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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » February 25, 2011
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Shared Sensibilities
February 25, 2011   
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Ireland’s ambassador to Poland, Eugene Hutchinson, talks to Ewa Hancock.

You have been in Poland for half a year. What are your impressions of the country?
My wife Adele and I arrived in Warsaw in September, in time to enjoy your golden autumn. We are still very much newcomers, and have spent most of our limited time here setting ourselves up. Aside from the friendliness of Poles, my strongest initial impression was of the great weight of history that permeates Warsaw. This has made me very conscious of the trauma and devastation that Warsaw has endured, particularly during World War II. And yet it is now a thriving, modern metropolis, full of energy and optimism. I have also been struck by the phoenix-like restoration of the Old Town. Warsaw’s cultural life is also impressive; Adele and I look forward to having more opportunities to enjoy this.

Of course, Poland is not just Warsaw. This vast and diverse country is four times the size of the island of Ireland, and has a population about six times as large. During our brief visits to Poznań, Cracow and Wrocław, we were very impressed by the energy we found. And then there are the huge stretches of farmland and the many small towns and villages which constitute in some ways the Polish heartland. We are looking forward to getting to know Poland much better and to appreciating more fully its history and culture. This is a particularly exciting time in Poland’s development, especially given its leadership role later this year when it assumes the EU presidency.

What similarities do you see between Poland and Ireland?
On arrival in Poland, I quickly became aware of strong affinities. This fact has often been mentioned to me by Polish friends. In the historical context—and not wishing to overstate this—both Poland and Ireland have a strong sense of nationhood, forged by turbulent histories and long struggles for self-determination. I also feel that the Irish and Polish share a deep commitment to family values. We are also linked by the common experience of emigration over the last two centuries or so. More recently, our links have strengthened through the many Poles who came to live and work in Ireland. They have integrated very successfully into Irish society. In fact, a significant survey showed that in general Poles in Ireland have done very well financially and are very satisfied there. Notwithstanding the economic downturn in Ireland, we still estimate that there may be up to 180,000 Polish citizens living happily there.

Both countries have benefitted significantly from EU membership. When we joined in 1973, Ireland was primarily an agricultural economy. EU membership facilitated the growth, diversification and modernisation of our economy and infrastructure. I sense that Poland is going through a similar process of rapid economic change, making it a fascinating time to live and work here.

What is the situation with the Irish economy now?
Clearly, Ireland has faced severe economic challenges over the last three years. These arose as a result of the global economic downturn exacerbated by a collapse in the property market which impacted severely on our banking system. These challenges are being dealt with decisively, for example, in reducing our budget deficit and stabilising public finances. Recent positive economic indicators are encouraging and highlight the inherent strengths of the Irish economy. Our exports are performing very strongly and our economic recovery is being export-led. Competitiveness has been restored to the economy; unemployment has started to fall and the World Bank ranks Ireland as the ninth best country in the world in which to do business. There is every reason to be confident about our economic future. I have no doubt that we will emerge from this current difficult period of readjustment with a stronger and fitter economy.

Irish culture is best known in Poland for its music. Will the embassy be involved in any cultural events in the near future?
We have a full programme underway already. In January, we staged a traditional Irish music concert with Warsaw-based Irish musician John Lillis and the visiting McCague brothers. We also plan a number of autumn performances of traditional Irish music by a leading Irish harpist, in Warsaw and other cities. UNESCO recently named Dublin a World City of Literature, a fitting tribute to the city of Swift, Stoker, Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, Roddy Doyle and many other great writers. We are very proud of this and will be bringing Irish writers and writing to Poland this year.

In June the acclaimed Irish author John Banville, a Booker Prize-winner, will, we hope, take part in the Miłosz festival and read in Warsaw, Cracow and Wrocław. We hope also to have a theatre/lecture performance of The Science of Flann O’Brien, the hilarious Irish writer. We also plan celebrations of James Joyce and Brendan Behan, in collaboration with Polish partners. In September, a leading young poet will perform at the Spoke’N’Word performance poetry event in Warsaw. In March, we will celebrate the Irish language with Seachtain na Gaeilge (Week of Irish Language) in Poznań. We will also promote Irish at the European Day of Languages in Warsaw. Irish film will be on show in the Night Before Summer film festival in June. These are almost always public events and we are delighted to welcome new friends, so anybody who wants further information, please contact us on 022 849 66 33 or maurice.odonnel@dfa.ie
Also, many Irish cultural events are organised independently throughout Poland by Polish hibernophiles. In particular, I commend the Irish Cultural Foundation in Poznań

What would you say is Ireland’s biggest tourism asset?
In my view, our greatest tourism asset is our people. This view is shared by the readers of Frommers Guidebooks who voted Ireland as their top tourist destination for 2011, citing the friendliness of the people as a primary attraction. Ireland offers a wide spectrum of interests and activities. Visitors are attracted by our rich cultural and literary heritage, the many sporting opportunities such as fishing and golf as well as the ‘ceoil agus craic’ (the music, chat and fun to be found in our many traditional pubs and festivals).

A visit to Ireland offers many opportunities to get a sense of our history. This could include viewing the Neolithic tombs in the Boyne Valley which are around 5,000 years old, exploring early Christian monastic settlements such as Glendalough, visiting a medieval castle or admiring the elegant Georgian architecture of Dublin. A timely visit could be made to Belfast, which will soon commemorate the centenary of the launch of the ill-fated Titanic.

No visit would be complete without a tour of the Irish countryside, which is much admired with its gentle rolling hills of many shades of green, meandering rivers and, in total contrast, the dramatic and rugged Atlantic coastline or the barren beauty of the Burren. I encourage people to come and sample all that Ireland has to offer. Access is very easy with flights from many Polish cities. Tourists will find Ireland a good value destination with high quality accommodation and excellent food at very reasonable prices. Justyna Schramm of Tourism Ireland will be delighted to help visitors plan their itinerary in Ireland and can be contacted at jschramm@tourismireland.com or by phoning 61 855 32 26.
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