As a child growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, my exposure to the big world came via my 1986 Panini World Cup Sticker book. It was the first time I had heard of Poland, or Algeria, or Soviet Union, or Iraq. That book along with 2 Christmas presents from my parents inspired a lifelong wanderlust:
1.An Atlas of the World (I read it and studied it every day)
2.A Lego Airport (I imagined flying planes to far off lands)
Slowly but surely, I made it a dream of mine to visit all 24 countries that appeared in that World Cup (Italy, Bulgaria, South Korea, Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Paraguay, Iraq, Canada, France, Hungary, Northern Ireland, Brazil, Spain, Algeria, Denmark, Uruguay, Scotland, Morocco, England, Poland, Portugal). Poland was the 9th out of those 24 that I visited. Plus there are 2 countries that don’t exist any more that I visited post-Berlin Wall fall: Soviet Union (I visited all 19 of those countries), West Germany (I visited both East and West Germany). I finally completed all 24 in December 2017 when I touched down in Marrakesh, Morocco. However, we never know where we end up in life and now, I live in Poland! I have no idea how many Northern Irish people live in Poland. But I am only aware of less than 10 others (none of whom I have ever met). I recently shared why I love living in Poland, what I don’t like about Poland and why it’s not an obvious reason that brought me to Poland. But back in the 1980s, you would struggle to find things in Northern Ireland that were Polish. Times have changed. Today I bring you, 17 Things in Northern Ireland Which Are Actually Polish…
Poland and Northern Ireland links down the years
Most of the Polish and Northern Irish links will have stemmed (sadly) from the First and Second World Wars. Especially during the Second World War where many Polish soldiers, including some excellent pilots teamed up in the war against Hitler’s Germany. Since then, due partly to communism in Poland and the troubles in Northern Ireland, the two countries were not attracting a significant influx of tourists or immigrants. 1991 came and communism was gone in Poland, 1998 in Northern Ireland saw the Good Friday Agreement and 2004 saw Poland enter the European Union. Since then, the relationship between Northern Ireland and Poland has grown and is good. I witnessed this first hand at 5 Northern Ireland v. Poland football matches I attended, dating back to 1991 (we won 3-1). In fact, I still find it pretty hard to believe that I live here in Poland, it was never a plan. What I have also noticed is the number of Polish related things now present on the streets of Northern Ireland. Here are 17 for starters…
1.The Polish Consulate in Northern Ireland
In late 2018, an official Polish Consulate finally opened in Northern Ireland. There are now over 30,000 Polish people living in Northern Ireland. Not counting Republic of Ireland, Scotland and England, the Polish community is the largest immigrant community in Northern Ireland. With the Brexit looming and relationships seemingly good between Theresa May and Mateusz Morawiecki, this is good timing.
Polish people now have an easy go-to option in Northern Ireland without having to go to the Polish Embassy in Dublin, London or Edinburgh. The consulate is in Belfast and the main contact is based in Newry, which has a significant Polish population.
Official Website of the Polish Consulate in Northern Ireland
Other information website of the Polish Consulate in Northern Ireland
Consul’s Facebook Page
Belfast Address – Konsulat RP w Irlandii Północnej, 75 Great Victoria Street, BT2 7AF, Belfast (budynek Albany House)
Newry Address – Newry Town Hall, Bank Parade, Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland, BT34 1DQ
2.Polish Saturday School in Belfast
Did you know that you can not only study Polish in Northern Ireland, but you can do it as an extra language at a Saturday school in Belfast? Polish Saturday School in Belfast started in November 2007! Of course it is mostly for Polish children, or offspring from mixed marriages (Polish-Northern Irish children) but anyone is welcome to attend!
3.Glentoran F.C.’s Star Player, Łukasz Gwiazda
Polish footballer Łukasz Gwiazda signed for my football team, Glentoran F.C. in January 2019. Around the time he signed, Glentoran were in the middle of being winless in 12 matches, a record which was officially our worst winless run in history! Times must be good for a Glentoran fan if that is as low as it gets! During that winless run, we also lost 4-1 in the Irish Cup to Crusaders. However the goal was scored by none other than Łukasz Gwiazda, on his debut.
Gwiazda, whose name translates into English as “Star” has also won man of the match awards as Glentoran finally won a match or two again. One of those wins was a 5-0 win away at Warrenpoint, where Gwiazda popped up with a brace of goals. Gwiazda previously played for Bangor and Harland and Wolff Welders, so he is well accustomed to the Northern Irish League. If he stays for season 2019-2020 and Glentoran somehow pick ourselves up from the lower reaches of the league, it’s possible we could play a Polish team in Europe again. I was at both of Glentoran’s home matches against Polish teams, back in the day.
4.The Polish Educational and Cultural Association (PECA) in Northern Ireland
The Polish Educational and Cultural Association (PECA) in Northern Ireland were formed way back in May 2012. They aim to encourage the continuation of the Polish language and culture and to support Polish community in their integration in the Northern Irish society specifically. They do this through information campaigns, an advice service and fostering positive relationships with the local community, government bodies, and NGOs. PECA is a registered charity in Northern Ireland (NIC103717). The current Board of Trustees was elected at the AGM held on 5th December 2015.
5.Polita Supermarket, East Belfast
The honour of oldest shop with Eastern European products in Northern Ireland is held by Polita Supermarket on the Ravenhill Road in East Belfast (Najstarsza polska sieć sklepów w Irlandii Północnej!). Pop inside to get your fasolka, kielbasa, pierogi, Prince Polo, Wedel and all sorts of Polish food and drink that wasn’t previously available in Northern Ireland prior to Poland joining the European Union in 2004.
- There are of course many other Polish and Eastern / Central European supermarkets across Northern Ireland including in Coleraine, but I’m not including them all. This was the first. Perhaps a list of all of them could make a future article.
6.Szkola Angielski Belfast
As an opposite to the Polish language school in Belfast, there is also an excellent English language school in Belfast aimed at Polish people who have relocated to Northern Ireland for the first time and need to learn the English language.
7.The RAF from Poland “Shot ‘Em Down”
As Poland celebrated 100 years of regaining its independence in November 2018, the same week the village of Ballyhalbert in Northern Ireland hosted a poignant memorial service. 11th November 2018 in Northern Ireland marked 100 years since the First World War ended, and was commemorated on Armistice Day.
However, the memorial in Ballyhalbert was dedicated to the 303 Polish Soldiers from the RAF Squadron which was stationed at Ballyhalbert in Co Down during the Second World War ahead of the Battle of Britain. Polish flags and red and white wreaths were placed at Northern Ireland’s war memorials and graves to be dedicated to the fallen heroes from Poland that were part of the Northern Irish and British war effort against the Nazi Germans. Some of the Polish soldiers were buried in Northern Ireland.
8.World War II Poles in Northern Ireland
As well as the Memorials and Services, there is a campaign commemorating all the Polish people who helped British Army members in Northern Ireland during the war efforts. The group are active in Northern Ireland and have also helped promote books about Polish people during World War II as well as raising money for charities and tributes to the fallen heroes.
9.Newry, the Polish capital of Northern Ireland
With a Polish shop, a Polish TV station, a Polish school and Polish Mass in a local Catholic Church (St. Brigid’s Church), the city of Newry could stake a claim for the biggest Polish city in Northern Ireland. If you read down to point 17, you’ll discover another reason that links Newry to the Polish city of Gdańsk. I have been invited by the Polish School in Newry to speak to the students, and I really hope I can do that this year. Here are some links to justify the influence of Poland into Newry, one of 5 cities in Northern Ireland.
- And yes, there are many other Polish language schools in Northern Ireland including “Polska Szkoła ”Polca” w Belfaście / Polca School” but I have included merely the most well known ones on this list. Perhaps a list of all of them could make another blog post sometime.
Address – Polish Supplementary School, St. Joseph’s Boys High School, 20 Armagh Road, BT35 6DA Newry
Telefon: +447867412556 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
10.Polish Society in Bangor, County Down
While I was away backpacking the world, and later relocating to Poland my home town saw an influx of Polish immigrants. This culminated in a 2011 formation of a Bangor Polish Society. The Society has gone from strength to strength and now aims to help all Polish people based in County Down.
There are Polish societies in many other Northern Irish towns and cities, not all are promoted or active but they certainly exist. Another good example is for Polish people in Dungannon.
11.GCSE Polish Exam at St. Conor’s College, County Doire
When I was a teenager attending Bangor Grammar School, there were certainly not many language options for GCSEs (O’ Levels for 16 year olds). I had a choice of English, English Literature, French, German, Latin or Spanish. In the end I did English (A), English Literature (B), French (A) and German (A). But I was not given an option of Irish Gaelic (shame on the government) or even exotic choices like Japanese, Korean, Russian, Greek or Polish.
However, since 2018, GCSE Polish has been an option on the Syllabus in some schools across Northern Ireland. St. Conor’s High School in County Doire / Derry / Londonderry offer it as they have 32 students with Polish heritage.
12.Polish Society in Belfast
In December 2018, I met up with Krysztof who runs the Polish Society in Belfast. It was interesting to hear his story and also to understand the good links between Poland and Northern Ireland. The Polish Society in Belfast runs events and you can keep up to date via their Facebook Page.
A few more links for Polish people in Belfast:
Dwujęzyczny Belfast z polskimi tradycjami (Bi-lingual Belfast with Polish traditions)
Polacy w NI
Obiadki domowe Belfast
13.Lech Wałęsa mural in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
It came as a bit of a surprise to me to find a Lech Wałęsa and Polish mural in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. It is located in the artistic courtyard just off the Duke of York pub. The mural contains Polish ogorki (gherkins) as well as a Poland football shirt.
14.Glentoran FC’s Polish Academy
The second entry on the list for my team Glentoran FC as we have a Polish Academy, which has been operating for a few years now. Glentoran is a community club which has developed good relationships with other football clubs and academies in Africa as well as in Poland.
15.The Band of Brothers Project
The Band Of Brothers project is a Belfast based initiative which was conceived by Pete Bleakley as a consequence of living in Ballyhalbert beside a disused WW2 airfield. A lifelong fan of the RAF in the Second World War, Pete found himself investigating his local airfield – RAF Ballyhalbert – now a caravan park on the edge of this sleepy Ards Peninsula village. He discovered that RAF Fighter Command’s highest scoring Battle Of Britain Squadron – 303 Polish RAF Squadron – were based at Ballyhalbert in 1943, as was 315, another highly effective Polish fighter squadron. Since then, a large information board detailing the success of the Polish fighters has been placed in Belfast city.
The Band of Brothers mural is located at Beverley Street, Lower Shankill Road, Belfast where it was launched on 15th September, 2015 – Battle Of Britain Day. It has since been damaged but is still there.
16.A Polish Coin at Dunluce Castle
I was unaware of this until Kris from the Polish Society told me, but at the famous Dunluce Castle (I am pictured there below) a 16th century Polish coin was discovered. This was kept as a token by the merchants, and provides a reminder of the Scottish migrations to Poland, many from the Ulster-Scots clans. This was listed by the Belfast Telegraph as one of 50 curiosities about Dunluce Castle.
17.Sir Trevor Corry, Baron of Poland
Perhaps the most interesting entry on this list is the story of Trevor Corry. Sir Trevor Corry hailed from Newry in Northern Ireland (in those days it was just Ireland) and was later knighted by the British Government and named Baron of Poland. Corry was an Irish-born merchant and diplomat who spent many years in what was once called Danzig (now known as Gdańsk of course). In those days, Poland was known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Corry acquired a considerable fortune during his time there. He acted as consul to both British Kings – George II and George III in Gdańsk during the Seven Year War right up to his death in 1780. As a Gdańsk based consul he was responsible for sending information to the Secretary of State in London. Many of the reports were concerning the complex political and military developments happening in and around Poland in general and at the port of Gdańsk in particular. Among many other things he reported on the trade in timber intended for the building of warships and on the crippling taxation being imposed on the city of Gdańsk.
Corry was given the title “Baron to the Throne of Poland” on 20 October 1773 by the King of Poland, Stanisław II Augustus. On 29 March 1776, he was knighted by King George III. His death triggered a long, drawn-out dispute regarding his estate and wealth and he is remembered for eternity in the above plaque in St. Mary’s Church in Newry.
And with all good things, there comes a sadness…
Now Closed – Cracow City Polish Restaurant
Finding a Polish restaurant or indeed Polish food in Northern Ireland is difficult. Back in 2008, on the Cregagh Road in Belfast, Cracow City Restaurant became Northern Ireland’s first ever Polish restaurant. Sadly, it is now closed, forever and I never got a chance to visit it. I grew up in Bangor but most of my family lived in and around the Cregagh Road – Granny, Granda and Great Granny and Granda lived on the Cregagh estate, while my cousins Alison, Michael and Gary lived on the actual Cregagh Road and Jack and Valerie once lived in Mount Merrion. Sad to see it close, but life goes on…
So that’s my list of Polish things in Northern Ireland. I am sure I have missed some here, please get in touch if I have.
Is Łukasz Gwiazda definitely the most famous Northern Irish based Polish person?
Are you Polish living in Northern Ireland?
Are you Northern Irish living in Poland?
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