Northern Ireland

John Banville on the hush amidst the Irish storm

Image caption "We might learn something about social responsibility" - John Banville

As the Republic of Ireland faces unprecedented financial crisis, the Booker-winning novelist John Banville reflects on the impact on the country's psyche while expressing cautious hope for the future.

If someone, in the Irish vernacular, is in "bad form" then they might become moodier, withdrawn, more reticent, quieter.

For the author John Banville the current Irish financial crisis has bestowed such a demeanour on the population more than any other period in the country's history.

He described the aftermath of the credit fuelled Celtic Tiger as "the worst period in the history of the state" - worse even than civil war - and says the bombast of the boom years has been replaced by a "collective hush".

"I noticed at Halloween, there were practically no fireworks.

"For the past 10 years, the skies have been alight down here - it's like a blitz.

"Domestic pets having nervous breakdowns.

"This year it was very, very quiet."

'Empty bottles'

The Booker Prize winning novelist also used another metaphor, perhaps appropriate for a nation famous for being able to enjoy itself.

"There was a wild party. It seemed as though it would never end. And then suddenly with a crash, dawn came. And all those empty bottles had to be got rid of."

And warming to the theme of irresponsibility, he quoted another famous Irish writer.

"In the Celtic Tiger years, it was a bit like what Oscar Wilde said about the United States and how it had gone from a state of barbarism to a state of decadence, without a state of civilisation in between."

Like many of the greatest novelists though, he is not content to merely lecture but seems hopeful that the audience may draw a moral lesson from the story.

"We might learn something from it. We might learn something about social responsibility, something about big words like honour, decency and nobility. I am not very optimistic but we might. To be humbled is a good thing."


He added that he expects "real poverty" as a result of the crisis and that one of the reasons some people remain fairly relaxed is because of their lack of comprehension of the "literally incredible figures".

"It baffles us. We just cannot get our heads around it."

For a man so adept at the use of the written word, his use of bald, straightforward language nevertheless seems appropriate to describe the Irish fate.

"There is a sense of helplessness, a sense of bemusement. I fear that will translate into anger. I hope it won't. Violence on the streets is not going to help anybody, particularly the poor.

"The poor always suffer both from the rich exploiting them and from their defenders who cause a lot of trouble and don't make the poor any richer than they were before."

Briefly his stern visage melted into a soft guffaw, as he acknowledged that the latter half of this sentence is a "typical conservative argument".

And as his tone lightens, he concludes on a more hopeful note.

"We will get out of it. We have got out of things before. We are resilient. All peoples are resilient," he said.

"But it will take a long time. I guess what people of my age worry about is our children and our children's children, who will be paying for this for a long time."