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.
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