Recently, I returned to dear old Cork after exactly ten years’ absence. What 50 years ago had been a poor town on the periphery of Ireland is now a big, thriving, growing, wealthy city.
As I was conveyed from the airport to the city center, I asked the driver, “Anything changed round here recently?”
“Immigrants,” he replied, “Poles, tens of thousands of them, particularly in the building industry. There is no pick-and-shovel work for an Irishman anymore. Most of them can’t speak an English such that you can understand them. They are fanatically religious, and they are bringing their priests with them. A lot of them have a drink problem. If you ask me, they are taking over the place.” I had the feeling that I had heard all this in a totally different context, some 50 years ago, but it seemed a bit tactless to mention such a thing in rebel Cork.
When I arrived at the town, I found that it was indeed full of Poles. In the streets, you could hear Polish spoken everywhere: You can’t miss it; it sounds rather like Czech. There were Polish notices in all of the shop windows. I was later to be assured by a mathematician at the university that there would soon be 400,000 Poles in Ireland, constituting ten percent of the Irish population.
In town, as I walked along the quays, I could remember Irish people emigrating by the thousands, all of them eager to get on the boat to the ports of Wales and the jobs of England—the black-mouthed molarless men of Kerry off to find a job in the construction industry or in the car-manufacturing plants; the women to become nurses and to search eagerly for an English bachelor more ardent for marriage than the shy, reluctant farmers’ sons of Ireland. It was a process that had gone on for 300 years with peasants from the west and the far south of Ireland heading for Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow—and, later, for Birmingham, Kilburn, and Dagenham. They built, in turn, Britain’s canals, railroads, and freeways. There are as many as six million people of Irish descent in Britain, and they make up ten percent of the total British population, which is a far higher proportion than in the United States. Now, however, emigration has come to an end. Indeed, it has gone into reverse, and Nigerians and Somalis are settling in Dublin; most of all, however, there are the Poles. Even the bartenders are Polish.
From a Polish point of view, Ireland is a paradise. A Polish graduate can earn several times as much money doing an unskilled job in Cork as he would as a professional in Poland. A bricklayer’s hod carrier or a waitress can earn as much in two months in Ireland as she would in an entire year back home, and she often gets paid in cash with a fistful of euros, which translates into a fortune in zotys. After countries from Eastern Europe began to join the European Union, there was supposed to be a free movement of labor from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states to the established E.U. states. However, France, Germany, and other Western European countries that have both high unemployment and disagreeable and discontented immigrant minorities—many of them Muslims—refused to accept workers from Eastern Europe. The Poles could only go to Britain or to Ireland. Many have gone to Britain, where they do not pose a problem, since England already has a well-established Polish community. Most of them came during World War II as part of General Anders’ army and fought on the British side, notably as gallant RAF pilots. Everyone in Britain guiltily remembers the strong attempts made by British leftists in the mid-1940’s to expel the Poles and send them back to Eastern Europe for fear that, if they were allowed to remain, they would be a source of anticommunist sentiment and anti-Soviet agitation in Britain. The Labour government of 1945 let them stay but forced them to work in occupations that none of the local people wanted. A loyal ally was betrayed; it would not now look or feel good to deny them twice.
Ireland, of course, was neutral during World War II, and Polish leaders who visited there in 1939 found that there was little sympathy for invaded Poland, whose woes were seen as less than Ireland’s own hardships, which included the rationing of tea imports from Britain. In Ireland today, there is no fund of guilt to be exploited. Besides, Britain has long been full of foreigners, most of them far stranger and more troublesome than the Poles will ever be, and has grown accustomed to the curse of multiculturalism. Happy, homogeneous Ireland, by contrast, was, until recently, perhaps the least plural society in the world, so the Poles are much more likely to be resented.
The day after I arrived at Cork, I took the bus to Kinsale for the sheer pleasure of being back and chatted amicably with my fellow passengers—all from the East—about how much I had enjoyed my time lecturing in the sophisticated cities of Kraków and Wrocaw. In Kinsale, I visited the local Catholic church and noticed that, even there, many of the exhortatory pamphlets were in Polish. Even that most Hibernian of journals, the Irish Catholic, now has a Polish section, which takes up about one third of its space. There is, at most, a paragraph in Erse; even in the English section, the main news in the old September issue lurking on the rack was about the visit of His Eminence Józef Cardinal Glemp, spiritual guardian of the Polish emigration, to St. Audoen’s Church, Dublin, to which was appended a discussion of the steady influx of priests from Poland.
It will not be long before most of the priests in Ireland are Polish. There was a time when Ireland provided priests for the rest of the world—particularly for England, Wales, and Scotland. Today, there are no new vocations in Ireland. Between 1966 and 1996, the number of vocations to become diocesan clergy fell by nearly 80 percent; to clerical religious orders, by 90 percent. In 1966, there were nearly 600 vocations to orders of religious sisters in Ireland; in 1996, only 19—and there was only one vocation to the various orders of religious brothers. Ireland is no longer the leading Catholic country in Northern Europe. That honor now belongs to Poland, where vocations are numerous, the prestige of the clergy is high, and there is a willingness to serve the Church abroad in countries such as Ireland that lack priests. At present, many of the Polish priests in Ireland serve Polish congregations, but, in a generation, most Irish parishioners will find that their parish priest is Polish. The Poles have come to the rescue of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Otherwise, some of Her leaders might, in time, have been tempted to consider advocating the desperate alternatives embraced by the churches of the Anglican communion, the Church of England and the Episcopal church, first of allowing male priests to marry (a mere breach of a regulation) and, later, of permitting the ordination of women, something abhorrent to the Christian tradition. Even the archbishop of Canterbury can now see that this is a problem. The very thought of such things happening in Ireland must horrify every Irish traditionalist; the Polish solution is preferable.
It follows that, a further generation forward, the bishops in Ireland will also be Polish. The existing priests and bishops in Ireland are elderly, and the numerous pedophile scandals have led to the stigmatization of a clerical career. Besides which, the Irish have learned the strange joys of sexual promiscuity. In this country where contraception was once prohibited by law, there are now condom machines in every public place, including the university and the airport in Cork. One out of three firstborn children is illegitimate. In the past, the first task of the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) upon attaining office was to kiss the archbishop of Dublin’s ring as a token of his submission to the Church, and any kind of marital infidelity would have meant the end of his career. The current Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, a married man of Cork lineage better known as Pádraig Parthalán Ó hEachthairn, was publicly criticized by the then-archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Cardinal Connell, for the open nature of his sexual relationship with a female activist of his party. The archbishop declared that, as a separated father living with a mistress, he was a dreadful example to the young people of Ireland. Yet he remains prime minister. Can Ireland still be regarded as a truly Roman republic as it was in the days of Eamonn de Valera?
Although abortion is still prohibited by the Irish constitution, the wording pertaining to it is ambiguous, and some forms of contraception, such as IUDs—essentially a form of very early abortion—are legal and are regularly provided by Irish doctors.
A former Irish High Court judge, Rory O’Hanlon, complained in 2002 to Cardinal Re, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, about the Irish government’s attitude toward the wording of the Irish referendum and legislation concerning abortion. Ten years earlier, he had been sacked from his post as president of the Irish Law Commission for expressing his fear that Irish membership in the European Union would endanger the purity and security of the basic laws prohibiting abortion.
Besides, there is a steady stream of pregnant Irish women taking the boat from Dublin to Liverpool to obtain abortions. Sometimes, they even return on the same day. Sailors on the ferries routinely refer to the women they see coming back as the “empties.” Nothing is being done to prevent or even impede this trade. A sexual revolution in Ireland has destroyed the former moral monopoly enjoyed by the Church, and it is impossible to get young people to take the ideas of chastity and priestly celibacy seriously. In Poland, however, the old values of piety and self-sacrifice persist, so it is Polish priests for Ireland.
The Poles who are settling in Ireland are far more likely to retain their identity and language than did those earlier generations of Poles who went to Britain, France, or the United States. For a Polish immigrant in Detroit or Chicago in 1900, it was almost impossible to go back and forth to Poland regularly. Now, there are direct flights from Dublin to Warsaw and five other Polish cities, as well as a cheap and speedy bus service that makes use of a ferry to England and the Channel Tunnel. Entire busloads of new Polish immigrants arrive every day. Because both Ireland and Poland are members of the European Community, as soon as the Polish immigrants set foot in Ireland, they are entitled to the same rights as a native-born Irish citizen. Ireland could have opted out of this, as France and Germany did, but the Irish government chose not to, because it wanted to import cheap labor. The new Poles are never going to go home, because earnings levels and welfare provisions are far more generous in Ireland. Yet, because it is so easy to travel back and forth to Poland, the Poles now settling in Ireland can easily retain their Polish connections, language, and identity. This situation resembles that of Mexicans coming to the United States, who are able to retain their language, culture, and Mexican identity because of the freedom with which they can cross the U.S. border.
As the Poles come to dominate Ireland, imposing their language and culture on the country, they will (unlike Mexicans in the United States) be saving that distressful nation and restoring her respect for virtue and authority. The wise men have arrived from the East, perhaps just in time.