Here’s a doctoral dissertation waiting to be written. Thousands of Latvians—perhaps 20,000 and growing—are now living and working in Ireland. Despite the astonishing number, Ireland has no latviešu biedrība, no Latvian society, and seemingly little structure to social and cultural life. But that could be about to change.
Ireland’s first Latvian school opened May 29 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ireland in the capital city of Dublin. The school, which initially will meet once a month, could spark greater interest in forming a Latvian society.
Irish government statistics say about 2,300 Latvians live and work in the country. Ivars Lasis, the first secretary in the Embassy of Latvia in Dublin, puts the number at almost 10 times as many, and says more are coming every day.
“In principle, all of Ireland is scattered with Latvians,” Lasis said. Many are in Dublin, but they also are found in the southern city of Cork, in the northern city of Donegal and throughout the countryside.
Before Latvia regained independence, Ireland never had a strong Latvian community. It was not a favored destination for the Displaced Persons after World War II. Even the veclatvieši, the Old Latvians who for economic and political reasons left their homeland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, avoided the Emerald Isle. Vilberts Krasnais, who in his 1938 book Latviešu kolōnijas catalogued Latvian communities the world over, didn’t even mention Ireland.
About 10 pupils, ranging in age from 2 to 12, were expected to show for the first day of school, teacher Ramona Āboliņa said by telephone from Dublin. She and the other teacher, Jolanta Šmite, both have pedagogical training. The mother of a 6-year-old girl, Āboliņa moved to Ireland three years ago to be with her husband. She said she has 12 years of experience working in a Latvian preschool.
The first day of school probably will last about two hours, Āboliņa said. How the curriculum will unfold will be determined by the needs of the pupils and the wishes of the parents. But clearly a main focus will be preservation of Latvian language and traditions, she said.
“Everything here is foreign to them,” Āboliņa said.
Whereas new immigrants to countries such as the United States and Canada often find Latvian community life to be quite advanced, those in Ireland are starting from scratch. The school is the initiative of the embassy, Lasis said. It’s the second attempt to organize the social and cultural life of the thousands of ethnic Latvians in Ireland: The first Lutheran church service for Latvians was conducted in December in Dublin.
“We have this idea that there ought to be a (Latvian) society,” Lasis said. “The school is the first step.”
The school is scheduled to meet next on June 26. Anyone interested in the school should contact the embassy by telephone at +353 1 662 16 10 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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