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Culture  Arts

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igration is shaping the news cycle right now. We’ve endured a period of history punctuated by the rise of Donald Trump and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – just two Earth-shaking revelations among a series of political developments that have in some part been fuelled by antiimmigration sentiment. But as pundits have scrambled to make sense of this new world, often missing from the analysis is a sense of humanity. No migrants upend their lives to move to another country flippantly. Beneath raw data, governmental wrangling and right-wing tabloid scaremongering are a wide variety of human beings with their own stories to tell. For over three years, journalist Sorcha Pollak has helped migrants in Ireland tell theirs. ‘New to the Parish’, her weekly feature in The Irish Times, focuses on one person per instalment. Through the series, Pollak investigates the crevices of migrants’ lives and the challenges and opportunities that arise when attempting to integrate into Irish

life. The subjects have come from all over the world for a variety of reasons. But taken together, Pollak has created a fine composite of modern Ireland. It made sense, then, that the series become a book. New to the Parish: Stories of Love, War and Adventure from Ireland’s Immigrants was published by New Island earlier this year. Featuring some of the key pieces from Pollak’s series assembled next to one another, the writer’s prose give us a unqiue insight into the life of an immigrant in Ireland today.

Ambitions For Pollak, maybe it was something in the blood that led her down this path. Her parents and grandfather were all journalists. The easy narrative is that she followed them into the profession, though Pollak actually harboured the ambition to be an actor before finding herself drawn to journalism during her time studying in Trinity College. Later pitching up in London, Pollak took a job in The Guardian, where she developed an interest in stories focused on migration. Having returned to Ireland, the reporter began working in The Irish Times in January 2014, where she continued to delve into the topic. “It became apparent to me that this was an area I really wanted to cover and it was an area that was quite new in Ireland,” she tells me. Pollak’s interest in migration has been in part inspired by her grandfather. Stephen Pollak arrived in Ireland as a refugee from Czechoslovakia in 1948. Though a communist party sympathiser – he operated as a courier for the organisation – Stephen found himself on the sharp end of its power. Threatened by secret police after penning some material that angered the party, he moved to Ballymena, Co Antrim and, having previously formed a relationship with an Irishwoman, landed on the doorstep of a conservative, Presbyterian family. “I open in the book about the fact that this tiny community – a very conservative Presbyterian community that my grandmother came from – they opened their arms to this Jewish, Czech, communist-sympathising man who could not have been more foreign to them,” says Pollak. “He spoke with a strong accent, his politics were different, his religion was different, everything was different about him and they welcomed him in.”

Dispelling Stigmas Author and journalist Sorcha Pollak

The column started in July 2015, after the Irish Times’ Róisín Ingle, identifying there was a colleague in the office with an interest in migration, came to Pollack with the idea. Initially, New to the Parish was intended to be just a summer series of about eight pieces or so. But feeling it had legs, the pair went to then-Irish Times editor Kevin O’Sullivan about continuing the column until Christmas. From there, the series has continued to run. Pollak’s first task was to find people to feature. Starting out, she spent a day emailing every organisation in the country that was working with communities from abroad. “It’s funny actually, very few stories came through those emails but that’s how I started,”

“[MY] IDEA OF BEING A NATIONALITY OR BEING A CITIZEN OF A PLACE HAS EVOLVED... THROUGH CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE COME HERE SEEKING ASYLUM, FOR WORK, FOR EDUCATION AND END UP STAYING FOR WHATEVER REASON.”

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Profile for Ashville Media Group

Better Business Q3 2018  

Official magazine of Small Firms Association

Better Business Q3 2018  

Official magazine of Small Firms Association