David McWilliams,
The Pope's Children
(Gill & Macmillan, 2006)

If you want to know what modern Ireland is really like, this is the book to read.

David McWilliams has been credited with coining the phrase "Celtic Tiger," and my one criticism of the book is that he is probably trying a little bit too hard to coin another few phrases. Leaving that aside, he takes us on a rollercoaster ride through Ireland's recent past with a mixture of wit, scholarship and lots of fascinating facts.

The title of the book comes from his starting point, which is the Papal visit to Ireland and the baby boom that followed nine months later. He reminds us that these babies are the movers and shakers today. They are the people who are reaping the harvest of the Celtic Tiger, and it is demonstrating how they spend their money that gives us almost 300 pages of social comment that will delight anyone remotely interested in how Ireland ticks.

Along the way he uses some wonderful expressions that may seem trendy and concocted, but do explain the economics of the era far better than a dozen learned theses. The "Wonderbra Effect" is a case in point. No one who read a magazine or walked or drove an Irish road a few years ago could have missed Eva and her "hello boys" adverts. McWilliams tells us that in recent years we have experienced the social equivalent of the garment in that we have been "pressed together in the middle (economically) and lifted up."

He continues these analogies with "Kell's Angels," referring to the commuting classes who spend so much time on the road to and from work and live further and further from that employment. "Deckland" is another place we can all recognize, as will those who have ever attended a children's party in those regions with the bouncy castle. His description of the purveyor of these vinyl delights is sure to strike a chord with anyone familiar with such operators. Here we find the guy who sees a chance and takes it and the multi-tasking friends in ancillary services from alarms to plasma televisions.

McWilliams is spot on in describing the rise of the Spars and Centras, the jumbo breakfast roll, the early morning Lucozade, the underpaid non-nationals and the scramble to outdo the other 8-year-olds at First Communion time.

It is fascinating to identify people we know in the various strata of society, but of course the reader is never in there. We get the old guard and the new guard and most telling of all we get the combination of the two that probably make up a majority.

It is hard not to laugh out loud at his descriptions of the yummy mummy and the dinner party or the politically correct bondage clientele in a bar.

This is economics with soul. The problem is that he gives us so much information we cannot remember it to retell at the dinner party.

by Nicky Rossiter
12 August 2006