What attending Catholic school in Ireland is like for a child of a Polish immigrant

Martina grew up in Dublin in the early 2000s as the child of a Polish immigrant, an experience, which she says, was not easy.

Written by Martina Czerwinska


My name is Martina and I am 21 years old. I am a social care level 8 full-time student at TUD Blanchardstown campus in addition to being a full-time mum to my daughter Cecelia. 

My experience of growing up in Dublin in the early 2000s as the child of a Polish immigrant was not easy, nor was it pleasant. Foreign migration into Ireland really only began in the late 1990s, so I guess you can say I was the first of the few “foreign” children to appear in a Catholic Irish school. 

Lunchtime ignorance

My parents would often make me a lunch consisting of Polish food. This of course sparked chatter around me and I would often have my classmates make fun of my lunch, make faces at it and act as if it was diseased. I was so young back then I did not understand why I was excluded and made fun of daily. This was my first encounter with cultural ignorance, which naturally I was too young to understand. Throughout my years of growing up in this country, I had sadly come across much more cultural ignorance than most would suspect. 

Identity questions

During my early teenage years, I began picking up a strong Dublin accent. Almost everyone I had come across initially thought I was Irish until I myself mentioned I wasn’t. Some would argue that because I grew up in this country, I am Irish – whilst others very quickly would turn quite cold towards me and tell me, my parents have “stolen their jobs.” 

I think from speaking to other ethnic minorities in this country I can safely say we have all heard this at least once. Due to all of the backlash I would receive in school over being Polish, I had begun to feel ashamed of my identity. I wouldn’t answer the phone to my parents in public as I didn’t want anyone to hear me speaking Polish. 

I most certainly would not be caught accompanying my parents to the Polish shop nor would I bring Polish food for lunch. Oftentimes I would bin it on the way to school to try to avoid the negative comments about “how my school bag smells” or “how my food looks dirty.” 

Polish Pride

Growing up in this country I felt I couldn’t be myself. Instead, I had to try to be as Irish as possible to try to experience some sort of normality or equality. It was not ‘cool’ to be a foreigner; it was an embarrassment, as many of us grew up feeling. As I matured, I became proud of my Identity, but with this came a deeper awareness of cultural ignorance and racism.  

Fear of the unknown

The streets of Dublin for many years were filled with hatred, racism and ignorance. Unnecessary acts of violence were being carried out. I have witnessed people having racial slurs thrown at them just for simply walking down the street, halal restaurants having bricks thrown through their windows, and workplaces putting bans on the usage of ‘foreign languages’ being spoken within the workplace. 

This is quite sad to see, as it is discrimination caused by a fear of the unknown. Although I have not had a positive experience living in Ireland, I would like to hope that not everyone shares this kind of experience in this country. 

Diverse Dublin

I would love to see Ireland, and Dublin especially being the capital city, become a much more culturally diverse place. Dublin itself is a city full of history, full of wonderful opportunities and beautiful scenery. I would like to see different cultures incorporated more into this city and its everyday life. 

Promoting religious/cultural celebrations within our communities is something I would appreciate seeing, as it would be an opportunity for all members of our community to include themselves and really gain knowledge about the various cultures within their own communities. 

As I said above it is my opinion that people fear what they don’t know, and so an important first step in my opinion would be extensive and ongoing community participation in hopes of tackling the issues of underrepresentation of some ethnic identities. 

An important piece of advice I would give to people thinking of visiting Ireland is to prepare for people speaking fairly fast here and with thick accents, but nothing that Google Translate can’t help with!

This is part of a collection of lived experience pieces from young people about living in Ireland, while experiencing racism and navigating identity and belonging called Fresh Éire which is available to watch and read here.

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