SPECIAL OCCASION With travel restrictions lifted, Kilmeena man Ruairi Duffy returned from his home in Poland to watch his club win the All-Ireland Junior club title on Sunday in Croke Park.
I moved full-time to Poland in March 2001. I was working with an Irish company, S3, since finishing college, and they had opened an office in Wroclaw around late 1999. I was asked to go out initially for two years to help build up the team and office, and I ended up staying with them until 2008. In the meantime, I had bought an apartment and got married and live there to this day. I’d also realised at that stage that I was never going to ‘play county’, and so it made sense to stay put!
Wroclaw (pronounced Vrots-waff) is Poland’s fourth-largest city, located in the south-west. It has everything you need in a small city and has a great mix of cultures and influences from its history. Ryanair flies direct from Dublin; I’d recommend it to anyone for a visit. Great people, food, culture and craic to be had. The Poles are similar to the Irish in a lot of ways, and you’ll never go hungry if you visit a Polish home.
To a certain extent, like in every country, the Covid-19 restrictions took some getting used to. As I was generally travelling between Poland and the Netherlands during the pandemic with work, I needed to always be checking up on and adhering to the specific local restrictions.
All team sports stopped. As I get older, my sport is mainly running, and I could do this throughout the pandemic (excluding injury). I also bought a home bike trainer, and this has proven to be a really good purchase. It gives me another option for doing some exercise.
Prior to the pandemic, our local GAA team might meet up for matches in the local pub and this was stopped during Covid. It’s something that was a loss, especially where you need to work to maintain the sense of local Irish community and connection to the club.
The current prime minister is from Wroclaw, and whilst his government attract a lot of criticism (justifiably in my view in a lot of cases), they handled the pandemic as well as possible I think. It is easy to criticise, and in hindsight things in many countries could have been done differently, but as one of my work colleagues described communist times in his youth, ‘It is hard to be normal in abnormal times’.
[…] We had similar lockdowns and restrictions as Ireland in Poland and also in the Netherlands where I work, with pubs, cafés, restaurants and other areas closed. Working remotely was encouraged where possible, and for a time face masks were mandatory when walking outside.
The vaccine uptake was not as high as in Ireland; I believe it was approximately 60 percent in Poland overall. There could be many reasons for this low figure, ranging from lukewarm government encouragement on the vaccine, mixed messages from government ministers, somewhat low levels of support from healthcare workers and a significant mistrust in the government and government institutions from the people.
This mistrust stems from the polarising political position the current government seems to have taken since coming to power a number of years ago. This is unfortunate as Poland suffered one of the highest death rates from Covid in Europe. Seeing my neighbours recently having to deal with the death of their son from the illness is very difficult and there are no words you can offer in these situations. As a person recently said in this paper – ‘there is no vaccine for grief’.
One significant difference I felt with living in Poland and the Netherlands during the pandemic was that we did not seem to have the wall to wall Covid coverage in the daily media like in Ireland. There was not a constant reminder of the death numbers, hospitalisations etc on the daily news bulletins. Levels of Covid are still high in Poland, but people seem to be moving back to a more normal daily life and restaurants, bars, gyms, ski resorts and public areas are once again open or opening up.
Whilst there are differences in how the respective governments and countries handled Covid, what we can see in common is the strong sense of community and human spirit to overcome and deal with adversity. There are learnings and positivity to take from this … maybe not immediately but in time to come. We have a personal choice whether to look back and be negative or look back and take learnings from this and build positives from what we learned.
As an avid Mayo GAA supporter, I look forward to the day when Covid, talk of curses and years of pain are a part of the past. Keep the faith!
In conversation with Michael Duffy.
Just briefly. . .
What’s the best thing about living abroad?
New cultures always provide a great learning experience … It is also fairly easy to jump into the car and head to a different country for a holiday or weekend away.
What would you like to export from Mayo?
The fry from Sean Kelly’s, a creamy pint from Blousers and the random chats and craic you can end up having with people at club and county matches.
What do you miss most about home?
Not being able to easily attend GAA matches, the craic with friends you grew up with and limited family time.
Favourite place to visit in Mayo?
Westport and surrounding areas. It has everything.
What’s your most prized possession?
A 1972 Volkswagen Beetle. My Grandfather, Johnny Duffy always had one when I was young and my uncle Jimmy is a big Volkswagen and vintage-car expert. The car has a sense of character and is fairly easy to hotwire if you lose the key … my Knockrooskey cousins taught me this trick!
What’s your happy place in Poland?
Working in the garden at home and sitting on the garden bench having a beer with my retired neighbour, Mr Kowalczyk. He is a former master craftsman in Polish Railway and still has a great eye for detail, and he is always working away in his workshop next to the house.