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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 06:16 GMT 07:16 UK
Boom turns Irish life upside down
By Stephen Fottrell
BBC News, Dublin

In the run-up to the Irish general election, the BBC News website looks at how the country has changed and what impact that has had on its people, their attitudes and communities.

Cora Venus Lunny
Cora Venus Lunny says Irish people now have different priorities
Ireland has seen a transformation over the past 10 years on a scale previous generations could never have predicted.

An unprecedented and sustained economic boom has significantly, and perhaps permanently, altered the Irish people's lifestyles and attitudes.

"We're rebelling against previous generations," says Cora Venus Lunny, 25, who is part of a new wave of young experimental Irish musicians.

"Opportunities in this country have changed and as a result priorities have changed.

"We used to want stability, but now we're willing to take more risks."

This willingness has been helped in no small part by increased wealth and prosperity, which have become central to modern society in the so-called Celtic Tiger economy.

O' Connell Street, Dublin
Modernity and history are equally visible on Ireland's streets
A drive along many of the country's main roads highlights this, as huge houses and vast estates now populate much of the previously sparse landscape.

Many of the cars on the road before or behind you are also noticeably bigger, faster and more expensive.

But has this prosperity come at a price?

"We've definitely sacrificed something for wealth, but it's hard to say exactly what," says Ms Lunny.

Impact on communities

One clue could be found in some of the more traditional sectors of Irish society. Agriculture, for example, was previously the backbone of the Irish economy.

However, with the technology-driven boom taking place mainly in urban areas, rural industry - and therefore rural communities - have suffered.

Frank O'Mahony
People have more choices now and rural communities have suffered as a result
Farmer Frank O'Mahony

Cork farmer Frank O'Mahony, 30, inherited his dairy farm from his father and runs the 100-acre business by himself. He was the only one of eight children to remain in farming.

"There are less and less farmers now and many are worried that the industry could be wiped out altogether," he says.

"The agricultural lobby was diminished by the Celtic Tiger and, in this election year, farmers aren't as big a vote as they used to be.

"Most farmers in Ireland are over the age of 55 and more than half of them don't have an obvious successor.

"That's a real worry for the farming community. People have more choices now and rural communities have suffered as a result."

Isolation

"It's certainly a changing time for agriculture," says Catherine Buckley, 29, who was recently voted the first woman president of Macra Na Feirme, a youth organisation whose membership is mostly from rural areas.

"Agriculture used to be at the heart of Irish communities. Now people working in the industry must make a conscious effort to go out and get involved in their communities."

The term "cash rich, time poor" is one that is used by many in Ireland to describe the change in people's work-life balance. And many feel this has affected how communities interact.

Eamon O' Connell
Pensioner Eamon O' Connell says being alone is "disastrous"
"Isolation can be a big problem," says Ms Buckley.

"Previously in this country people would always traditionally say 'hello' to each other in the street.

"Now people may not know who their neighbour is and that sense of community has been diminished. You can feel isolated anywhere now."

That fear of isolation is particularly acute for the elderly.

Pensioner Eamon O'Connell, 71, from Edenderry, County Offaly, has been living alone since his wife died almost a year ago.

"You do worry, if you got sick or had a heart attack, whether anyone would be able to help," he says.

"Ireland isn't a bad country in which to be elderly overall, but it's very worrying now to be alone. It's been a disastrous feeling for me over the past few months."

Positive change?

Returning emigrants perhaps notice the changes more than most, many having left the country in the 1970s, 80s or 90s when there were few jobs and even fewer prospects for school-leavers and graduates.

Nuala Weber
Nuala Weber is critical of some aspects of the new Ireland
One returned emigrant, Nuala Weber, left Ireland and headed for Mexico in 1993. She moved back to Dublin last year and has mixed feelings about Ireland's prosperity.

"Looking back on before, there was such huge unemployment here. When I was in college I couldn't even get a summer job," she says.

"It's been a big change coming back, especially having lived in a country like Mexico, where so many people survive on very little.

"Here the houses are enormous and there's so much traffic but not much ecological awareness. Plus, you can't just ask anyone for directions anymore, since there are so many new immigrants.

"It should be a good thing that Ireland has this newfound prosperity, but I'm really angry that there's so much money in the country and we can't seem to recycle, or keep Galway's water supply clean [Ireland's third-biggest city is currently suffering from an outbreak of the parasite cryptosporidium in its water supply].

"That doesn't seem like a very progressive country to me."






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