By Rob Norton Reporter Associate Mark Borden

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Striding through the streets of Dublin these days is an entirely new species of Irishman and Irishwoman: educated, optimistic, and affluent--unaffected by the twin demons of poverty and despair that hounded their ancestors for the last several hundred years. "They are the first Irish generation," says historian J.J. Lee, "that has never known defeat."

Dublin this summer was teeming with these young Irish people, as well as with kids from all over Europe--they spilled out of the offices and shops and restaurants and cappuccino bars and pubs. For Dublin has become a trendy destination for eurokids--a hip, cosmopolitan place to hang out and practice your English for a summer or a year, and an easy place for anyone with an EU passport to get a job.

And are there ever jobs to be had! Ireland in the 1990s is far and away the most dynamic, successful, fastest-growing nation in Europe. Total output has grown at a rate of 8.5% for the past five years, three times the European average and almost three times as fast as GDP has risen in the U.S. You feel the economy's vibrancy the instant you set foot in Dublin. There are storefronts being renovated left and right, and construction sites galore--with a new hotel, office block, or apartment building going up on just about every street in town. Everyone seems to have money, nice clothes, and a cell phone. Every other shop sports a HELP WANTED sign in the window, many with beseeching messages such as NAME YOUR OWN HOURS and NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED. In fact, the Irish government was obliged to import Swedish students en masse this past summer to fill the many openings in the hotel and restaurant industry. (There are twice as many hotel rooms in Dublin today as there were five years ago.)

If all this doesn't jibe with your mental picture of Ireland, you probably haven't been there in a while. Or maybe you just haven't been there in the last year and a half. Or maybe you've formed your impression of the place from the gloomy corpus of Irish literature, which, from Joyce's Dubliners to Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt's 1996 account of his wretched childhood in Limerick), has portrayed life in Ireland as cold, wet, backward, dirty, and mean.

That would have been pretty much my take not so long ago. Before this year, I had been to Ireland twice, the first time on a quick trip as a student in the late 1960s. For a kid who'd grown up in a middle-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, Ireland then seemed shockingly poor, and it was: Living standards were less than two-thirds as high as Britain's, and Britain itself was no paragon of prosperity, at least by American standards at the time. There were seven TVs in Ireland per 100 people, for instance, vs. 26 in Britain and 96 in the U.S. Everything about the country seemed crummy and worn. Just like Joyce described it, I thought.

My second trip was a summer vacation in 1997 with my wife and daughter. In the intervening 28 years, I found, Ireland had caught up with the rest of Western civilization. Although still a little shabby here and there, and although it had yet to take on the buzzing, jaunty air it has today, it was an infinitely more comfortable and inviting place--as well-to-do, I thought, as many a city in the American Midwest. As we walked one bright morning alongside St. Stephen's Green, Dublin's jewel of an urban park, my daughter, then 10 years old, stopped midstride, stretched out her arms, and practically shouted: "This is great! Why don't we come live here?"

My father's parents both emigrated from Ireland to America at the turn of the last century, and since my first trip, I had become a journalist, specializing in economics. I realized that I was looking at things through an idiosyncratic lens, but even so, the transformation Ireland had undergone seemed remarkable. I began reading up and found that indeed, after a few lean years early in the 1990s, Ireland's rate of economic growth had risen to unusually high levels. Real GDP (after inflation, as measured by the IMF) was up 5.8% in 1994, 9.5% in 1995, and 7.7% in 1996. (Throughout America's long bull-market expansion, in comparison, GDP has never grown by more than 4.7% in a year.) What struck me most forcefully--and what made me decide to return someday to find out more--was a single statistic: Ireland's GDP per capita was about to surpass Britain's. What, or who, I wondered, was responsible for this amazing reversal of fortune? This past spring I got my chance to find out, when my boss invited me to take some time off from my normal job as an editor to travel and write.

By the time I arrived in Dublin in May, I know the data by heart: The unusually high growth of the mid-1990s had continued. GDP grew 10.7% in 1997, 8.9% in 1998, and will likely grow 7.5% this year. I had also dug into the recent history of Ireland and its economy, including the occasional newspaper or magazine article about "Ireland's miracle economy," or "the Celtic Tiger." Even so, I was shocked by the vibe of Dublin: the crackling energy in the streets, the slickness of the shops, and especially the eerie youth of the city. Epiphanies came in clusters. In the evening, I drew the blinds of my third-floor hotel room to find the skyline north of the River Liffey bristling with building cranes. The next morning, I realized there are cranes in every direction. And the youth of the place is no illusion: 41% of all the people in Ireland, I discovered, are under 24 years old; 69% are younger than 44.

What I learned over the next two months--four weeks of which I spent in Ireland--was that to talk about the country in the wooden language of business cycles--expansion, recession, price levels, inflationary pressures--is to miss the point. Ireland isn't just undergoing a cyclical economic expansion. It's in mid-leap from the Agricultural Age to the Information Age--literally. The closer I looked at the Irish economy, the more I realized that Ireland had simply missed the Industrial Revolution. Except in the six northern counties retained by the British after Ireland gained its freedom in 1921, there's barely a whiff of heavy industry anywhere. No big factories to speak of. No steel mills. No company towns. No industrial infrastructure.

Ireland's new generation has already made the leap--a fact driven home during an interview with Joan Cotter. She's in her late 20s and oversees quality control at Dell's giant PC factory in Limerick (more on that later). Cotter told me how well her plant measures up to other Dell facilities and how far ahead it is of competitors. Y2K, ISO 9000--you name it, they've got it nailed. I asked about Irish tech companies in general. "I'm confident," she said matter-of-factly, "that we can match any country in Europe or the world." I asked her to talk about how that differed from the way people saw competitiveness in the old days of economic insecurity. She looked at me blankly. I rephrased the question, then realized: She had no idea what I was talking about. That was all before she went to college, as remote to her as World War II was to me when I was a child.

Missing the Industrial Revolution turns out to be not such a bad thing, at least going forward: The green fields of Ireland are more attractive to the Info Age businesses that matter most today--and they're the perfect setting for the Irish economic miracle that grew out of a serendipitous combination of events, trends, people, and fate in the early 1990s. As I looked more closely at this constellation of factors, I began to conclude that there is no compelling reason why the good times should end anytime soon, certainly not in the next several years. It's easy to imagine that above-average growth will continue straight through the next decade--and even that the day may come when Ireland's economy will accomplish what decades' worth of bullets, bombs, and politics couldn't: the reunification of north and south.

The single largest foreign investment in Ireland's history sits on 600 concrete columns set into the bedrock in Leixlip, County Kildare, a few miles west of Dublin. Intel's sprawling $2.5 billion wafer-fabrication plant was also the largest building project in Irish history and is Intel's biggest non-U.S. facility, manufacturing, among other things, the Pentium III chip. Some 4,000 people work here.

Foreign investment, especially in high-tech manufacturing, has been one of the main forces in Ireland's transformation--and the Intel plant's presence in Leixlip is no accident. To the contrary, that Intel chose Ireland over several other European countries is a testament to what may be the most successful industrial policy in the world right now. Since the 1960s, Ireland has aggressively sought investment from abroad, tailored its tax policy to attract multinationals, and--perhaps most important--stuck with those and other sensible policies no matter which party has been in charge. "Because the Irish economy is small, government tends to be very responsive to the needs of industry," says Mary Harney, Ireland's deputy prime minister, who's in charge of the department of enterprise, trade, and employment. "Our big advantage is that we have very low corporate tax rates and a very pro-business environment. As long as many other European countries continue with high corporate tax rates and overregulation, we'll be attractive to the outside investor. We hope."

To appreciate why the Irish are so willing to see the world through the eyes of industry, you need to review a little of the nation's dismal economic history. That history was unremittingly grim in the first few decades after Ireland clawed out its initial independence from Britain in 1921. First came a yearlong civil war, then a period of policy drift that carried into the next decade. But from the time Eamon de Valera became head of state in 1932 (he held the job well into the 1950s and was involved in government into the 1970s), the Irish had no one but themselves to blame for their economic shortcomings. De Valera, as J.J. Lee puts it, had a "truly profound ignorance of economics," and while there were many things he devoutly wished for Ireland, prosperity was not one of them. The Ireland of which he dreamed was, as he put it in a famous speech, "the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort...."

For hundreds of years Ireland had wanted nothing more than to be left alone politically, so it's understandable that the new government would want the same for the economy. But confusing economic autarky with political independence was a costly mistake. De Valera led Ireland straight down the path of economic protectionism and isolationism, right into the maw of the Great Depression. The country cut itself off from foreign trade and kept out efficient non-Irish companies--also keeping out capital and business know-how--while it subsidized tiny, inefficient industries of its own. Between 1932 and 1938, Irish industrial exports fell by a third, and farm exports by nearly half.

Living standards continued to erode, reaching a modern nadir in the 1950s. Growth in income per capita throughout the decade averaged 2.2%, less than half the Western European average. Emigration soared, and the population fell below 2.9 million; per capita GDP was half of Britain's. The German novelist Heinrich Boll, who paid an extended visit to Ireland in the mid-'50s and wrote about it in Irish Journal--perhaps the most heartfelt of all travel books--described Dublin in these words: "Rain falls on poverty, and here even an incorrigible aesthete could no longer regard dirt as picturesque; in the slums around St. Patrick's, squalor still huddles in many a corner, many a house, exactly as Swift must have seen it in 1743."

Cormac O Grada, an economic historian at University College, Dublin, agrees: "For most people in Ireland the economic benefits of independence must have remained far from obvious" through the 1950s. In 1958 the extreme underperformance finally caused an extreme policy response: The adoption of the Programme for Economic Development, which dropped protectionism once and for all.

The payoff from the new outward orientation wasn't obvious for a while. "The early companies that came tended to be in low-tech industries like textiles and were interested mainly in tax incentives and cheap labor," says o Grada. "They never expanded and couldn't really compete with plants in lower-wage countries, and they're all gone now." In the late 1960s, in order to attract a better class of company, the government set up the Industrial Development Agency. Kieran McGowan ran the IDA until his retirement in 1998; it was he and his colleagues who came up with what has proved to be a brilliant plan: targeting pharmaceuticals and technology. "To the extent it was scientific," recalls McGowan, "we were looking around at industries that were growing and also wanted what we had, which at the time was low taxes, or no taxes, and a location in Europe." First Pfizer built a plant in the port of Cork (it has since built two more there), then came Johnson & Johnson, SmithKline Beecham, and many others.

In technology, the IDA went after computer companies aggressively--Digital Equipment was first to come, in the early 1970s--and the IDA targeted software in 1980, eventually snaring Microsoft in mid-decade. But Ireland had never attracted that ultimate high-end manufacturing facility, a wafer-fabrication plant. So when Intel announced plans for a European operation in 1989, the IDA was eager to bid. McGowan found that the Intel site selection team's biggest worry was whether the company could find enough qualified engineers to set up and run the plant. "So we hired a firm of consultants to go to California to try to get the names of Irish guys in that business who might be interested in coming home if there were an interesting enough job," he says. "We presented a booklet to Intel with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of 85 people. And I think that impressed them."

Many of the senior engineers in Intel's first wave were returning emigrants. One was Liam O'Flannagain, operations finance manager at Leixlip. Back in 1988, when O'Flannagain graduated with an engineering degree from University College, Dublin, there was no demand for engineers in Ireland. He went to work for Toshiba in Japan, where he learned to speak Japanese and also to design and manufacture semiconductors. O'Flannagain had been there for three years, he says, when "my mother sent me a job ad from the Irish Times saying that Intel was recruiting in Ireland." He joined Intel in November and spent some time working in California while the Leixlip plant was being built, then returned to Ireland for the startup in 1993. Now 34, O'Flannagain has held several jobs at the plant and gotten an MBA (sponsored by Intel) at Dublin City University. "When I left (in 1988) there were no jobs at all," he says. "Now the graduates coming out of college have jobs lined up years ahead."

It's two days after my visit to Leixlip, and I'm standing on a 10-by-20-foot wooden bridge over a little river in central Ireland. I spent the previous morning combing birth records at the General Register's Office in Dublin, hunting for information about my grandparents. They were of the generation that assimilated entirely into the U.S., and neither they nor my late father talked about the old country. All my family knew about its Irish antecedents was the name of a county and the name of a town, and that my grandparents had first settled in the U.S. in Boston.

I had been lucky so far: A search of the Massachusetts archives turned up a copy of my grandparents' 1906 marriage certificate, which in turn gave me the names of my great-grandparents. I was lucky again in Dublin, and found my grandmother's birth certificate, listing the parish and hamlet where she was born. Next morning, armed with a topographical map from the Irish government and directions from the postmaster of the tiny town nearby, I drove down an impossibly narrow and overgrown road that led to the wooden bridge. Huddled near a bend in the river lay the overgrown foundations of four small stone cottages. I talked to a farmer who lived nearby, but he had nothing to tell me. To the south was pasture land, to the north, peat bog. It began to rain. Boston, I thought, must have looked pretty good in 1906.

When my grandparents left, Ireland's history for almost the entire preceding millennium had been one of political and economic repression at the hands of Great Britain--of "her long, cursing, merciless tyranny to Ireland," as one early 18th-century journalist put it. Britain first invaded Ireland in 1167 and finally conquered it in the 1600s. By the dawn of the 18th century, 85% of Ireland's land had been seized from its owners and given to British subjects. Tens of thousands of Irish people were exiled to remote and infertile parts of the country. Then, in the early 1800s, the country was stricken by a series of famines, culminating in the Great Famine of 1845-49. Starvation, disease, and emigration drove the population from eight million, prefamine, to 6.5 million in 1851. Hopelessness took root. By the early 1900s, four million people, my grandparents among them, had fled--as many as were then living in Ireland. Net emigration remained a fact of life until 1996, with the exception of a few years in the 1970s when the economy began growing (an unsustainable expansion that relied on inflation and deficit spending).

Today, Ireland--an exporter of people for two solid centuries--has become an importer. There's been net immigration in each of the last three years--including a record 22,800 in 1998--and that trend shows every sign of continuing. Everyone seems to have a story. Liam O'Flannagain, for instance, the Intel operations manager quoted above, is one of six children. Five went overseas to work; they've all recently returned. Another operations manager, Jim Cunningham at Dell, grew up in Belfast, but his Catholic parents sent him to school in England, partly to keep him away from the Troubles, as the Irish call the guerrilla war that's raged on and off in Northern Ireland since the 1970s. When Cunningham finished college, he went to work for Wang, and then Compaq, first in Scotland and later in Germany, where Dell recruited him in 1992. He liked what Dell had to offer but had doubts about returning to Ireland. His expatriate friends laughed at him, he says, but since then "they've all come back."

Noteworthy as it is, net immigration is only the brightwork on Ireland's demographic engine. The Irish baby boom lasted into the 1970s, long after those of the industrialized countries had petered out. The tail end of that baby boom is still sending large numbers of young Irish people into the job market--and into the lively streets of Dublin. However, birth control became more common after a 1972 referendum had removed the Roman Catholic Church's special role in government. Birth rates began dropping in the 1980s, and so too will the supply of job-seekers in the decade after 2000. Even now, jobs go unfilled. Irish construction firms are scouring Europe for workers, holding job fairs in places like Cologne, Birmingham, Stockholm, and Wales.

Why was it, I wondered--apart from the reversal of de Valera's misbegotten policies--that today's young Irish people are able to get jobs in Ireland that their ancestors had to travel to the U.S. and Australia to find? To put it in the language of economics: the supply has always been there; why was there no demand?

Part of the explanation lies in the realm of public policy. Into the 1960s, Ireland's children were among Europe's most poorly educated. It wasn't until 1963 that the Irish government made universal secondary education a goal. "From 1922 to 1970 we invested nothing in education, while the rest of Europe did," says John Fitz Gerald, an economist at Dublin's Economic and Social Research Institute. Since then, the government has made major investments, including the establishment of nine regional technical colleges. Fitz Gerald notes that the benefits of post-World War II educational investment in nations like Germany began to affect their economies in the 1970s. For Ireland, the young people entering the work force in the past several years are the first products of the reformed system.

Ireland's membership in the European Union has also paid off economically. Ireland joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973, when the idea of a single, integrated European market was more a dream than a plan. EU membership turned out to be beneficial on several levels, the most tangible being that of cold cash. As one of the poorer members, Ireland received subsidies for things like regional development and social programs. When the move to a single market began to gather force in 1988, the EU began pumping big money from its richer members to poorer ones as "structural funds" to ensure economic and social cohesion. Since 1990, Ireland's receipts have been large--from 2% to 4% of GDP. Much of the money has gone into roads and other things that underpin the economy.

The structural funds have aided Ireland during its boom years, but they didn't cause the boom. And given Ireland's momentum, the money from the EU will soon dry up. But membership opened up Ireland's trade with Europe and made it the perfect base for U.S. firms' European manufacturing operations. Becoming part of the EU also cemented Ireland's self-image as a truly European nation.

En route to Limerick to visit Dell Computer, I'm at a scenic overlook south of Sligo. Behind me are the narrow roads of the deep north, where I spent a weekend among the pristine beaches and sudden mountains of Donegal. Before me is the flatter farming country of central Ireland. I've just crossed the border into the county my grandfather came from. No more clues about him have shown up, and my trip is almost over. The sky is overcast but bright, and from here the land looks fertile and inviting--certainly as much so as the farmland of Connecticut or Wisconsin. There is no good reason, I think, that this country should have been so poor for so long.

Limerick is small. The population of the whole region is 165,000, with a total labor force of about 68,000. Its grim, violent reputation has earned Limerick the nickname Stab City; it is certainly one of Ireland's poorest and least-loved places. I hoped to gauge the effects of the economic boom on a smaller, remoter place. Rolling into downtown, though, I could have been in any of the lesser industrial cities in the northeastern U.S. Here was Burger King, the Body Shop. But there, in a sprawling industrial park on the outskirts, was the region's sugar daddy: the plant where Dell spits out all the PCs it sells in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

The first thing that strikes a visitor to Dell is the huge number of shiny new automobiles ranked neatly in the parking lot. Once you're inside, you notice the age of the work force. Dell employs 3,500 people in Limerick (a major recruitment and expansion drive announced in August will take that up to 5,000 by year's end), plus another 700 in County Wicklow. The average age at the Limerick PC factory is 27.

Dell's Limerick employees make up more than 5% of the entire labor force in the region; it is the biggest company by far, obviously the plum job, and has single-handedly changed local labor dynamics. "Any young person with reasonable ambition and a high school education can get work here now, because of Dell," says Kevin Ryan, dean of the College of Informatics and Electronics at the University of Limerick. "And indeed, that did not used to be the case." Dell built a second factory across town last year, and will open a third this fall. It's been growing so fast, in fact, that Dell's next factory probably won't be in Limerick: The supply of skilled workers is nearly exhausted.

Naturally enough, there's nervousness all over Ireland about whether all of this will last. Ireland has had glimpses of prosperity before--evanescent expansions in both the 1960s and 1970s--only to see them flicker out. One common worry is that the multinational manufacturers will just pack up and move out when times get tough. But factories such as Dell's and Intel's are so big and so integral to their parent companies' overall operations that it's difficult to see that happening. In fact, it takes a stretch even to imagine them laying people off. Professor Ryan puts it like this: "If someone decides we're at saturation in PCs and Dell can't make its number for four years in a row, yes, that would hit the Irish economy." But just how likely is that?

One new industry that the Irish don't need to worry about losing is the software industry. Over the last several years, indigenous software and Net services companies have been bubbling up, the combined result of Ireland's push in technical education, the creation of the Internet, the rise in international mobility, and the presence of so many tech-oriented American companies--plus a little government money. But it is a homegrown Irish phenomenon. It even includes some big names, like Iona, the systems and software consulting firm. "We're beginning to produce good software companies," says Gerry McGovern, CEO of Nua ("new" in Irish). "No megacompanies yet, but the number of startups is extraordinary."

Nua is an Internet services and consulting firm McGovern started with three partners and a $6,500 bank overdraft in 1995. Now 37, he had been a rock critic and a playwright and was researching a science-fiction book when he first heard of the Internet and decided to embrace the technology. "We thought we were cleverer than others and that we understood the Net better than others," he says. Nua has developed a product called NuaPublish, which lets companies create information infrastructures on the Net; it is used by Lucent and Procter & Gamble, among others. McGovern is keeping Nua private for the time being, but is currently raising capital for a major expansion. He's very confident about the future of Irish software companies: "There's an entrepreneurial class in Ireland now--and an entire culture--that simply didn't exist ten years ago."

No one is more suspicious of that entrepreneurial class--and of Ireland's overall affluence--than the Irish themselves. For one thing, the economic boom has been selective, both geographically (it's centered on the major cities of Dublin, Cork, and Limerick), and demographically (it favors the young and techno-enabled). So there are a lot of Irish people who feel left out, who'll snort when you ask about the economy and start talking about "the paper tiger" and how little it's done for them. And the high life has its downside: Among the most tangible effects of the boom are a dizzying rise in house prices (they've tripled in the last ten years) and a huge increase in traffic congestion--neither very popular with the man in the street.

Some Irish people refuse to believe the economy has changed in any meaningful way, and think the current boom must therefore be a kind of collective delusion. In Irrational Exuberance: The Myth of the Celtic Tiger, Anthony Sweeney, a business consultant, argues that the whole thing is a bubble that's about to burst. At best, Sweeney thinks Ireland is headed for a nasty one-to-two-year recession; at worst, a recession so severe that he shudders to describe it: "Suffice it to say that it would be bloody."

Forecasts are forecasts. But the odor of anticipatory schadenfreude that hangs over rodomontades like Sweeney's touches something deep in Ireland's soul. "We've been called a nation of begrudgers," says Gerry McGovern, and, in the best Irish tradition, he tells a joke to explain himself. "Two young fellas are walking down a road," he says, "an American and an Irishman. And they see a beautiful new house up on a hill with a sporty car outside and a swimming pool, and the owner there with a beautiful girl at his side. 'Someday I'll be that guy,' says the American. To which the Irish guy says, 'Someday I'm going to get that bastard.' "

J.J. Lee devotes several pages to begrudgery in his recent Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society, and calls it a rational response to circumstances. "In a stunted society, one man's gain did tend to be another man's loss. For many, keeping the other fellow down offered the surest defense of their own position."

If the experience of the last five years is any guide, however, those mean-spirited days may be at an end. True, much of the growth in the 1990s has been a catching-up, and now that Irish living standards are converging with those of the rest of Europe, it's only natural to expect that growth to slow. Mainstream forecasters see real GDP growth of 5%-6% in the next decade. But that's still quite good. And if, as has been the case recently, Ireland continues to grow faster than Northern Ireland, it's even possible to imagine a time when reunification becomes something Northern Ireland would welcome. Before the Troubles of the 1970s and 1980s, it had always seemed a possibility. The chief objections of the northern Protestants were two: That the Republic of Ireland, beholden to the Catholic Church, would trample on their minority rights; and that the poverty and lower living standards of the South would drag them down. Well, the church is gone--at least as a force in government--and the south is rich. What's to stop them now?

In the short term, the worry is whether the Irish can preserve the policies that enabled the economy to blossom. The consensus approach to wages--labor, companies, and government agreeing on increases--is most vulnerable; after five or more fat years for the economy, labor thinks it's time for a little payback. There have been sporadic labor actions--wildcat construction strikes this summer, a threatened nurse's strike this fall.

But the overarching question for Ireland is this: What kind of nation does it want to be? The American stereotype is a sentimental one, formed by old books and movies. It makes the Irish sentimentalists also, clinging to a lost rural past and, you might assume, willing to spend its wealth trying to recreate it.

To Irish thinkers, though, nothing could be further off base. Declan Kiberd, a literary scholar at University College, Dublin, argues that the Irish are one of the most ruthlessly future-oriented of all peoples. He cites their quick abandonment of Gaelic in the mid-19th century as one example, and Ireland's thorough embrace of business as another. "Far from being obsessed with the past," he writes, "what the Irish really worship is their own power over it, including (if need be) their power to liquidate seemingly sacred traditions."

Anyone walking around Dublin this summer would have found it hard not to side with Kiberd. The New Ireland will be something very different. It surely won't be a land in which Eamon de Valera--with his fatalistic socialism--would feel at home, but neither will it be hospitable to the laissez-faire stuff of Ronald Reagan's dreams.

Two days before I am due to leave, one of the genealogical inquiries I made pays off: I find out that my grandfather was born near my grandmother's birthplace, and that his name was Naughton, not Norton. I call the first Naughton I find in the local phone book, and soon I'm talking to Sean Naughton, one of my father's stepbrothers. It's the first contact between the American and Irish branches of the family in 35 years. I spend the next day with Sean and several other long-lost relatives. As I leave that afternoon, he walks me to my car and asks a few questions about the story I'm working on. I tell him a few of the conclusions I've reached about the Irish economy.

He listens, smiles, and says, "So tell me. Could you ever imagine yourself living in Ireland?"

I think it over for a minute, and say, "Yes."