Polish Greenpoint Reminds Irishman of Home

When Rob McDonagh immigrated last month to the U.S. from his native Ireland, he did not settle in Woodlawn in the Bronx, as many Irish immigrants do, where pubs, “shamrocks and apostrophes after the O are in plentiful supply.”

Instead, he followed friends to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, which “is to the Polish what Woodlawn is to the Irish.” In an article for Irish Central, McDonagh reflects on the charms, and perhaps even nostalgia, of living among Polish-Americans.

“I love the tackiness of it: tarot readers and ‘God Bless Deli,’ alongside Citibank and Chase.” (Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons License)

Along the long and narrow Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint the signs on the stores read ‘Poland Farm Fruit and Vegetables’, ‘Polonia Ksiegarna’ (bookshop), ‘Stokrotka Perfumes’ and ‘Polski Meat Market’. They are nestled in among shops with more American sounding names, ‘Beverly Hills Hair Salon’ or ‘Russ’ Pizza.

Awnings adorned with Slavic words – words for which I’d need expert guidance to try to pronounce – punctuate the regular small American chain stores. Above the humdrum Radio Shack, Sofia, the resident ‘wrozka’ (‘fairy’), a psychic and tarot reader, advertises in neon.

Greenpoint in North Brooklyn is, above all else, a Polish neighborhood.

But living among Poles reminds McDonagh of Ireland.

Greenpoint, similar to pre-boom inner-city Dublin, is littered with old factories, warehouse buildings and loft-spaces primed to be re-envisioned by architects and city-planners – I just hope such visions include the community as it stands now, and that the right balance is reached. Moreover, I hope the Polish community remains in Greenpoint.

In 2011, the Polish in Ireland superseded the British as the largest non-national community in the state. They are now part of the genetic landscape back home. Many, of course, are returning to Poland from Ireland, their hand forced by the recession or attracted by Poland’s emerging industries, but there are many who will stay, having carved out a life in Ireland. Whatever the case, the Irish are more familiar with the Poles than most other nationalities.

McDonagh spoke to Grace Steite, 24, an Irish immigrant of French and Lebanese descent, who offered a few theories on why the Poles and the Irish might get along miles away from their native countries.

The light is dimming for the evening and we sit peering out the window across at a Polish restaurant, a unisex hairdressers, an army surplus store and ‘fine jewellery’ store which looks far from fine itself. “I love the tackiness of it: tarot readers and ‘God Bless Deli’, alongside Citibank and Chase.”

“There are no tourists in Greenpoint, so the locals are less cynical perhaps. People are friendlier to one another. And I just find the area so entertaining. And I like that we can get-on well with the Poles, purely because we’re European really”.

Indeed, hearing the Polish accents provides a certain home-comfort, despite not knowing the language. There is an understanding because we’re all European. We don’t know what a ‘half-a-cup’ means and neither do they. We’re not quite sure what to call a duvet here and neither are they.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Little Poland Just Like Dublin: Happy St. Patrick’s Day From Apollo St! | Greenpointers

  2. ALICE SULLIVAN says:

    PLEASE NOTE THEIR ARE IRISH STILL LIVING IN GREENPONT, MANY LEFT BUT WE ARE STILL HERE, DIV.#6 LADIES ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS ARE STILL HERE IN GREENPOINT AN ARE ACTIVE WE ARE VERY PROUD OF OUR HEREDITAGE “GREEN IS STILL HERE”

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