A Filipino Community Grows in Ireland

Filipino Independence Day, Dublin, June 2010 (Photo by Diane Sabenacio Nititham)

Filipino Independence Day, Dublin, June 2010 (Photo by Diane Sabenacio Nititham)

The Filipino community in Ireland has grown significantly over the last 20 years. Prior to an economic boom in the mid-late 1990s, the population of Filipinos was a mere few hundred. During and after this boom, often referred to as the time of the Celtic Tiger, the Filipino population grew significantly. Many Filipinos came to Ireland as a result of the heavy recruitment in the health care sector.

Ireland encouraged immigration in order to sustain economic development and fill gaps across a variety of sectors. The recruitment in health care and domestic service reflected a growing trend across multiple European Union labor markets.

Filipino diaspora reflects a culture of emigration fueled by the unemployment or underemployment of millions the home country. While the scope of the Filipino diaspora has been global Ireland is a relatively new destination for immigrants.

In 2002, there were 4,086 Filipinos in Ireland (1,412 males and 2,674 females). In 2006, there were 9,548 (3,933 males and 5,615 females). In 2011, the Census reported 12,791. For the 2016 Census, the Central Statistics Office offered Irish-FIlipino nationality as a category of self-identification. The 2016 Census reported 3,499 as Irish-Filipino of dual nationality (1,404 males and 2,095 female) and 4,214 of Filipino nationality (1826 male and 2388 female).


Despite creating a sense of belonging, Filipino immigrants in Ireland still experience moments of rootlessness.

Between 2006-2009, I conducted research with Filipino immigrants in Ireland. At this time, the Filipino population was fairly scattered around places of employment. As a majority of the population worked in health care or in the service industry, many chose to live close to their place of work to maximize their earnings for remittances. Interviewees all identified as Filipino, but not all came directly from the Philippines. Some had lived in other countries in Asia or in the Middle East. Many respondents were directly recruited by Irish agencies or Irish hospital directors. These agencies and directors went to the Philippines, and some established recruiting offices in other countries such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Other interviewees applied to general agencies for overseas Filipino workers and were placed in Ireland and some came as spouses of Irish citizens, or dependents of at least one of their parents.

In my book, Making Home in Diasporic Communities (2016), I discuss in more depth the findings of my research on Filipino communities in Ireland. I examine the ways in which immigrants created a sense of home by seeking each other to speak Filipino languages, participating in rituals and religion, and sharing and eating Filipino food. These practices helped Filipino diaspora members to create “home” as they navigated individual challenges and institutional barriers.

For many interviewees, language was important for self-esteem and maintaining a mental and emotional connection to the Philippines. While not all spoke the same language, hearing Filipino languages provided a sense of belonging. While language did not guarantee happiness, it gave many a chance to feel connected to the homeland. Further, interviewees said that even if they had been away from the Philippines only a short time, using or hearing a Filipino language was a motivating factor to seek others out.

Filipino community members regularly participate in celebrating religious practices, birthdays, and performing folk dances such as Tinikling or Pandanggo sa Ilaw to directly or indirectly share beliefs and values from the Philippines. The search for a sense of familiarity has led to celebrations of Santa Cruzan, Philippine Independence Day. Having familiar traditions helps them ease the pain of emotional and physical separation. The sharing of beliefs, values, and ideologies through these events are also meant to teach children growing up in Ireland about the values of the homeland. Also, because of  the geographic spread of Filipinos throughout the country, social gatherings hold a special significance in immigrants’ lives.

Despite creating a sense of belonging Filipino immigrants still experience moments of rootlessness. The Catholic Church has played an important role as a source of grounding, strength, and guidance, particularly in dealing with family separation and adaptation to a new culture. It is also a space to meet and socialize with both settled and newly arrived Filipinos. After masses, some families meet to share home-cooked Filipino food, pot-luck style, in the church halls, rectories, or someone’s home.

Simbang Gabi in Dublin, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, December 2009 (Photo by Diane Sabenacio Nititham)

Simbang Gabi in Dublin, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, December 2009 (Photo by Diane Sabenacio Nititham)

I note that speaking Filipino languages, celebrating rituals, and sharing food often overlap. Asian food shops, restaurants, and stores are physical spaces to feel attachments to the homeland. Interviewees sought these specific places in order to find Philippine produce, sauces, spices and snacks. At the time of the research, Asian food shops and restaurants were mostly concentrated in Dublin’s city center. Because of the limited access to places that offered Asian food, interviewees talked about their efforts to visit these stores. Food shops and restaurants are also significant because as spaces in which people can find others with shared histories and circumstances, even if these are not discussed.

Cafe Manila, a Filipino restaurant in Dublin's City Centre in 2008. (Photo by Diane Sabenacio Nititham)

Cafe Manila, a Filipino restaurant in Dublin's City Centre in 2008. (Photo by Diane Sabenacio Nititham)

Immigrants face a number of institutional challenges that hinder them from feeling fully integrated into Ireland. One’s immigration status in Ireland is on a one-to-two-year basis, with no guarantee of renewal. This means that many Filipinos (and other non-EU nationals) feel they could only plan for the short-term. They sometimes stay in exploitative situations in order to continue providing for their families in Ireland, the Philippines or elsewhere.


Diane Sabenacio Nititham, PhD

Diane Sabenacio Nititham, PhD

Diane Sabenacio Nititham, PhD, is a second-generation Filipino-Thai American. She is Associate Professor of Sociology at Murray State University and researches transnational communities, migration, and social