My experience of the Celtic Tiger Years

A personal account of the Celtic Tiger years and the Irish financial meltdown.

When I was in sixth year, our school principal ordered us into the GP room for a “chat.” To sum things up, he wasn’t happy. Our attendance was low and the teachers believed that we were not applying ourselves.

During the meeting, our principle warned us that drastic improvements needed to be made.

“If you keep missing days, you’ll do poorly in the Leaving Cert and you won’t get into college.”

After he had finished speaking, he noticed that a couple of guys in the back were laughing amongst themselves.

Immediately, he singled one of them out. “And what are you going to do when you finish school, Mr. Bloggs?” The student, who was clearly trying to stop himself from laughing, quickly responded with, “An apprenticeship, sir.”

He wasted little time in directing his attention to the next guy.

“And you, Mr. Doe?”

“An apprenticeship as well, sir.”

“Do you think that you will just walk into an apprenticeship as soon as you finish school?” asked our principal, who seemed to be taken aback by the cockiness of the responses that he was receiving.

“Yea, sir. It’s already lined up.”

Young apprentices in Ireland were making a lot of money.

In a way, the Celtic Tiger had eroded our principal’s power. I mean, how could he threaten us with a bleak future when we had all grown up during a period when you could find a job while crossing the street?

Some of our peers had dropped out of school two years prior, and they seemed to be raking it in. We’d see apprentices driving by in their souped-up Honda Civics, and we’d see our block-laying friends flashing wads of cash on pay day. Some of these 17-year-olds were even renting their own apartments and driving new-ish cars.

It seems outlandish now, but at the time, nobody really batted an eyelid.

Many of the guys that I knew in my 6th year had a construction-related apprenticeship waiting for them. After the boom times had ended, one of them told me that he remembered making €800 for two days of work.

As the meeting with our principal was coming to an end, he adopted a less confrontational tone, almost as though he was trying to make one last ditch effort to get through to us.

It was during the final part of his speech that he issued us with a warning.

“Lads, it’s not going to last forever.”

A few years later, that sentence came back to me.

I also planned on getting in on the action.

When the time came for me to choose what I wanted to do in college, “Construction Management” was at the top of my list.

I mean, why not?

Sure, I didn’t really have an interest in construction. However, the Irish construction industry had been booming for years. I figured that I’d be a fool not to take advantage of it. I estimated that I’d be making €1000+ a week in no time.

Maybe even more.

Fortunately for me, I decided to take a year off after I finished school. I wanted to work at a regular job for a year and save some money for college. I also wanted to take a break from academia, so to speak.

Within a week or two of finishing school, I found a job at a local furniture company. There, I helped to deliver king-sized mattresses, antique grandfather clocks, and heavy recliner chairs.

It was there that I got to see how people were actually living.

The Celtic Tiger years made people frivolous.

In many cases, we delivered furniture to young couples in their 20s and early 30s.

More often than not, the guy had splatters of paint and plaster on his trousers—a sign of his involvement in the construction industry.

The houses were large and newly-built, and they were often surrounded by spacious amounts of land. Multiple cars, jeeps, and vans were parked in front of the house.

I remember thinking how people were ordering more than what they actually needed.

In a number of cases, we were filling entire houses with furniture.

The perfectly good furniture that was being replaced was often given to us so that we could take it away.

Furniture seemed to be more of a status symbol than a utility. You’d be surprised by how many times we were asked to put a stylish €800+ recliner chair in the corner of an upstairs bedroom, a place where it would seldom be used.

Back in 2005, I was at a nightclub when an electrician came up to me on the edge of the dance floor. I knew the guy because he had been contracted to do work on a new multi-story building that our company was planning on opening.

He was extremely drunk, to say the least. I could barely make out what he was saying.

Midway through his ramblings, he suddenly blurted out, “I’m f*cking loaded!” He then threw his arms up into the air and walked onto the dance floor, as if to celebrate.

The Celtic Tiger was in full swing.

Luckily, I decided not to work in the construction industry.

During my year out, my father managed to change my mind about taking up a course in construction management. He had been working in the construction sector for seven or eight years, and he made it clear to me that things wouldn’t always “be this good.”

In the lead up to my decision, I also picked up an interest in computers.

As you can imagine, in later years, I felt extremely lucky that I was diverted away from such a course.

The place was awash with builders.

In the mid-2000s, Wexford, like most Irish towns, was teeming with builders. If you walked through the town centre during lunchtime, you’d come across waves of men in hi-vis vests.

On a day with good weather, the Bullring, which is in the town centre, was packed full of builders eating chicken rolls and whatnot; chatting and joking and soaking up the sunshine.

At dawn, the roads were packed with vans of sleepy construction workers.

If you drove through the town at that time of the morning, you’d see dozens of young men standing at the roadside, waiting for their boss to pick them up.

Jobs were extremely easy to find.

Back then, I remember how “knowing someone” was still the best way to find a job.

The thing was, everyone knew a “friend of a friend” who had a position going. Employment was so low that a position could stay open for a couple of weeks before someone came along.

I knew a couple of “work-shy” people who would constantly float from one job to the next.

They’d work for a couple of weeks before quitting, only to land a new job somewhere else.

This cycle continued, despite the fact that the employment history on their CV probably looked like some sort of monthly diary.

During the Celtic Tiger, Credit Union loans were the norm.

During this time, foreign holidays were the norm. It seemed like everyone was heading off to Ibiza or some sort of winter skiing holiday. Every summer, large groups of people were able to travel to somewhere in Spain for two weeks.

If you didn’t have the cash on hand, the Credit Union was there to help you out.

Sign a piece of paper and head off to Tenerife in July with “the lads!”

It was also common for people to go on “shopping holidays” in New York City!

Everyone seemed to be getting loans for everything.

Need a new laptop? Loan. Is your two-year-old car cramping your style? Loan. House too small? Sell up and get a loan.

Looking back, it was utter madness.

I knew a guy who took out a €45K loan to buy a new Jeep. He was working as a laborer at the time.

All around the country, people were having willy-waving contests with one another. Purchasing large cars and building kitchen extensions.

“Sure, wouldn’t it be great if we had an outhouse that our guests could sleep in?”


While I was in college in 2006, the banks actually employed people to try and get students to sign up for credit cards. They would stand at strategic positions on the campus and flag you down as you were walking by.

One of them asked me if I was interested in signing up, and I declined. He asked “Why?” and I responded by telling him that it was basically a short-term loan. “Fair enough,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and walked off, eager to catch the next student that was sauntering by.

The Celtic Tiger dies.

To be honest, I don’t really remember the beginning of the end.

I vaguely remember hearing reports about the housing market, but none of them really implanted themselves in my memory. People like me had only known the good times, so the idea that it could all fall apart never really crossed our minds.

The demand for houses began to dry up.

In the summer of 2008, my father told me that he and the rest of the men on his construction site had been laid off.

The bottom had fallen out of the housing market, so to speak, and the company that he had worked with for nearly a decade was scaling down its operations.

It was at this time that I finally started to realise that things were starting to take a turn for the worse.

The banks were bailed out.

In September of 2008, I was in the college library listening to the radio on my MP3 player when news about the bank guarantee began to break. To be honest, I didn’t really know if that was a good thing or not.

I assumed that it was good simply because the party that had made the decision was the same party that had presided over us throughout the good times. Or maybe I was just hoping that this would “fix” things.

I know. Naive, right?

On a cold evening in December of 2008, I was doing some Christmas shopping. As I walked in and out of the shops, I realised that the radio stations were all talking about the same thing.

Anglo Irish Bank.

Even though I was only hearing bits and pieces, I could tell by the tone of the various voices that something had gone badly wrong. I took my MP3 player out of my pocket and switched on the radio station. Even the presenters seemed angry, as talk about hidden loans and a man called Seán FitzPatrick was being thrown about.

Looking back, I think that the busy Christmas shopping season kind of hid the problem from me. Yes, I knew that the construction industry was failing, but shops and supermarkets seemed as busy as ever.

At the time, I had a part-time job in a supermarket, which was helping me pay my way through college. During the Christmas season, we were run off our feet, as shoppers ambushed us from all angles, demanding fresh organic turkeys and whatnot.

Retail began to slow.

After Christmas had ended, it finally started to show. To say that the place was empty is an understatement. I have never seen a supermarket so devoid of people.

You could stand there for five minutes without seeing anyone walking down the aisle.

It was a frightening thing to witness, as all of the talk of a recession was finally beginning to materialise.

Unemployment continued to rise.

2009 was an awful year. The bad news kept on coming.

Unemployment was rising, and the debt situation was spiraling out of control.

It was doom and gloom everywhere.

People’s hours were being cut. People got laid off, austerity budgets were introduced, and my peers were emigrating at a ridiculous rate.

Construction workers became an increasingly rare breed, and the dole lines grew longer and longer. The guys that had left school to take up apprenticeships were now lining up at the social welfare office.

Every week, you’d see a piece in the local paper about groups of friends banding together and heading off to Australia.

Emigration made a lot of familiar faces disappear. Nowadays, I still come across people that I haven’t seen in 5+ years.

The flashy cars also disappeared, as the owners either sold them off or were forced to give them back.


Although we’re not completely out of the woods, things seem to be improving.

Anyone who thinks otherwise has forgotten what it was like to live in Ireland between 2008 and 2011.

It was a systematic meltdown. A culture shock that rocked the country to its core. Nowadays, I see a lot more jobs being advertised. During the crash, the jobs page took up about a third of one page in the classifieds section. Nowadays, it takes up an entire page.

Last month, for the first time in over half a decade, I saw the entrance to a new housing estate.

It was a strange sight. It had felt so long since I had last seen a building site for a new estate. Even the small cement mixer out front gave me a bit of nostalgia. A longing for a time when everyone had jobs and it seemed like we were all living in one big never-ending party.

This article was originally written in January of 2015.