Polish Culture Spreads in Ireland

Through the opening of art exhibits, language schools, restaurants and grocery stores, Poles are making a permanent mark in their newfound home.

On Oct. 17, the National Gallery in Dublin launched a new exhibition, titled “Paintings from Poland: Symbolism to Modern Art (1880-1939).” As the largest collection of Polish art ever to be displayed in Ireland, it comprises 74 paintings selected from the National Museum of Warsaw, with additional loans from private collections, the National Museum of Krakow and the Tatra Museum in Zakopane. The exhibition, open until 27 January, 2008, presents a contrasting view from other European artists and offers a creative insight on Poland’s history, beauty and talent.

In addition, the Irish Film Institute in Dublin held the AIB Polish Film Festival for a second year, screening 20 feature-length Polish Films, including a number of animated stories, shorts and documentaries. A selection of films from the festival traveled to the EYE Cinema in Galway from Oct. 22-25 and the Kino in Cork from Oct. 27-29.

The presentation of these films to an Irish audience offers a taste of the modern works produced in Poland, allowing the Irish to learn more about Poles and their culture. At the same time, the films provide Polish people in Ireland an opportunity to keep up to date with the latest Polish cinema.

Oct. 20 marked the start of classes in a weekend school teaching exclusively in the Polish language, the first of its kind in the southeastern region of Ireland. The school, based at St Paul’s Community College, Waterford, and another based at St Patrick’s Boys’ NS, Gardiner’s Hill, Cork, were launched on the same weekend. The first such school was established at St Clement’s College, Limerick, and, according to the Polish embassy, another is due to open in Cavan this week. Funded by the Polish government, the schools teach subjects such as history and geography from a Polish perspective, with the aim to educate Polish children who may return to their native country in the future.

Katarzyna Grzegorczyk, like many Poles, went to Dublin to work and improve her English language skills. “Those who have an influence on Polish culture in Ireland can be classified into two groups,” she said. The first is made up of Poles who move to Ireland primarily to make a living. They often work in environments that require a lot of physical strength, such as building sites, and are less likely to communicate in English.
In contrast, Grzegorczyk said, the second group is more open to other cultures, neither flaunting nor hiding their nationality. They simply go to Ireland to experience life outside of Poland.
The first group stays close to the Polish community in Ireland and is more dependent on Polish services such as medical facilities, church gatherings and even beauty salons. The second group takes advantage of intellectual and artistic pursuits in Ireland, while being involved in Polish cinema, theatre and art.

While adapting to their new surroundings in Ireland, Polish people like to maintain their traditions, language and culture through education and the visual arts.

The new arrivals appreciate fine Irish food and drink but also long for Polish products. Besides the many newly opened Polish restaurants and bars, Poles increasingly discover familiar brands in supermarkets and corner stores.

Though it started off with Irish retailers stocking Polish chocolate and sweets, this introduction was so successful that it soon led to the supply of fruit juices, pierogi and even Polish bread, yoghurt and eggs.

The demand is so great that Poles have now opened their own shops, which are also starting to attract Irish customers. Though Poles are very happy in Ireland, there is nothing that can replace those simple, traditional and familiar things that remind them of home – and at the same time provide a touch of variety for the locals.

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