Magazine article Newsweek International

Not My Grandmother's Ireland

Magazine article Newsweek International

Not My Grandmother's Ireland

Article excerpt

Recently I took two American friends to visit a 200-year-old pub, high in the Dublin mountains and famous for its ballads and ancient rebel connections. A "real" Irish experience, in other words. "That doesn't sound like an Irish accent," muttered one of my guests after a waiter took our order for Guinness and mussels. Nor was it. The server was in fact from Bosnia, the woman who emptied the ashtrays was a Filipina and the guys stacking beer crates out back were Chinese.

It's all part of a changing Ireland, long a homogeneous place where the only foreign residents tended to be proprietors of Italian cafes (every town had one). In summer Dublin was packed with students from Spain who came in droves to learn English but hung out instead in large groups chattering in Spanish. Ireland was virtually an all-white country when I was a child, half a century ago. The first person of color I ever saw was a Pakistani door-to-door salesman selling ties and underwear from a suitcase. When Muhammad Ali came to Dublin in 1972 to fight Al (Blue) Lewis, he looked around the welcoming crowd and asked, "Where are all my soul sisters?" It was left to Michael Keane of the Irish Press to inform him that the only black people in the Irish capital were foreign medical students at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Today, Dublin boasts a "Little Africa" crowded with thousands of refugees from Nigeria and other African countries. Many towns have small populations of asylum-seekers from Romania to Rwanda. About 500 Brazilians have settled in the remote western town of Ballaghaderreen, working in the poultry industry; the County Mayo radio station broadcasts to them in Portuguese. Russian and Romanian news sheets publish in Dublin, and the Chinese have their own newspaper called Shining Emerald Isle. Thanks to the roaring "Celtic Tiger" economy, Ireland is now a place of immigration rather than emigration. …

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