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Thursday 1 June 2023 Dublin: 13°C
David Jones/PA Wire/Press Association Images Poland is seeing heavy EU investment in public works
Column ‘Poland is probably where Ireland was 20 years ago’
For years, Polish construction workers came to Ireland – now the Irish are going the other way. Garrett Doyle is one of them.

Garrett Doyle is one of the Irish construction workers who have moved to Poland to work on the country’s EU-funded infrastructure projects. He spoke to about his experience of emigration.

I’VE WORKED FOR Siac Construction in Clondalkin for the last ten years. But around early 2009, Siac would have seen a reduction in public expenditure on big projects – the National Development Plan was starting to be culled at that stage, even though the politicians weren’t saying it. But in Poland, there is a large expenditure on roads projects there ahead of the 2012 European championships. It’s in the billions of euro, and it’s European funded. Siac won a motorway project here in the south of Poland early last year.

There’s probably 10 to 15 of us Irish working here with Siac. My wife has moved out; one or two of the other Irish guys’ wives have moved out. We’ve two Irish subcontractors, they have their staff; I’d say there are maybe 40 Irish people on the motorway job. The project we’re working on is between the city of Tarnów and another town. There was no Irish community in Tarnów when we arrived. We’re it.

Initially the biggest challenge was probably the language. In Krakow, because of the tourism there would be a lot of English speakers. Whereas in Tarnów, going to the supermarkets, 90 per cent of the time the girl at the checkout doesn’t have any English. Or going to a bar, or to a restaurant. That was something that I wouldn’t have been used to – going on your holidays, or going abroad generally, people would usually have enough English that you could get by.

You would meet Polish people who have worked in Ireland. It’s funny, we’ve met a couple of Irish people that are back on their holidays to Tarnów with their Polish boyfriend or girlfriend – you’d be sitting having a beer in the evening and suddenly hear an Irish accent. But I wouldn’t say that the flow from Ireland to Poland will ever be what the flow in the other direction was.

My wife is working remotely for an Irish company. She sometimes does a week in the office at home, then a couple of weeks in Poland. But the broadband infrastructure here is such that working remotely isn’t a problem. The broadband here is very good, probably better than Ireland in a lot of cases.

Not to generalise, but Poland is probably where Ireland was 20 or 25 years ago. The Catholic church is still very strong. There’s Mass in the cathedral beside my house at six every morning, and there’s a reasonable crowd. There’s Mass five times on a Sunday, and every one gets a reasonable crowd. There are churches absolutely everywhere – and one thing you wouldn’t see in Ireland is the number of churches that are being built here at the moment. I can’t remember the last time I saw a church being built in Ireland; whereas here you still see it. You also see a lot of priests, a lot of nuns, and they’re young.

The culture around going out at night is quite different; it’s more continental. The social scene is sort of centred around the main square in the town, where there are a lot of bars and restaurants. It seems to be governed by the weather – if it’s a nice fine evening you’d have a big crowd in the square, whereas if it was raining you mightn’t have anyone. In Ireland I suppose people just go out on a Friday night, whether it’s rain, hail or snow.

Garrett Doyle is a construction manager with Siac in Tarnów, Poland.

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