I went to Ireland once. It’s a nice place: lots of green rolling fields, bluffs, moors and things. I quite enjoyed myself, sitting beside Yeats’ grave quietly humming “Danny Boy.” When I heard earlier this month that Ireland’s economy had all but collapsed, I was pretty disheartened. Ireland’s fall from economic grace is a truly tragic product of today’s global recession; at the end of the 1990s, the Irish economy was one of the fastest growing in Europe.
Since 2008, Ireland has faced a serious financial crisis, which finally came to a head last week when its government was forced to apply for aid from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. I, like the rest of the world, thought that with the E.U. bailout, the Republic of Ireland might be able to relocate its pot of gold. But much to my and the international markets’ dismay, just one day after its application for aid, Brian Cowen, the Irish Taioseach (prime minister), saw his government all but collapse. The economic strife struck a fatal blow to his governing coalition, which is splintering under the pressure. In a statement to the Irish press, Cowen’s government said that it wishes “to enable the people to determine who should undertake the responsibilities of Government in the challenging period ahead ” — that is, to choose new leaders.
Their confusing parliamentary system and unpronounceable party names aside, Ireland is in dire political and economic straits.
Upon discontentedly closing my web browser after reading about the crisis, I was struck by its similarities to events in my favorite fantasy epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I pulled out my trusty copy of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and flipped to the scene in which Frodo and co. are forced to defend themselves from a cohort of Ringwraiths on Weathertop.
In case the reader is unfamiliar with the circumstances of the scene, I will quickly recap. Frodo is being chased by nine demonic horsemen, who are doing their darnedest to snatch the One Ring from the plucky hobbit.
It’s clear to me that Ireland’s situation parallels that of Frodo on Weathertop. He finds himself surrounded by several Ringwraiths, which represent the global economic crisis. Just as Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin try desperately to defend themselves, Ireland has attempted to adjust its budget and introduce austerity measures in an effort to save its economy over the past two years. In the end, the hobbits’ puny daggers are no match for the Ringwraiths’ Morgul blades, and Frodo falls before his foes.
Luckily, just before the Witch King can take the Ring from Frodo, Aragorn bursts on to the scene with fire and steel, fighting off the Ringwraiths with a great show of strength. The European Union’s 86 billion euro bailout will hopefully function like the heroic true king of Gondor, fighting off economic disaster in the nick of time.
Unluckily, Frodo was not able to escape Weathertop without suffering a stab wound from the Witch King. Similarly, Ireland has not been able to come out of its economic crisis without suffering tremendous political blows and, ultimately, the collapse of its current government. Neither Aragorn nor the E.U. could completely save their charges from danger — though Ireland and Frodo were saved from death, scars remain.
At the end of “The Return of the King,” Frodo says to his closest companion, “It’s been four years to the day since Weathertop, Sam. It’s never really healed.” Nothing can be the same for Frodo after his fateful experiences with the Ringwraiths and their Morgul blades. Ireland will find a way out of its economic slump, especially now that the European Union has committed a substantial bailout to the nation; however, this crisis’ blows have struck deep at the political foundations of the nation.
The Republic of Ireland will piece together a new governing coalition in the coming months — hopefully, things will return to normal. But four years from now will Ireland also whisper to its closest companion that the wounds of the financial crisis have never really healed? If we can learn anything from Frodo and The Lord of the Rings, nothing will ever be quite the same in Ireland again.
Susannah Shattuck is a sophomore in Davenport College.