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In Poland, Irish soft power beats influence of France or Germany


Polish fans in Dublin ahead of an Ireland v Poland soccer match in 2015. Links between the two nations date back to at least 1693, when a Kerryman became personal physician to the king of Poland. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Polish fans in Dublin ahead of an Ireland v Poland soccer match in 2015. Links between the two nations date back to at least 1693, when a Kerryman became personal physician to the king of Poland. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Polish fans in Dublin ahead of an Ireland v Poland soccer match in 2015. Links between the two nations date back to at least 1693, when a Kerryman became personal physician to the king of Poland. Photo: Caroline Quinn

In times when France and Germany are hectoring other countries on what it means to be a good European, it is worth noting that it was Ireland, Britain and Sweden that first removed all restrictions on eastern Europeans.

In fact, Germany and France imposed much harsher restrictions on eastern European immigrants than any European country put on any migrants last year.

In 2003, then French president Jacques Chirac attacked countries hoping to join the EU, saying they missed a great opportunity to "shut up".

But when it comes to how Ireland is perceived in Poland, Irish soft power prevails over French or German hard power.

For example, the prominent journalist Rafal Ziemkiewicz devoted the entire 45 minutes of his TV programme 'Kontrowersje' to the Great Famine.

After all, in America, where the "Know Nothing" movement was attacking the civil rights of Irish Catholics, the Pole Wiktor Karlowski - a journalist and writer - decided to fight against the anti-Irish sentiment in the US, and in 1886, he even published, at his own expense, a brochure in Chicago called 'How The Irish Lost Their Land'.

Even earlier, in 1693, a persecuted Irish Catholic, Kerryman Bernard O'Connor, emigrated to Poland, where he became a personal doctor to the most powerful Polish king ever - Jan Sobieski III.

Grzegorz Kolodziej

Bray, Co Wicklow

Drama honoured 1916 hero

A hushed hall with only the stage lights revealing a solitary forlorn figure awaiting death by firing squad provided the backdrop to the final showing of the 1916 commemorative drama 'Ó Pheann an Phiarsaigh' by Noel Ó Gallchóir in Halla na Paróiste Gort A' Choirce on the evening of December 28, 2016.

This was an honourable and selfless achievement by a man who to all intent and purposes shuns the spotlight, apart from when it shines directly on him as he re-enacted Pádraig Anraí Mac Piarais's life, from the cradle to the grave. Pádraig was an Irish teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist and political activist, and one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. Noel exemplified his life on the same stage where Pádraig may have stood on the second of his two visits, when he last came in 1912; the first was in 1906.

Noel's brother, Sagart an Pharóiste, an tAthar Sean (Johnny Shean) Ó Gallchoir acted as Fear an Tí for the evening, which began with haunting Gaelic music and the words, 'Mise Éire' opening the one-man play.

The sound of a pin dropping would have echoed like thunder had it happened as Noel narrated his way through an hour-and-a-half of memorised script containing in the region of 10,000 words that pieced together this entire dramatic accomplishment.

His only pause was to take a few sips of water to revitalise the vocal chords.

A captivated audience listened intently as they took in every word that flowed effortlessly in a beguiling narrative of an Phiarsaigh's life in the Teanga Duchás from Noel.

Noel, accompanied by his wife Olive (who only missed two showings), criss-crossed all 32 counties accruing a tally of 60 showings in the process, which included one in Glasgow.

Noel's interest in Piarais's life was shaped through a lifetime of teaching history and Gaelic, where one of his tasks was to aid students researching Irish history for their Leaving Cert exams.

He spent the last 17 years of his career as principal of Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair.

This was an evening of culture, tradition and remembrance in every sense of the word that brought to an end the many important historical events that were held throughout the country to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising.

It has revitalised interest in a very much unexpressed but important history that had far-reaching implications for liberty and independence on the world stage. This historic drama has been recorded, and the recording is available to the public. I would expect a play of such historical significance would be shown on RTÉ or TG4 in the not too distant future.

It was left to the cream of talented sean nós singers and musicians born and raised in the Donegal Gaeltacht to bring the evening to a close.

They had the crowd in awe as they sang one of Piarais's songs 'Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile' plus other songs that had people swaying and tapping their feet in perfect unison.

Every cent raised on the night was donated to the Donegal Hospice.

James Woods

Gort an Choirce, Dún na nGall

A sound bit of research

Apparently, new research tells us that Guinness can combat hearing loss. Pint taken.

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

Every life is worth celebrating

The year 2016 saw the passing of some immensely talented singers, writers, comedians and broadcasters.

I bought a copy of Anthony Cronin's novel 'The Life of Riley' three weeks before he died.

I watched Debbie Reynolds in that iconic scene from 'Singing in the Rain' just two days before she died.

I always liked the haunting music of Leonard Cohen. Alan Rickman was first class, I thought, in the 'Michael Collins' film, and I'll never forget Zsa Zsa Gábor in the series 'Green Acres', which I loved to watch as child on a black-and-white TV.

These and others are such a loss to their professions and to humanity.

But I can't help feeling that the attention given to celebrities in death, as in life, can completely overshadow the lives of the people who pass away with scarcely a word written or broadcast about them.

I've just got the local parish newsletter and I've read through a long list of people who died during the year: all precious human beings to their friends and loved ones, each death a staggering loss.

Each one of the names on the "departure list", if I may call it that, means the world to at least one other person. He or she is a star, shining brightly in remembrance as surely as any of the ones that light up a crisp winter's sky.

Life is so precious and so vulnerable that surely everyone's stint on this planet is worthy of celebration, even if one hasn't achieved celebrity status as categorised by those who define such things.

John Fitzgerald

Callan, Co Kilkenny

Irish Independent