Barry Phillips Meets... the Early Poles of Northern Ireland

Posted in : Podcasts on 8 August 2019

Polish Flag over Harland & Wolff CranesThe Poles first came to work in Northern Ireland in big numbers when Polish citizens were granted the right of free movement as EU members in May 2004.

Many found employment here and were grateful for any type of work, which was guaranteed to provide more money than they could expect to earn at home. They worked as cleaners for Robinson Services or as labourers in Camden Frames, Sam Mouldings, on the assembly line at what was then Schrader, or in construction during the mini-boom in 2007-2009. Whilst some worked in the health service as nurses, carers or doctors, large numbers were overqualified for the jobs they first took. But with limited English and no contacts here, to many it was about getting on an early rung of the ladder and then making their way from there.

But the arrival of hundreds, then thousands, of Poles brought change to Northern Ireland. Suddenly, almost overnight, there was a sizeable third group of people. Northern Ireland did have other groups of people such as the Indian and Chinese communities, but these were small in number, well settled and accepted. Journalists commented that since the Good Friday Agreement, the two communities - Protestant and Catholic - so long in conflict, might need another enemy and openly worried that they would look for one elsewhere. The Polish Community had closer connections to Britain than they did Ireland... their role in the British RAF is well documented. But largely Catholic by religion, they may have expected a warmer welcome from the other side of the community.

What type of welcome did they get from us in Northern Ireland? And how do they remember their first years here? I set out to find out…

 

This article is correct at 08/08/2019
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