Once a symbol of the evil spirits that St. Patrick drove from Ireland, in recent years snakes have come to represent Ireland’s boom—and now its bust:
BALLIVOR, Ireland — Legend has it that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. The economic crisis has brought some of them back.
During the Celtic Tiger boom, snakes became a popular pet among the Irish nouveaux riches, status symbols in a country famous for its lack of indigenous serpents. But after the bubble burst, many snake owners could no longer afford the cost of food, heating and shelter, or they left the country for work elsewhere. Some left their snakes behind or turned them loose in the countryside, leading to some startling encounters.
A California king snake was found late last year in a vacant store in Dublin, a 15-foot python turned up in a garden in Mullingar, a corn snake was found in a trash bin in Clondalkin in South Dublin, and an aggressive rat snake was kept in a shed in County Meath, northwest of Dublin, an area dotted with sprawling houses built during the boom. . . .
“It was about status,” Mr. Cunningham said as he waved to a four-foot red iguana that was found under a sink in an abandoned house in Dublin. “During the boom, people treated these animals as conversation starters.” . . .
“In the Tiger economy,” said P. J. Doyle, a reptile expert, “young people could pay 600 quid for a snake” and the necessary equipment — about $700 to $1,000 during much of the boom. But these days, he said, some owners “just drive up and throw them somewhere.” . . .
Most of the recent snake sightings have occurred in the counties around Dublin, where the newly prosperous congregated in the country’s boom years.
Ireland has no native snake species, a fact attributed by scientists to its separation from the European landmass and unfavorable climate (Iceland and Greenland also lack native snake species) and by pious tradition to the spiritual power of St. Patrick, who is said to have chased them into the sea after they attacked him during a forty-day fast.