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Sikhs In Ireland

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
Sikhs in Ireland

Gurcharan Singh Kulim

Ireland is the smaller of the two islands in British Isles.It is divided into two, the small northern part called Ulster,belongs to the United Kingdom,while the Republic of Ireland is an indepen...dent country, with it's capital at Dublin.The capital of Ulster is Belfast, a city deeply entrenched in religious conflict!

In 2011, the first ever exhibition highlighting the presence of the Sikh community in Ireland was held at the Tower Museum in Derry, a city in the Ulster Opening on the 24th March, “A Sikh Face in Ireland” is a photographic and life history exhibition exploring the Sikh presence on the island of Ireland.
The exhibition, which was curated in conjunction with the Chester Beatty Library Intercultural Educational Programme, also included a range of engaging activities that were draw from different elements on display. The activities included a short film, ‘How to Tie a Turban’; a photographic/sound installation; a publication of essays, photographs and extensive life stories in Punjabi and English and an educationally based interactive website.

This was the first time ever some official attempt was made to expose Sikhs and Sikhism to the people of Ireland.

Sikhs started arriving in UK around 1851, with Maharajah Duleep Singh's arrival.Since then more Sikhs have arrived in various waves.The early arrivals were largely students, followed largely,by members of the Bhatra Sikh Sangat.These Sikhs arrived, from 1898 onwards and started as peddling traders, who slowly built upon their business skills and later ventured into large busineses.

As the Sikh community In UK grew larger after 1947 and spread throughout England, Wales and Scotland,by 1960s.A very small number of Sikhs had gone to Northern Ireland (NI) around 1950′s. In this period,around 5-6 families moved to Northern Ireland [Ulster]from Punjab in India. The families settled here by carrying out door to door selling of clothes. This involved taking orders and meeting the demand of their customers. They got the items from wholesale markets in Belfast and selling them further and making profits in turn. Around 1970 market trade started all over NI and majority of Sikh population earned their living through this.

But earlier in history, immigration of Sikhs to Island of Ireland started in early 1900's. The earliest immigrants to Northern Ireland were Sikhs who were mainly former members of the British army who arrived in the late 1920s from India via East Africa and Britain. They settled in the city of Derry. There are presently over 250 Sikhs in Northern Ireland (2001 Census), most have come from the Punjab. In 1990 the Northern Ireland Sikh Association was formed and shortly afterwards the Northern Ireland Sikh Cultural and Community Centre was established in the Waterside district of Derry.

Following the 1984, conflict, and Sikh genocide,in India another wave of Sikhs began arriving all over Europe, saw some going to Ulster, and the community grew in Ireland.Other Sikhs already in other parts of the UK too moved to Ulster.,

With growing population of Sikhs in Belfast there was a need to establish a Sikh temple called as Gurdwara by Sikhs. Northern Ireland Housing executive recognised the needs of the Sikh population and provided the Sikh community with a terraced house in the heart of Belfast. The Belfast Gurdwara was thus established in 2000 and was later refurbished by the Sikhs in Belfast.

The Sikh population has now grown to about 60 families, mostly living in and around Belfast. Although majority of Sikhs live in mainland UK, the Sikh population continues to grow in Northern Ireland. Presently Northern Ireland Sikh population has a mix of Professional and Business Sikhs.

A second Gurduara has now been established in the second largest city of Ulster, Londonderry.

The Gurduara sahib in Belfast was established in May 2000, Following this Belfast Sikh Community Association was formed by the Sikhs in Belfast. It is a non-profitable organisation.

Religious meetings are held regularly in Gurdwara, along with other musical and cultural activities.

The Sikh temple in Belfast now known as Gurdwara Guru Nanak Dev Ji, has been established in a residential building granted by Housing executive in 1999 located on the Duncairn Gardens in North Belfast.

The Gurdwara is solely funded by the members of the Sikh community of Belfast. The community are working towards in establishing a Charitable Status for the Gurdwara.

There are approximately 60 Sikh families residing all over in Belfast.The Sikhs in Belfast generally come from the business background, IT professionals, Nursing and teaching.

The story of the Sikhs in the republic also follows the same pattern as the rest of the UK.First to arrive were Sikh students in very small numbers studying in various educational institutions all over the country.

This was followed by medical, nursing and teachers, later the IT speciallists.A number of Sikh doctors came to settle and took up senior positions as consultants.Some also went into the thriving Indian restaurant business and became established.

Dublin, the capital of Ireland,remain concentration of Sikhs, although some Sikhs have gone to other part of the Irish republic.Slowly the numbers have increased, esspecially after 1984, when many Sikhs left India.Today the total Sikh population in the republic is estimated to be about 2500.As many as 1800 in and around Dublin.Most are from the migrant generation and have settled comfortably, contributing to Irish society. There is also a small but significant second generation of Sikhs, born and educated in Ireland. The Gurudwara in Dublin is the main centre, for community get together, prayers and community activities

Sikhism is among the newer and smaller of the many new religions, that the mainly Catholic Irish Republic has come into contact over the recent years.

Initially, like anywhere else, religious congregation[sangat] used to gather in private homes, with the meals cooked among the various families meeting for prayers on the main auspicious days of Sikhism.As their financial status became settled, they started to use Sikh restaurants at weekends, after washing and cleaning it as prayer halls.As time went by , they began to hire halls and stores , which were used as Prayer halls at weekends.

In 1984,political unrest in the Punjab saw the Sikh Genocide incited by the Congress goons saw more Sikhs arrive in Europe, with some going to Dublin.Then, in 1986 a tragedy stuck, the Indian secret services, trying to label the Sikhs in a negative light,blew up an AIR INDIA flight in the skies near Ireland.It has been established 80% of the passengers on that flight were Sikhs.

It became difficult to find a Sikh priest[granthi] from Ireland, to accompany officials to the crash spot and say prayers for the vitims of that crash.But soon a female Sikh Mrs Kapoor was found to carry out an ardaas [supplicatory prayer].

On her return she spoke to the then leaders of the community to establish a Gurduara, which will see to the spiritual and social of the now growing Sikh community in Dublin.Sr Sukhdev Singh, a long time estaablished Sikh restauranteur, and Sr Kuldip Singh garnered the support of the community and took the lead to establish the current Gurduara- Gurdwara Guru Nanak Durbar, 78,Serpentine Avenue, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

The community came forward and worked very closely, and with blessings of the Gurus and their great teachings that inspires and aspires the Sikhs anywhere, and everywhere in the world,the Gurduara was established in Dublin.Curerently it is the only Sikh Gurduara in the republic.

Following terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Sikh community in Ireland became particularly vulnerable to hate crime due to their identity that includes Turban and full grown beard that allowed misinformed and ignorant members of public to equate Sikhs with followers of Bin Laden. Members of Sikh community in Ireland faced not just verbal abuse but also suffered physical attacks on streets of Dublin and other areas. These included shouting of abuses like ‘bin laden, paki’ etc, throwing of bottles, stones, assault and more.

Although a number of Sikh community members were living in Ireland since early 80’s, the main growth in community took place during the years 2000 - 03. Thus needs of the Sikh community grew along with the numbers. Concerns of parents looking for schools, Sikh patients in hospitals facing dilemma of explaining about their religious needs and many other such issues began creating a need for a representative body of Sikhs that could not only represent Sikh community needs and aspirations but also create awareness among general public about the Sikhs as law abiding, prosperous and forward thinking community.

Thus IRISH SIKH COUNCIL was established in July 2004. was established to represent and communicate needs of Sikh community in Republic of Ireland.A management group was established and membership opened to the Sikh and non Sikh community members resident in Ireland.

Irish Sikh Council was faced with its first major race attack case on a Sikh student living in Athlone after July 7 attacks in Britain. The victim of the attack was stabbed and verbally abused. Irish Sikh Council managed to raise concerns about this case with the Gardai, NCCRI and also started an information campaign in local and national newspapers and radio stations. The case received wide coverage among almost all national dailies and was also covered by RTE, TV3, News talk and others.

Since then Irish Sikh Council has been actively involved in promoting cultural diversity, creating awareness about the Sikhs in Ireland and also acting as an authority on advising public service bodies about the concerns and needs of Sikhs. Irish Sikh Council has prepared and distributed a number of information leaflets, organise school visits, participated in multi-cultural fairs. Sikhs in Ireland for the first time participated at the St Patrick’s Festival parade in March 2007. This participation was organised by Irish Sikh Council and a pageant of over 90 performers from various Sikh cultural and martial arts groups participated in the parade.

Currently Irish Sikh Council is run by selected management group who are volunteers representing the students, families, migrant workers and permanent resident Irish Sikhs.

Sikhs are well known for their honest hard work and sincerity, two principles given them due regard in all professions. Thus in Ireland, Sikhs hold respectable positions in the areas of medicine, IT, business, the hotel and catering industry and only recently, a considerable number of Sikhs have shown a lot of interest for recruitment in An Garda Siochana. A sizeable portion of Sikhs here, also happen to be the third-level students pursuing various courses in universities such as Trinity College, the Royal College of Surgeons, DIT, Griffith College etc.
Sikhs have integrated exceptionally well in Ireland and have struck quite a good rapport with the Irish people. Ask any Sikh the reason for their smooth transition to the Irish society and the answer inevitably will be, the easy-going nature and warmth common to both the Irish and Sikhs alike.

Infact, the blend of the Sikhs and Irish culture is more evident in the second generation of Sikhs - who may speak Punjabi at home but perfect their Irish at school; love chips and beans as much as they enjoy Allo-Gobhi and are as busy in their hurling practice as they are in Gurbani (hymns in Guru Granth Sahib) lessons. All these children are proud representatives of two cultures at the same time -proof enough that the Sikh and the Irish culture do not contradict each other, but infact go hand-in-hand and serve to beautifully complement

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