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Irish not so lucky now

I live with my wife Zhanna in a converted farmhouse up in the Dublin Mountains, with a view over the capital.

It is a tranquil, rural retreat, where deer regularly wander from the coniferous forest behind us to eat almost everything I plant in the garden. However, I can get to the center of Dublin and to Ireland’s parliament, known as the Dail, in 30 minutes by taking the tram from the nearby suburb of Dundrum.

Though I spent much of a long career as foreign correspondent living in other countries, I never put down deep roots anywhere. After I left The Irish Times in 2005, I was drawn to live in the Republic of Ireland because of family connections here and in Northern Ireland. I also had a wide range of friends and contacts I made through working for the Dublin-based newspaper.

There are all sorts of reasons why Americans should know what is going on in Ireland, not least the country’s controversial role in shaping the future of the European Union, and its location as a major source of U.S. investment in high tech industry and pharmaceuticals.

Presently, Ireland is struggling to hold on to the prosperity that came from the Celtic Tiger economy of the last 15 years. This was fueled largely by a housing bubble that has now burst, bankrupting major developers and construction companies. A country of 4.2 million people, Ireland faces a shortfall in 8 billion ($10.9 billion) in taxes this year, a financial calamity that threatens the country’s health and social services and creates the conditions for social unrest.

Having become, in the words of President Mary McAleese, a country “consumed by consumerism,” where every taxi driver seemed to have acquired a holiday apartment in Spain, Ireland is being forced to adjust to the reality of widespread negative equity and soaring unemployment. Emigration may become the national curse again — except this time there may be no place to go, given the scope of the global downturn.