Today's column is being brought to you from Dublin, one of my favourite cities in the world. My presence here is not to calm the troubled financial markets in the wake of the Euro crisis, but to speak at an awards lunch for Ireland's newspaper industry. I used to work for an Irish newspaper company myself, and one of the less arduous aspects of my job was to make frequent visits to Dublin. I have seen the Celtic Tiger at its most rampant, and also at its most docile.
I remember being invited in the late 1990s to a rock concert held at Croke Park, a magnificent arena and the home of Gaelic games. From my seat high up in the stadium, I started counting the cranesI could see on the Dublin skyline. By the time I'd clocked up 50, I gave up: Dublin at that time seemed like a post-industrial Klondyke, its European money, its generous tax regimes, and its well-educated young workforce proving a powerful pull for companies from around the world.
The side effects of this latter-day gold rush were evident: house prices rocketed to unsustainable levels, Dublin airport was always hellishly busy, traffic in and around the city centre was truly terrible and the bars and restaurants were packed all night long.
Today, the scenario is very different. Many of Dublin's financial institutions are under water, and not just because of a flood of biblical proportions that has hit the city over the past two days.
True, the visitor is greeted by a splendid new terminal at Dublin airport, but there are visible signs of the post-boom bust: empty office blocks, few significant building projects and huge lines of taxis waiting for fares. Notwithstanding the economic gloom, and even if you don't happen to be on a stag or hen night, Dublin is still an uplifting place to spend time, particularly after dark.
(I have spent more nights than I care to remember – or indeed forget – at Lillie's Bordello. I know what you're thinking, but Lillie's is in fact a night club patronised by Dublin café society. I have to admit, however, that it doesn't look terribly good as an item on my credit card bill.)
And there is a quiet confidence here that the worst may be over. I did a spot on Dublin's evening radio show last night, and the producer proffered the view that the public don't want to hear about the recession all the time.
This, he said, has helped to lift the general mood, and has given people the confidence to open pop-up shops and restaurants. Maybe you can talk yourself out of recession. And if anyone can do that, it's got to be the Irish.