It’s estimated around 20,000 Croatians live in Ireland. And I keep hearing more and more about people moving to the Emerald Isle. I find this interesting as an American of Irish ancestry, I grew up in a family in which Ireland was the place everyone moved, not to, but from.
My family hails from Northern Ireland, but at the time of my family’s immigration to the US in 1911, the whole Island was under British rule. I don’t know the particulars behind my great-grandfather’s decision to sail to the US and then later send for his wife, daughter, and son, my grandfather. I just assumed it was similar to all the stories the Irish, and Irish Americans share about leaving Ireland: poverty and an absence of opportunity.
An economic miracle
And that’s why it’s so strange to hear Croatians talking about moving to Ireland. It’s a story that runs contrary to the narrative countless Irish-Americans have been telling themselves for over a hundred years. But, it’s true! Economically, Ireland looks great. A country with a population that’s slightly larger than Croatia’s, Ireland has a GDP of 300 billion dollars! That’s 65000 dollars per capita!
Of course it hasn’t always been this way. Ireland used to be quite poor. In 1960, the island’s GDP was just 1.6 billion dollars or 685 dollars per capita. That’s the Ireland I heard songs about. Songs that were all about everyone leaving and an Ireland that sounds a lot like how people talk about Croatia, as a place that tragically, many flee.
Thousands are sailing
Look at this line from The Pogues song ‘Thousands are Sailing.’ It sounds like something that could be written about Croatians and Croatia: ‘Wherever we go, we celebrate the land that makes us refugees.’ In the 1970s, my grandfather received a letter from our family saying that the whole family was packing up and moving to Australia. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Narratives are powerful things. The stories we tell about ourselves about the world can act like pedestals or prisons, lifting us up or limiting us. The story I knew about Ireland was one of crushing poverty, political violence, and opportunities as bleak as the country’s overcast skies. The stories I hear about Croatia are often similar. But, somehow Ireland has changed its story. A small, proud country, that was known forever as a place people used to leave has become an economic marvel people now flock to.
Perhaps, Croatia can learn from Ireland. Maybe we could listen to their story, hear what twists and turns the country took to alter its fate. And from that Irish tale, which must be similar to the Croatia’s story, we could change the Croatian narrative, turning our story and our country into a land that our daughters can celebrate, without having to first flee.