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Column: Poland turns green early as it waits for Irish fans

On the eve of St Patrick’s Day and ahead of Euro 2012, Warsaw-based journalist Liam Nolan describes a city ready to embrace Irish culture, traditions…and, of course, football fans.

Liam Nolan

ST PATRICK’S DAY celebrations are in vogue these days.

The event to mark our patron saint has become a global celebration and everybody gets an invite. The main calendar shindig at home, and abroad amongst Irish communities in the UK, North America and Australia, is now finding a foothold in new locations. In Poland, seven cities are marking the week with a series of events to celebrate Irish-Polish cultural and business ties.

Tomorrow, citizens of Warsaw may stop and wonder why their city’s tallest building, the Palace of Culture and Science, is lit in emerald green. The ‘greening’ of Warsaw’s most iconic structure is the brainchild of Tourism Ireland, which tomorrow will splash some of the world’s most famous buildings in green light, as part of its ‘Global Greening’ campaign to promote Ireland as a holiday destination.

“We think that people will immediately link the ‘greening’ with Saint Patrick’s Day because the event is so popular here,” said Justyna Schramm, Tourism Ireland Representative for Poland.

Schramm added that there has been “huge interest” from the Polish media surrounding the planned ‘greening’ of the Palace, a building that is both liked and disliked by Varsovians. An archetypal example of socialist realist architecture, the ‘Palac’ was built between 1952 and 1955 and is Poland’s tallest building.

Poznan’s Miejski Stadium, where the Republic of Ireland will play two of its Euro 2012 group matches, will also be given a rub of green light today and tomorrow as part of the same campaign.

“We liked the project, it’s very visible. We’re hosting Euro 2012 and not using the context of Saint Patrick’s Day would have been a mistake”, said Damian Zalewski, media relation’s officer for the Mayor’s Office in Poznan. Zalewski added that the ‘greening’ of Stadion Miejski is a “signal that we are waiting for Irish fans”.

Pitching Ireland

Tourism Ireland in Poland has been promoting Ireland as a holiday destination since 2005. Starting with only two tour operators, the company is now marketing Ireland through eight of Poland’s largest tour operators including industry leaders Itaka and Opal Travel.

Due to Ireland’s reputation as an expensive holiday destination, Justyna Schramm said that the country is “not an easy destination to sell, but that it is progressing” in Poland. She added that Ireland has become quite popular with Polish anglers and that the staging of the 50th International Eucharistic Conference in Dublin’s Phoenix Park this summer will see sizeable numbers of Polish pilgrims travel to Ireland for the event.

Dancin’ and chattin’

A host of cultural events to mark Saint Patrick’s Day have been arranged in seven Polish cities with the support of the Irish Embassy in Poland, and Poznan based Fundacja Kultury Irlandzkiej, an institute dedicated to promoting Irish culture in Poland.

Theatre performances, concerts, lectures and screenings of Irish films are among the events being staged in Poznan, Lodz, Lublin, Kalisz and Wroclaw. In Krakow, an Irish dancing féis will hit the floorboards and on Saint Patrick’s night, Fundacja Swieta Patrykia, the Saint Patrick Foundation, will hold a charity ball in Warsaw.

… Agus cúpla focal

The allure of learning one of Europe’s oldest languages has enticed some Polish university students to study Gaeilge. Poznan’s University Adam Mickiewicz and Lublin’s John Paul II Catholic University, both offer Irish courses as part of their English and Celtic language degree syllabus.

This week, both universities held a number of special lectures on the Irish language, songs and archeology as well as Irish literature from the Middle Ages.

Patrick McCafferty, who teaches the Irish language to forty-five students at UAM, Poznan said that his students have “a nostalgic affection for minority languages”, and in particular Celtic languages. “They want to learn them, preserve them and keep the languages alive,” said McCafferty.

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Cementing relations

Barack Obama will not be the only Head of State to receive a morsel of Irish sod this week. Yesterday, Irish Ambassador Eugene Hutchinson presented a crystal bowl of shamrocks to Jacek Michalowski, Head of Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, in honour of the Polish community in Ireland.

“The illumination of some of Poland’s best-known buildings in green, and the many Irish cultural activities taking place in Poland around St Patrick’s Day, demonstrates the strong and friendly links between our two countries,” said Eugene Hutchinson, Irish Ambassador to Poland.

On the business front, Enterprise Ireland gave a seminar on cloud computing in the Warsaw Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

A small vanguard

According to the Irish Embassy in Warsaw, there are approximately four hundred registered Irish citizens living in Poland. However, the real number, which is prone to periods of fluctuation, could be as high as one thousand. Many Irish nationals are currently employed with Irish construction firms on a number of motorway projects, part of the Polish government’s plans to modernise its road network in time for Euro 2012.

The weather, of course, is not so easy to export. St Patrick’s Day throughout Poland is expected to be sunny and hit 20 degrees Celsius in places, which may be slightly at odds with the traditional rainy front at home.

Liam Nolan is a film and TV-programme maker and writer based in Warsaw, Poland. Read more from him at liamnolanmedia.com

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