All my life I have loved everything Irish. I’m Polish, mind you, so I never knew why. Growing up, I never even knew any Irish people. I got my best grade in Geography by drawing a perfect, green map of Ireland. Yeah, well, educational standards were different then. I put in the cities with a special star by Dublin, pictures of the products made and grown by Ireland. I took great care with it, choosing just the right shade of green for the map and outlining the borders with a darker shade. I worked hard on it (I couldn’t say I did that so often), was quite proud of it and expected a 100% (standards were different in the 50s), which I got. I loved St. Patrick’s Day, the uplifting songs with that charming accent, leprechauns (Darby O’Gill and the Little People was one of my favorite movies) and Irish food. I never felt this way about anything Polish, even though I went to a Polish Catholic school. I never thought about it, it just was. I dreamed about going there one day, but growing up poor in an immigrant neighborhood, that seemed as possible as going to the moon.
That all changed of course and this summer I will be going to Ireland for the fourth time. The last time I was there, it was still a poor country. In the ensuing years, Economic Hitmen discovered another market for capitalism and Ireland was sold to the highest bidders. To make it more palatable it was called the Celtic Tiger. Well, that’s all over now. The tiger is dead. The banks have won again. Just like in Poland.
I love the country as much as I always have but now I know why. After travelling in Ireland and living in Poland and meeting people from both countries, I know it’s a spiritual connection. Not in a religious sense. The nuns always talked about souls, but not in this way. It’s a bonding of souls. There is a deep connection between the Poles and Irish, established by history and religion. Both are deeply religious countries where Catholicism had a strong influence on politics and ordinary life. Both countries’ histories were strongly shaped by poverty, hunger and immigration. US history was transformed by immigration from these countries as well. The potato and the cabbage were vital to both countries as a sellable crop and for survival during times of famine when there was no other food. Alcohol is an important part of both cultures. No one is as hospitable as the Poles and the Irish. Both countries were occupied for much of their existence and both continually fought back and continually suffered for it. They were constant battles against the oppressors. Arms were taken up by untrained, ordinary men, women and children fighting for an ideal. They fought against unimaginable odds, full of bloodshed and bombings. They usually lost. Both countries have been ravaged by unfettered capitalism. Today, the modern republics of Poland and Ireland are the result of these independence movements and new economic systems. As the Polish national anthem says, Poland is not yet lost. For better and for worse. And in Poland and Ireland, you can still see and feel these connections in the pubs and on the streets.
And since a picture tells a thousand words….
On the 100th anniversary of the Irish Uprising
Sackville St., Dublin, 1916
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Gęsia St., 1943
The Warsaw Uprising, Długa St., 1944
The history and spirit of Ireland (and in many ways, Poland) is summarized in 5 minutes in this haunting song. And for both countries, these lyrics:
But my sons have sons, as brave as were their fathers……