'For nearly 15 years, the world watched with a mixture of fascination and awe as Ireland transformed itself from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of its wealthiest, earning itself the nickname the Celtic Tiger.
But the roar of yesteryear has turned to a whimper as the economy has been poleaxed by the global slump and a housing crash that has been worse than Britain's. Prices are down 30%, compared with around 16% in the UK.
So bad have things become that the Republic's third largest lender, Anglo Irish Bank, was nationalised last Thursday amid a crisis of confidence that saw large-scale depositor withdrawals. A day earlier, in an atmosphere described as febrile by analysts, the Irish government was forced to deny that it was seeking emergency help from the International Monetary Fund.
The deepening crisis in Ireland is underlined by the jobless numbers: unemployment is forecast to hit 400,000, or 11% of Ireland's four-million population, by the end of 2009.
Everywhere, the trappings of wealth and confidence are beginning to fade: Dublin airport used to be littered with private jets and luxury cars outside the terminal, but there are fewer nowadays as the country edges towards a new era of austerity.
At the Curragh racecourse, costly expansion has been put on hold to conserve cash, while from Limerick in the south-west, to Louth in the north-east, businesses are shedding labour and, in some cases, going into liquidation.
The rot has set in remarkably quickly: it is hard to believe that unemployment was just 4% at the end of 2007, or that GDP growth could plunge to minus 4% in 2009 against growth of 6% two years ago. "We are facing extreme short-term difficulties," says Rossa White, chief economist of Davy, the Irish stockbroker.
Last week, John Browett, chief executive of electrical goods retailing giant DSG, said that while the British recession was following past norms, the situation was "more serious" in Ireland.'