Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ireland, Students and Economic Reality

For the past few days, I have been wending my way through Ireland with a dozen Regis University students. Though I don’t teach anymore (since my election as Auditor) I still enjoy my annual trip to Ireland with Regis students. What a joy it is and they are.

So far on this trip, we have heard the mystical Latin chants of Benedictines at Glenstal Abbey in County Tipperary. We have climbed the winding stairs to the top of James Joyce's Martello tower in Sandymount (South Dublin), the opening scene of Ulysses his remarkable novel. We lined up to behold the magnificent calligraphy of the ancient Book of Kells at Trinity Library. We climbed around the sad and mournful Kilmainham Jail, where so many patriots died in the 1916 rebellion against English rule. A few of us visited the Irish-Jewish Museum and thought of Robert and Ben Briscoe, the only father-son team to be Dublin's mayors in the thousand years they have been keeping track. We attended a rousing and energetic performance of "Riverdance," the step-dancing show, so beloved by my daughter, Meaghan Kathleen.But with all the joy and youthful enthusiasm I am able to share with these students, the weariness of the world is also still with us. Some one said that when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. Well, in my view, from here now, America has a bad cold but many other parts of the world have pneumonia. Like our own country, Ireland is in the throws of the world's economic downturn. The guard at the Book of Kells told me visitor attendance is down 10%. The newspapers report an 11% downturn in tourism; a key industry for Ireland experiencing hard times too. My cousin, Kitty Nyhan Caprani, owns a bed and breakfast, called the Chester Beatty Inn in Ashford, County Wicklow, south of Dublin. She told me that the recession is "biting their business badly." Thousands are out of work with no quick recovery in sight soon.However, there is some positive in the bleakness; Anna and Rory O'Conneely, venerable innkeepers here on the island of Inish Oirr, the most easterly island of the Aran chain off Galway Bay are holding steady. Rory told me that business is good but not down. One the Regis business students on the trip said, "outstanding product and remarkable personal attention and service." That's why loyal customers keep coming back from the Irish main land to this charming spot year after year even in these troubled times.Right now the students are up the road at the city cemetery gracefully and deft-fully sliding through an ancient church window. Legend says that if you can fit through the window of that ancient and sandy church, you will get into heaven. I was able to fit my head and right shoulder through the small window. Ahhh, well.

So I guess the lesson for me as Auditor on this trip is that we have to work hard to improve city financial processes to save all the tax dollars we can. And we have to continue building trust among city agencies and workers to give ourselves the confidence that indeed we can find our way out of this recession. I know we can make it through with the help of the windows of economic creativity which present themselves to us.

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