How Many Croatians Live in Ireland?

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The Croatian diaspora spans the globe, but new trends are developing quicker than official statistics can track them. After TCN’s article Where is the Croatian Diaspora Located, we were contacted by Croatian Cork resident Lidija Ivanek SiLa about Ireland’s exclusion from the list. There has been a large Croatian influx into Ireland in the last couple of years, and Lidija reported back on her findings and observations about Croatia in Ireland on February 1, 2016. Great article, and welcome to TCN, Lidija!

Time is of no meaning in Ireland and yet, each and every one is constantly talking about time. In Ireland weather is a measure of time. Ireland is a place where even a curious expression “this weather” is used to mean “these days”. Now, with this in mind, it will be easier to understand that living on an island like Ireland means that you quickly forget about time, numbers and anything that you can count on. The only thing you can count on here is that it will rain, the sun will shine and the wind will blow – all in the same day and that you can’t be wrong with the forecast here, if you put all the symbols of all sorts of weather on the same day. Should we then measure time by the number of Croatians who moved to Ireland in the last couple of years, since Croatia became one of the EU countries?

That would be in some way the dilemma that was posed upon the first natural photographers who came to photograph wild animals in Africa. While bringing those beautiful photographs back to their countries – they were changing the fate of those animals, people and countries. Suddenly, the rest of the world wanted to come and see for themselves what they saw in the pictures. They invaded those countries with touristic hunger for personal experience and souvenirs, they left a huge impact on the native population. Nothing was the same ever again.

In a way that is how Ireland is changing right now. Immigration is ongoing. As I read somewhere, only in County Cork, there are 74 different nationalities. It is not the same Ireland that welcomed those few Croats that moved here immediately after the Croatian war for Independence in search of new jobs. They experienced more casual and friendlier surroundings. That is not to say that the Irish are not friendly, quite the opposite. I can’t talk about Dublin, as a big city I suppose it has its own behaviour, and is not like the rest of the country. County Cork, the largest and southernmost county in Ireland, still retains its friendly, polite way and openly welcomes strangers. Cork as the centre of the Rebel county, and very proud of its heritage, is different not only by its own rather complex accent, complicated history and continuous fights for freedom but as it is geographically settled down south, it was always a bit forgotten and certain bantering with Dublin still exists.

That reminds me of Split and Zagreb in lots of different ways. So, when one day we were briskly walking with our dog in the centre of Kinsale, it was completely normal that we overheard Croatian language spoken on the street. It stopped us in our walk, and as we addressed the young couple sitting on the small terrace in front of the Blue Haven hotel, it was surprisingly normal to hear the answer to our question: Jel mi to čujemo Hrvatski? (Is that Croatian that we hear). A, e. Ajd sidite na kavu. (A, e, come and sit down for coffee). This young couple from Split moved to Cork just a couple of months ago, he already found a job as a waiter and she is still looking. So there we were, as true Croatians always do, drinking coffee in Kinsale and chatting about everything like we were not in a foreign country on an island called Ireland.

In one or two recent years, Croats moved to Ireland in large numbers. I am more familiar with the IT sector, than other areas (my husband is an IT guy) and at first-hand I know that in IT companies around 50% of employees are foreigners, Croats also among them. Some of you would want to know exact numbers, but I am afraid that number is horrifyingly large. Horrifyingly as any number of people that are in some way forced to move their country because of all sorts of reasons, (and those are not including the pleasure of travelling and meeting new people) is horrifying.

It is a full year that we’ve lived here. When we arrived to Kinsale, a cute little town of some 2000 residents during the off season, and 7-8000 during the summer, beside us there was only one Croatian woman living here, our dear neighbour who has lived in Ireland for 10 years (she moved here from England). Now, there are at least a couple of new families in and around town. It is not possible to go to a store in Cork city and not meet some of the Croatians working there, or sit in a pub and not expect to hear familiar words.

Please do not find my next words offensive, it is my veterinarian background that annihilated in my mind certain borders between people and animals. So, here it goes, a long time ago, while I was at the University one odd sentence stuck in my mind till today: We can say that the number of rats in one area is measurable in tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, when we can see adult rats walking on the streets during the day time.

Well, with that thought in mind, I share another bit of information with you. Yesterday I overheard the news on radio RedFM, it was about an unfortunate incident that happened in Cork. One young Nigerian man, 21, beat up another young Croatian man, 25, with an iron bar. You see, numbers really don’t mean a thing. They can’t explain what actually happened. It is a sad thing when the news just reports nationalities, not to consider those two young man as Cork residents. They didn’t even explain what caused such a horrible outcome.

We can actually speculate with numbers, e.g. Croatian news shared information that the Croatian Catholic church started its mission centre in Dublin and there were 5000 people for the opening day. Contrary to general belief, we as Croatians are not all Catholics. So, let’s say that the number 5000 was correct and let’s say that at least 5000 more don’t care about the Catholic Church. Now we have at least 10000 Croatians living in Dublin. But, Dublin is not the whole of Ireland. If I can speculate further that in county Cork live another 5-6000 Croats and in the rest of the country maybe 4-5000, then we have number around 20000 people.

But that number doesn’t give you any information about how long we’ve lived here, how well we’ve become part of Ireland now. It doesn’t tell you
about our connections with our neighbours, our struggles with the language or, renting an apartment or finding a job, etc. The number doesn’t explain why even after 15 years living in Ireland, Igor still says that he calls Osijek, Croatia home. Numbers are for the politicians and stories are for the people. I would much rather talk about names, persons, people and their stories than about numbers.

I would rather talk with you about the Irishman from Cork who married a women from Zagreb, and for the sake of love, moved there and not the other way around. I know for a fact the same story about a guy from Cork who moved to Split. So, you see, we have lots of connections. Usually
Croats think about Irish that they are much like Croatians and that Ireland is Catholic as Croatia, but that is not exactly true for Ireland as it is not true for Croatia. In Ireland these days so many nations are living with many diverse religions, and to say that Ireland is Catholic is an opinion from the past. Generally speaking Irish are more polite, while Croatians are rude. If I need to look for connections I would say that we both have a complicated history with wars and fights for freedom.

We both have dialects in our language and we know what it means when another country wants to force upon us a foreign language. We love sports. We are excellent men of the sea. Both of our countries are very touristic and with gorgeous scenery, and so on. The connections are numerous, but to say that the Irish are the same as Croatians is not exactly true. In a way it is a good thing that
we are all very diverse. Our diversity is a starting point for creativity and progress.


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