European of the week: How I survived the Irish boom
24 November 2010
Irish author Julian Gough got through the Celtic Tiger years on little more than love and fresh air. Now resident in Berlin, here’s his tale of staying sceptical (and broke) as the rest of the country went mad (and bust) on property fever.
During Ireland’s Celtic Tiger years, you had to work very hard to avoid making money. I managed it by becoming a writer of unpopular fiction. My beloved managed it by becoming an artist. Our friends made money; we made art. And that was fine. After all, it is the sacred duty of the Irish writer to be completely out of sync with Ireland. But after the millennium, a genuine boom became a property bubble that lifted people’s feet off the ground. Soon The Irish Times had a property supplement thicker than the newspaper. And my friends started to buy ever more expensive houses. Debt exploded, and the media called it prosperity. David McWilliams, alone among Irish financial journalists, analysed it clearly. And the economist Morgan Kelly, of University College Dublin, wrote an astonishing paper, dissecting every property bubble in history. Ireland ticked every box, in bold, in red. The country was banjaxed. I sent it to all my friends – by e-mail: I still lived in Galway, in the wild west, but they’d all moved to the beating heart of the Celtic Tiger, Dublin. They didn’t want to hear it. I was clearly wrong. After all, they were getting richer and I was getting poorer. With the entire nation on a bender, if you spoke of a bubble the reaction could be aggressive. Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister and Fianna Fáil leader at the time, gave a televised speech attacking people such as Kelly and McWilliams for “sitting on the sidelines, cribbing and moaning . . . I don’t know how people who engage in that don’t commit suicide.” The crowd laughed and applauded. Meanwhile, our friends started to have kids, and move into bigger houses. But they’d keep the first house. I was startled. Aren’t there two golden rules in investing? Diversify your portfolio, and don’t borrow to speculate? But Irish banks were now advising ordinary workers to double their bets, with two huge mortgages, on one asset class, in the one city. Read full article in The Times (paywall) or in Presseurop's nine other languages...