Credit: Marco Maisano /

AGATA DZBENSKA-BERNEY: What if “non-essential” travel is actually essential?

‘It’s not the end of the world… It’s only three hours on the plane’ I remember myself telling my parents when I started thinking of moving to Ireland.

I have always wanted to live here, ever since I was seven years old and heard for the first time Sinead O’Connor singing on the LP my older sister brought home from England. Later on, but before Poland joined European Union, I spent two separate summer holidays volunteering in Ireland. It was my wonderland, full of heathery hills and wind. I loved the scenery, the people and their accent, the music, the spirit of Ireland.

Eventually I decided to move to Ireland back in 2007. I left a good job that I had in Warsaw and was moving out of love for Ireland and everything Irish.

I promised myself and my parents to travel back home every three or four months.

And I did. First when I was working in different parts of Ireland, then as a student, later on with my Irish fiancé, then as a married woman. Even when our first, then second son came along we still managed to travel on average three times a year.

When my dad’s health deteriorated, we were able to be there when he passed away. When my niece had her first son, we were able to meet him. When my husband was asked to be a godfather, we were able to be there.

It was essential, it meant being a part of our Polish family. It meant it was possible for my children to know their aunts, uncles, cousins and most importantly their Polish grandparents. It was essential for a sense of belonging. It was essential for the knowledge of language and culture. It was essential for my well-being.

We also received visitors from Poland, family members and friends. We managed to bring my family members to our favourite Indian restaurant, we showed my mum and brother Cliffs of Moher, Blarney castle and Bunratty. My mum got to enjoy half pint of Guinness in a real Irish pub and listen to live Irish music.

Family is a foundation of a society, both me and my husband always recognized this truth and fought to keep those ties as close as possible. For our sake and for the sake of our children growing up in Ireland in Irish-Polish family.

When Covid 19 arrived in Ireland, we found ourselves expecting our third child.

During the first lockdown we lived in hope of ‘normal’ summer, when this did not happen, and we welcomed our baby girl in early September, we lived in hope for family visit for her Christening. This hope was crushed by the second lockdown. Before Christmas we lived in hope for visitors at Easter and plans of summer in Poland… those hopes were crushed by the politicians announcing a long term ban for international travel unless you travel for work or to a funeral.

My beloved Ireland became like a prison. Poland all of a sudden feels very far away.

We do, thank God have phones and video chats but this is no replacement for human contact for human touch, for all those sensory experiences that make up a fabric of a relationship.

I’m not talking about a sun holiday. I do not care about getting tanned or having a rest.

I care about being able to hold my mum, to smell her scent, I care about my mum meeting my daughter, for my children to spend time with their grandmother and Polish family.

I care about meeting my niece’s second baby. About hugging my brother and sister. I want to see my boys kicking a ball with their older polish cousins.

I care about being a part of my Polish family. It is essential.

My experience is not an isolated one. There are over 100 000 Poles living in Ireland.

Unfortunately, Irish government seems not to recognize the profound impact those travel restrictions have on our families and travel to family is deemed the same as ‘sun holidays’.

This one size fits all approach does not fit our situation and tears our families apart, breaking families, the very fabric of the society.



Agata Dzbenska-Berney 


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