The past decade has been a time of great change for Ireland, as it reels from an ongoing economic crisis and struggles to forge a new political and economic equilibrium. The financial crash of 2008 hit Ireland harder than most other European nations (only Greece and Spain are generally considered to have come off worse) and in many ways the country is still recovering. But while the difficult times are not entirely over, things are getting better. This is certainly a fascinating time to visit and see Ireland in transition. A complex, small country with a tumultuous history, this is a land immensely rich with tradition, beauty, culture, and life.
The Irish boom economy of the late 1990s changed the country monumentally, resulting in an unprecedented spread of wealth and a huge amount of property development. The excess associated with the boom—business executives flying from Dublin to Galway in their private helicopters for lunch at a particularly good oyster bar, for example, and small apartments in Dublin selling for millions of euro—always seemed unsustainable. And so it was. As suddenly as the boom started, it ended. Over the course of a few weeks in 2008, the economy crashed, sending the country into an economic and political tailspin. Ireland’s banks were faced with catastrophic levels of bad debt. As the wave of economic disaster crashed down across Europe, Ireland found itself among the very worst affected.
This all came as a shock to the Irish, who, after more than 15 years of European investment, had begun to believe their newfound affluence would last forever. The chatter of jackhammers formed a constant aural background in nearly every town in the Republic, and the dump truck seemed to be the national symbol of Ireland, as the huge vehicles trundled along by the dozen, carrying tons of gravel and sand to lay new roads and build new neighborhoods. But construction far outpaced demand. Entire subdivisions were built with nobody to live in them—thousands of new homes sat empty. Developers gambling on future growth built shining new ghost towns. The crash was so sudden, tales spread of people driving to unemployment offices in €30,000 sports cars.
At the same time, the peace that had held in the North since 1998 was shattered in 2009 by a series of brutal sectarian murders in the North. In the subsequent years, low-level violence has continued. An IRA splinter group opposed to the peace agreement calling itself "the Real IRA" claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, and several people have been arrested. Although the violence was nowhere near the levels experienced in the 1970s, it still sent a shiver down the spine of those living in both the Republic and the North, as they remembered how fragile peace can be on this island. Even before the recent outbreak, this was always the kind of place where you looked over your shoulder when you talked, even in the most inoffensive terms, about religion or politics.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.