Czechs ride on the back of the Celtic Tiger

For decades, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Europe, and its dire economic situation meant that many young Irish emigrants moved abroad in search of work. Now, however, the situation has been completely reversed. A sustained economic boom means that foreign workers including thousands of Czechs are now flocking to Ireland in search of employment. In Dublin alone, there are now so many people from the Czech Republic living there that a Czech bar has even opened up to cater for them. In this edition of Panorama, we pay a visit to Ireland's first Czech pub.

In a packed bar, just a stone’s throw away from Dublin Castle, it’s possible for us to order a small glass of Guinness in Czech. That’s because we’re standing in the Czech Inn, a pub that caters for the large Czech population that now lives in the Irish capital.

Thanks to its “Celtic Tiger” status as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, Ireland has been struggling with a labour shortage generated by the success of its economic boom.

Consequently, many Czechs have been moving to Ireland over the past decade attracted by the prospect of well-paid work in the country. This large-scale migration has been particularly evident since 2004, when Ireland was just one of three countries to open its borders to migrant workers from the European Union’s 10 newest member states.

Manager Petr Kruliš came up with the idea of opening the Czech Inn when he realised that there was such a large population of Czechs living in Dublin who might like to go to a pub that would serve as “a home from home”.

Although the hostelry was originally established as a Czech bar, he says that many of Dublin’s equally large Slovak population are now coming to the pub in their droves and that the establishment has a very strong Czechoslovak identity despite the fact that the two countries went their separate ways 15 years ago:

“I’m happy the place is called the Czech Inn, because it is a Czech bar, but of course you get both Czechs and Slovaks coming in here. So in fact, it’s practically a Czechoslovak bar. For me it makes no difference if there are Slovaks or Czechs here. You hear Czechs and Slovaks mixing quite normally here. Nobody really cares who is Czech and who is Slovak. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, you feel more differences between the nationalities nowadays, but here – when we are abroad in Dublin in this Czechoslovak bar – these differences fade away and I think this is a good thing.

Besides selling typically Czech spirits like Slivovice and Becherovka, as well as having several Czech beers such as Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus on tap, this Dublin hostelry also has many Czech and Slovaks working behind the bar to ensure that patrons enjoy a truly authentic Czechoslovak experience.

There are even four Czech chefs working in the pub’s kitchen, which means that there are always plenty of typical Bohemian, Moravian and Slovak specialities on offer. Petr Kruliš again:

“I think our best seller is ‘smažený sýr” or deep-fried cheese in breadcrumbs. The next thing would be a traditional ‘bramborák’ or potato pancake with sauerkraut. Of course, we also have the typical ‘svičkova’ sauce and meat with Czech dumplings as well as pork with sauerkraut. We have all these traditional Czech foods.”

And says Petr Kruliš, it’s not just homesick Czechs and Slovaks who come into the Czech Inn for some traditional cooking, but many people from other parts of Central Europe who are now also working as foreign nationals in an increasingly cosmopolitan Dublin and often would like some familiar food:

“Other foreign people come as well, especially the Polish who are used to the same food. Many of them come here for the Czech dishes. The Irish people try them as well but I don’t really think they are too fond of the Czech food. They might try one or two things or eat the odd dish, but if I compare the beer, spirits and food we offer, I would have to say the beer is very popular with the Irish and that they would be coming here more for beer than for food.”

With so many Czechs and Slovaks working in Dublin now, it’s hardly surprising that many special events are now being organised in the city for this community on a regular basis. Given its status as Ireland’s first real Czech pub, Petr Kruliš says the Czech Inn is often the obvious venue for many Czechoslovak social and cultural activities:

“Oh definitely, when the Czechs and Slovaks are playing a big football or hockey game, we are very busy. Loads of people come in to watch it. We have also had some theatrical performances here. We even had the actor Jiri Labus performing a show here in the bar. There are also some Czech and Slovak bands in Dublin now. They come here quite regularly and play classic Czech and Slovak pop music, which is very nice.”

Besides serving as a kind of informal Czechoslovak community centre, the Czech Inn is also a vital point of contact for many Czechs and Slovaks who have recently arrived in Dublin and need a place to network and meet people as they seek to establish themselves in a new country.

As Petr Kruliš says, the bar in many ways has a similar function to the role played by Irish pubs all over Europe in the 1970s and 80s when Ireland itself was a country of emigration not immigration and Irish bars served as networking fulcrums for many migrant workers.

“People who are looking for a job or accommodation come in here. They come and socialise with other people as well. A lot of people who have no knowledge of English also come here. They might be working somewhere where they can’t really socialise or talk with their colleagues so they come in here to make new friends, which is normal of course. In particular, people come here if they are looking for a job or accommodation. They can place an advertisement here or ask around about opportunities. At the same time they can drink their own beer and talk their own language and eat the food they know. They might also get help here from the people who are around if they need it. They can come and listen to music from home as well. The Czech Inn actually plays the same role as Irish bars all over the world.”

On the night we visited the Czech Inn, the place was packed and noisy as usual. Although there were lots of Irish and other nationalities around, it was obvious that a large Czech contingent still frequents the establishment on a regular basis.

Before leaving, we spoke to some of the many we met drinking in the Czech Inn, and asked them what they were doing in Ireland:

“My name is Lucia and I work as an accounts assistant here. I’ve been here for over a year.”

And why did you come to Ireland?

“Because I wanted to improve my English. That was the main reason. I had also seen these amazing pictures of green Ireland and wanted to come.”

What has been your experience of Irish people? Has it been mostly positive?

“I think generally, it’s been positive. I only work with Irish people in our finance department now and their humour, for example, is very similar to Czech humour. They have the same sense of irony. They’ve been very nice. I have to say that they’ve perhaps been nicer than people in the Czech Republic, but don’t tell that to any Czechs!!”

Could you see yourself staying here?

“No, I’m not going to stay. I’m really homesick. I think I’ll stay another year and then I’ll go home.”

What do you miss most about the Czech Republic?

“Well the Czech beer for a start, but I can get that in this pub now. I also miss my friends and family.”

“My name is Milan and I work in Tesco as a clerk.”

Why did you come to Ireland?

“I simply wanted to try something else and experience something different to the Czech Republic.”

What has your experience of Ireland been like?

“Very positive. They are positive people. I think they are more positive than people in the Czech Republic. I had bad experiences with people in the Czech Republic. It’s better here.”

And what about Irish beer?

“That’s a difficult question! I’m a typical Czech man so I have to say that Czech beer is better than Guinness. At least for me.”

What do you miss most about home?

“My family, especially my sister. I also miss our traditional Czech Christmas and Easter.”

“My name is Markéta and I work as an assistant manager for Benetton. I’ve been here for nearly two years. I have only had a positive experience here. I love the people. They are really friendly and talkative. They’ve been helpful to me and I’ve also been improving my English here.”

And have you had any negative experience here?

“I don’t like the Irish weather. In fact I hate it. It’s the biggest negative about Ireland.”

Apart from the weather, what do you miss most about the Czech Republic?

“Just the weather…!”