Irish Eyes Are Crying Over the Economy

Ireland RecessionABC News Photo Illustration/AP

The economy is bleak in America, but believe it or not, it could be worse.

Perhaps nowhere in Europe has been hit harder than Ireland. The country, which prospered during a decade-long economic boom, was often referred to as the "Celtic tiger."

That boom was partly fueled by American companies like Dell, IBM and Pfizer moving to Ireland to take advantage of new lower tax rates.

"We had lax regulation which allowed a very large credit and property boom to take place," Brian Lucey, a professor of finance at Dublin's Trinity College, said.

Young Irish, who once fled the country in droves to find opportunities elsewhere, returned for good jobs.

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But the recession has hit Ireland harder and faster than other European countries, with unemployment nearing 10 percent and housing prices down 50 percent in some cases.

Now American companies have laid people off and construction sites have been abandoned. Even the world famous Waterford Crystal factory was shut down.

"What surprised people recently is the fact of the speed of the downturn," said financial adviser Shane McLoughlin.

And many in the country are angry at the way the government is handling the recession. Nearly 100,000 workers took to the streets of Dublin to protest plans to impose a pension levy on about 350,000 public sector workers, according to the BBC.

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Irish author Frank McCourt worries the reversal of fortune may cause another generation of young Irish to flee the country.

"The prosperity maybe is coming to an end," McCourt said. "The young Irish now are going to have to tighten their belts. They don't know it yet but they will."