Over the years, Ireland has had a tradition of emigration. Millions of Irish people fled the island over the years, most of them to the United States. Since the beginning of this decade, the trend has reversed and Ireland is attracting people rather than sending them out across the great big ocean. Most newcomers fly or bus in from Poland, taking advantage of the country`s EU membership and the increased freedom of travel.
Ireland seems to be on top of the wish list of emigrating Poles. Compared to a native population of just over 4 million people, Polish people have succeeded in quickly becoming the dominant minority in Ireland. Some even claim that Polish has become the second language of Ireland. The amount of Polish spoken on the streets clearly underlines that suggestion.
`Life in Poland suffocates me`
The majority of Polish people in Ireland are in the age of 20-30. They have multiple different backgrounds, although many used to be involved in low-wage production work in their home country. Asia (22) is working in a youth hostel in Cork. Before leaving her home ground near Katowice, she worked as a supervisor in a candle production factory. Now in Ireland, she makes 50% more money in a week than she does in a month in Poland. Prices are higher in Ireland as well, but the Irish salary certainly does allow her to spend money on more than just housing. The work at the youth hostel gives her access to many different nationalities, and she does not have many difficulties mixing in with them.
Both Mary (travel agent, 47) and Adrian (owner of a bookstore, 57) praise the Polish sense of adventure. More than anything else, it is the Polish curiosity to explore and their willingness to work that makes them very welcome. Mary mentions her worries about Polish people being exploited in some industries. She also doubts the immigration of Poles will remain at the same level once the economy is slowing down. This is where the Celtic Tiger is looking around the corner again. It seems to have lost its teeth and the economic advantage it had over mainland Europe is slowly disappearing.
Some fear that the Poles will occupy positions that would otherwise be taken by Irish people. Many of the jobs now taken by Poles would be suitable for Irish students, but Liam (50), owner of a bed & breakfast near the railway station, is not afraid that such will be the case. He claims that Irish students are too spoilt to work. Although controversial, this statement would explain how and why the Polish are welcomed so warmly: somebody needs to do the job if others are not willing to.
Stay or leave
None of the Poles I met today seem to regret their big jump. All of them miss their family and friends and if they can, they often travel back and forth. Nobody expresses the wish to return to Poland; staying in Ireland seems a much more popular alternative. Only Margareth (graduate in chemistry, 24, photo) also mentions another reason for missing her native country: the food. There may be a lot of Polish shops in town - bookshops and small supermarkets - but the thing she misses most is the freshness of the food. What she does not miss is the political turmoil that`s taking place in Poland these days. She claims there`s a lot of jealousy and depression, especially among the older generations. "I want to get something done and I do not feel at ease doing that in Poland. There is no room for initiative." She makes some illustrating gestures to spice up what she says, one of them consisting of her hands trying to choke her, another one demonstrating the way Polish people attend church. Both convey the idea of suppresion, which is clearly something she felt she was suffering from back home.
Not all Poles are lucky enough to find a job. It's high season in Cork and most positions in pubs and hotels are taken. If you do not speak English fluently, chances of finding a job are rather slim. Some Polish immigrants are obliged to return home, but it seems like they can all count on generous friends who are letting them stay at their place while they look for a job. And whether they end up quickly finding a job or not, they easily assimilate with the Irish. It could be expected that their shared catholic background provides a basis for that, but nobody is prepared to affirm that. Adventure is the main word that keeps popping up, both with the Irish speaking about the Poles, and with the Poles speaking about themselves. Another success factor in their integration is their shared love for drinking. Once again, the pub around the corner proves to be the driving force beneath social dynamics in Ireland.
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