Greenpoint - When Irish and Polish cultures meet in New York City


Boom-time regeneration projects in Dublin usually meant offices and new apartments, usually at high prices, and amenities, such as the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, catering for everyone except the people who were already living there. 

Last year, Smithfield’s regeneration was all but declared a failure, with the cinema forced to close for several months before being taken over by Element Pictures. We were assured it would undergo a ‘reinvigoration’. 

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In 2011, the Polish in Ireland superseded the British as the largest non-national community in the state.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.

I met Grace Steite, a 24 year old Irish emigrant of French and Lebanese descent, in a warm coffee shop on a damp Sunday. 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.”

“Down in Williamsburg there's a feeling like you're expected to dress well, people avoid eye-contact, as they do in Manhattan. It's a big city thing – there's less of a village-feel there, largely due to the tourists in the area. 

“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.

I can hear the Angelus sounding from the local church, and I picture awkward actors pausing for silent reflection before the Six One news, looking out a bleak office window, down at a bag of hammers, or perhaps at a crisp packet tumbling slowly with the breeze.

I can take comfort in these things, as well as get decent pint down the local mini-consulate two blocks away. It wasn't too hard to find. I think I'll be staying in Greenpoint for a while yet.

Read more news on Irish immigration here