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The Pope's Children: The Irish Economic Triumph and the Rise of Ireland's New Elite

ISBN: 978-0-470-22641-4
331 pages
February 2008
The Pope


Named for the ironic coincidence of the Irish baby boom of the 1970s, which peaked nine months to the day after Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Dublin, The Pope’s Children is both a celebration and bitingly funny portrait of the first generation of the Celtic Tiger—the beneficiaries of the economic miracle that propelled Ireland from centuries of deprivation into a nation that now enjoys one of the highest living standards in the world.
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Table of Contents

Preface to the North American Edition.


Part I. Where Are We Now And How Did We Get Here?

Chapter 1. Full-On Nation.

Chapter 2. The Great Blurring.

Chapter 3. The Pope's Children.

Chapter 4. The Kells Angels.

Chapter 5. The Expectocracy.

Chapter 6. Property Porn.

Chapter 7. Vorsprung Durch Kredit.

Chapter 8. RoboPaddy.

Chapter 9. The Protestant Catholics.

Chapter 10. The Economics of Envy.

Part II. Two Tribes: The Decklanders And The Hicos.

Chapter 11. Intermezzo.

Chapter 12. Deckland – A State of Mind.

Chapter 13. Deckland Awakes.

Chapter 14. Destiny's Child in Deckland.

Chapter 15. Deckland Dines Out.

Chapter 16. Seducing Breakfast Roll Man.

Chapter 17. Opposition to Deckland.

Chapter 18. The HiCo Emerges.

Chapter 19. The New Elite.

Chapter 20. The Early Years – Gaelscoileanna.

Chapter 21. HiCo Habits.

Chapter 22. How to Spot a HiCo.

Chapter 23. HiCos Dine In.

Chapter 24. The Returned HiCo.





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Author Information

David McWilliams is a bestselling author and has been a regular on Irish television and radio since his award-winning Agenda current affairs program began in 2000. McWilliams—who also hosts a current affairs talk show, The Big Bite—has interviewed some of the most influential and thought-provoking individuals of our age, from Henry Kissinger and Mikhail Gorbachev to Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. He has also published a new book in Ireland, The Generation Game. Before moving into writing and broadcasting McWilliams spent ten years in banking, first as an economist with the Irish Central Bank, then in investment banking with UBS—where he was appointed the youngest director ever at the age of twenty-seven.
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"brilliant, eminently readable...indispensable for those who want to understand how Ireland went from being one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest..." (The Boston Globe, March 17, 2008)

"brilliant, eminently readable...indispensable for those who want to understand how Ireland went from being one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest..." --Boston Globe

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Press Release

February 16, 2009
The Pope’s Children to Arrive in American Bookstores in February 2008

“Ireland has arrived,” proclaims economist David McWilliams in the opening chapter of The Pope’s Children (Wiley, $24.95, 291 pages, Hardcover). Ireland is more than just the birthplace of Bono, Guinness, and St. Patrick; today it is a country where entrepreneurs are on the rise, where there is a steady increase in jobs, and where the Gross Domestic Product per capita is the second highest in the EU. “Ireland receives more direct foreign investment from the United States than China,” says Mr. McWilliams, “and is on the top of lists as a place to live. In fact, many Irish-Americans are now returning to Ireland.” In what The Sunday Tribune describes as “the definitive guide to the Ireland we live in,” The Pope’s Children examines the factors that contributed to the rise of the little green isle. 

The Irish baby boom peaked exactly nine months to the day after Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979, and the birth rate has not reached such heights since. This generation is called the Pope’s Children, and there are close to 620,000 people between the ages of 25-35 living in Ireland now. The Pope’s Children are the first to take advantage of the booming economy of the 1990’s, a phenomenon known as the ‘Celtic Tiger,’ which propelled Ireland from one of the poorest countries in the EU to one of the richest. 

The Pope’s Children is not another dry economics book, but an entertaining description of a society and culture transformed beyond recognition. “Ireland is an outstanding success story of globalization,” explains Mr. McWilliams. “It is the only country in the world that has outpaced Asian growth rates, while maintaining an American lifestyle. If you want to understand globalization and the rapidly changing world, you have to understand modern Ireland.” 

The Pope’s Children remains a controversial bestseller in Ireland for the witty, incisive and amusing way in which Mr. McWilliams breaks down Irish society. 

  • He introduces the concept of Wonderbra economics, the so-called blurring of classes that present a strong upward social mobility as well as a compression in the middle.
  • He defines the Kells Angels, those out-of-town commuters who are the cutting edge of the new prosperity.
  • He points at the Hibernian Cosmopolitans who, in an effort to distinguish themselves from the vulgar, materially-obsessed Decklanders, are trying to fuse deep Irish heritage with their newfound cosmopolitan values – sometimes with hilarious results.  
  • He criticizes the Commentariat, Ireland's gloomy opinion mongers, forever seeing the glass half empty when it is in fact three-quarters full. 

The fact is, “there is a vast surge of ambition, new money, optimism and hope out there,” according to Mr. McWilliams. 

Mr. McWilliams maintains that while Ireland and America have been divided by the Atlantic for centuries, today the two countries are much closer than ever. But while in the past the Irish came into the US to find work, they now flood in to find cheap Marc Jacobs bags. Many parts of Ireland have become so American that the place resembles Connecticut with brutal weather. The Irish are borrowing, spending, shopping, eating, drinking, and taking more drugs than any other nation on earth. “We are the most decadent Irish generation ever,” Mr. McWilliams writes. “Ireland is a microcosm of America.” 

  • The Irish are America’s primary supplier of Botox, Viagra, collagen and silicone implants, and Americans remain the primary consumers of Irish whisky.
  • Like Americans, the Irish are getting fatter. 30% of Irish women and 50% of Irish men are overweight, spending €721 million on soda alone, more than twice what they spend on milk.
  • The property boom in Ireland has raised house prices 350% since 1997 but now that the market is beginning to wobble, America’s subprime difficulties might be just around the corner.

“Ireland is America’s launch pad into Europe,” states Mr. McWilliams. In 2005, U.S. exports to Ireland were valued at $9 billion, while Irish exports to the U.S. totaled $28 billion. Despite all the airtime devoted to the threat of Asia, the stock of U.S. foreign direct investment in Ireland is $84 billion, more than double the U.S. total for China and India combined. Many U.S. businesses, such as Microsoft, Google, and eBay have their European headquarters in Ireland. U.S. firms account for 61% of Ireland's total exports.

The Pope’s Children is about this connection. It tells the story of how the Irish became American and how the American Dream migrated across the Atlantic. The Pope’s Children is a celebration of  the ambition and motivation that has taken over Ireland in the past 30 years,” Mr. McWilliams explains, “It’s a celebration of success.”  

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