston native Steve Coronella moved to Dublin in 1992. He is also the author of two essay collections, This Thought’s On Me – A Boston Guy Reflects on Leaving the Hub, Becoming a Dub & Other Topics and Entering Medford – And Other Destinations.
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