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Wednesday, 2 April 2008

End of the Ahern Era

Irish leader Bertie Ahern - a key player in the Irish peace talks of the past decade - has announced he will resign in early May. I met him once in Budapest, he seemed affable. His resignation, somehow related to accusations made that he received dubious payments at some earlier stage of his political career, marks the end of a distinguished career - and also the end of an era in Ireland - what was called The Celtic Tiger, but may now be seen as The Ahern Era. It was a giddy time of champagne promises, to put the crass label on the crass bottle - when unexpectedly high rates of economic growth turned Ireland into the well man of Europe - turned Dublin into a quasi-Monaco of drug-fuelled high living. At times, it was surreal - house prices as high or higher in Dub 4 than in Chelsea or Ken.

All this had an impact on Irish poetry - after all, the cocktail of sudden wealth, perceived glamour, and political defrosting in the North was heady - and meant a new generation of poets emerged, who, for better, or worse, spoke for a new time, in new ways. These would include Kevin Higgins, David Wheatley, Vona Groarke, Tom French, Patrick Chapman, Sinead Morrissey, and a few others, a generation younger (and sometimes bolder) - and somewhat freed from the Heaney/Muldoon influence. Not that any of these poets was ever a real estate or mobile phone tycoon - but something of that glister rubbed off on them. Ireland was big again - not just in America, or London, but at home. Now, there is a slump - the "super-boom" is over. House prices are falling to (real?) levels.

The gilding is coming off the age. Will another, newer generation of poets emerge, to diagnose the current? Or will the good under-45-year-old poets who came of age during Ahern's Era now fulfill their promise, simply in shabbier times?
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