Tuesday, 4 January 2011

My experience of the recession in Ireland: From a stallion worth 500.000 € to a croissant worth 0.50 €, or two worlds apart at only 50 KM distance

I lived in South Ireland for two and a half months, from October to December 2010  and I can say that I saw Ireland at it’s best and at it’s worst. After this trip I decided to write down my impressions as an 18 year old visiting the country : I experienced the recession in two radically different contexts only 50 km apart.

Despite it’s very difficult past, Ireland managed to become the little green dragon of Europe. It’s history was marked by the plague and famine which for years, forced the Irish to flee to other continents. Hence the huge Irish Diaspora around the world. The close links kept between the diasporas and their families in Ireland have created a country open to the world, welcoming to immigrants  ( Brazilians, eastern Europe, Portuguese …).  Irish politics suffered enormously from the English invasion and the north south divide, but Ireland has become a strong republic, it has turned itself around and developed rapidly. Ironically a country from which people have fled for generations, has today opened itself as a land of immigrants.
 In the eighty’s Ireland took economic and fiscal measures to attract foreign companies specialized in high technology. Many industrial companies settled and attracted foreign work force. Today more than 16 % of Ireland’s population was born abroad. But the green Isle is today in the depths of a serious economic recession linked to the explosion of mortgages and consumer credit.

This was the difficult context that awaited me when I arrived in Ireland at the beginning of my Gap year. My first aim was to work with horses, as I had experience in the equestrian world. I was taken on to ride and assist with horse sales in a prestigious stable run by an Olympic rider. In it’s  category, this stud farm has held second position on international  rankings. The clientele came from all over the world.
I was paid to ride and take care of the owner’s horses every day. The least valuable horses were worth over 25 000 €. As well as their own production, we worked horses which were brought in from Dubai, Portugal, the Middle East by plane at huge cost.
There was at least one sale each week of horses worth between 30.000 € and 500.000€. There were about 200 horses in the stud farm; accepting that a horse cost about 70 euros per day to maintain, running costs for the horses alone were about 14.000 € per day,.  This without taking into account the costs related to the infrastructure and the staff. While I was there it was like being in a bubble, totally cut off from the recession.

I wanted to see something more of Ireland and after a month at the stables I left for Dublin. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I was determined to find some work and a place to live. This was a whole new experience, I was no longer in the equestrian world where I could use my expertise. I was now in the work market in competition with people of all ages, many more qualified than myself and I had, like everyone else, a rent to pay each week. It was en eye opener, I was faced with the real damage caused by the recession. No longer was I surrounded by people who could spend 50. 000 € on a horse.

With luck and perseverance, ten days later I was hired as a waitress in a French Café-Bakery. It was a real change for me as I was working in an area I knew nothing  about and with
totally different people.

The French shop owner was a cook and a baker, he had lived in Ireland for 20 years. What he missed in Dublin was a bakery.  When he had enough money he bought a building on More Street, one year later after a lot of work he managed to open his shop despite the difficult economic context. Not only was the job different  but I also had a very different employer, he didn’t have that much money, had struggled to open his shop and had no sponsor to pay his costs. All of my colleagues had immigrated from their country to Ireland for work. But they were now thinking of leaving because they were also frightened of being eaten by the monster named RECESSION.
Three weeks after the shop opening, the centre of Dublin became a ghost town because of the heavy snow. Because of the snow there were no more clients, so I was laid off. When the snow stopped there still weren’t enough clients for the shop.  I went back home to France.

What I am trying to tell you is that I couldn’t believe the difference in the effects of the recession in two places which were only separated by 50km.
I thought my first job represented the reality but I was totally wrong. I knew that the crisis was common to many countries but it’s in Ireland that I understood the real damages it causes socially and economically .  I couldn’t stop thinking that the same people who could buy the horses worth 500.000 € were the ones at the origin of this economic crisis.
These two months were a real experience for me, it made me open my eyes and this is why I wanted to write about it. Even though Ireland is not at it’s best, I stay optimistic, the Irish have been through worse and they will be able to show us again how strong they are. We mustn’t forget that real industrial jobs still remain in Ireland upon which they can build a new start.

1 comment:

  1. Good observations, Ella. While all of us are touched in some way by the world-wide recession, it is particularly hard on the young (you) and those who were already at the margin (the baker). This is a hard lesson and one that the folks on the horse farm are lucky to miss. Your blog is well written. Keep it up. Tell us more about your gap year.