A Front Row Seat During Ireland’s Renaissance

Written by Jim Walsh - January 2019

Thirty-five years ago this month Walsh:PR came into existence.

Little did we know that we would have a front row seat watching Ireland’s economy grow and its social fabric utterly change.

Between the papal visits of John Paul II in 1979 and Francis I in 2018 Ireland has become one of the wealthiest and most progressive countries in the world.

We were the 42nd richest country in the world in 1979 and now are ranked 5th by the IMF. Only 15% of our young people went on to third level education in 1979, now that figure is 43%. In 1979 there were 20% of women in the workforce now it’s close to 54%.

The increase in richest ranking has not unfortunately brought everyone to the same level of success. We still have our problems with too many people struggling on inadequate incomes. Around 15% are still below the poverty line and we have a deficit in services such as housing.

Many of the reasons for Ireland’s progress are set out in David McWilliam’s excellent new book ‘Renaissance Nation– How the Pope’s Children rewrote the rules for Ireland.’

For anyone reading this outside the country, the Pope’s Children is not a tell-all tale of children born to a particular Pope but a reference to children born in Ireland in 1979, the year of the visit of Pope John Paul II.

McWilliams credits much of Ireland’s success to the radical centre, the vibrancy of individual freedom and self-expression that emerged, once the shackles of collective dogma had been unlocked. And while FDI investment was a critical driver of our economic development McWilliams places a greater emphasis on the role of SME’s which account for over 70% of employment in Ireland and says that economic development was more of a bottom-up than top-down phenomenon.

Communication in 1979 was very different to today. No mobile phones, no social media, no email, no world-wide web, even no fax machines which became a staple office item in the early 80’s and are now virtually extinct. We relied on landline telephones, post and courier to communicate with our clients and the media.

Walsh:PR had a lucky break when on the same day it opened for business the country’s postal service was also transformed and became a commercial entity called An Post.

To celebrate, An Post  introduced a one penny stamp for that day’s post only. Its astute Chairman Fergal Quinn, whose company Superquinn later became a Walsh:PR client some years later, confined the one-penny offer to personal hand-written envelopes only. He correctly anticipated that many companies would use the opportunity to mass-mail promotional literature.

So that weekend my wife Sheila, our first staff member Martina, who is still with us as a joint office manager, and myself sat down and handwrote hundreds of envelopes addressed to anyone we knew or could think of in business and the media and posted our first press release announcing that we were in business.

Modern business is all about being adaptable and willing to change and develop.

When Walsh:PR began, its first clients were in manufacturing, insurance and security. Today food, health, sustainability and NGOs rank highly among a wider range of sectors.

David McWilliams describes the modern commercial world as one of successes and failures. A world of tinkering around, innovating and taking responsibility for failure as well as success, where there is no consistent right or wrong. There may be a ‘right for now’ if a business is doing well or a ‘wrong for now; if it is doing badly.’

Thankfully Walsh:PR has managed to ride that rollercoaster with success.

The company has grown since the days the ‘Pope’s Children’ were heading for their first year in school and under the leadership of Caroline Heywood, the current vibrant and innovative team will ensure that the business continues to grow and thrive, albeit at a much faster rate than over the last 35 years.

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