TOP o’ the morning to you... from one Irish person to another.
Yes, this week, 50 weeks after I first applied, I became a fully-fledged Irish citizen.
My accent and my dislike of Murphy’s and Guinness may betray my roots; I can take or leave Tayto crisps and Barry’s tea compared to other brands; and I also find it very easy to just say goodbye once when ending a phone conversation with a friend, rather than the obligatory ten times.
But, to all intents and purposes, I am now as Irish as the most dyed-in-the-wool, green-shirt-wearing Paddy in this land. Fancy that!
And, you know, it feels good. Kind of. To be honest, being told you have gained a new nationality overnight is also a bit weird.
First, the process.
Regular readers will be aware that I applied for Irish citizenship early last year.
There are essentially two ways a foreign national blow-in like me can do this.
Those who do not have an Irish parent or grandparent can apply through a process called naturalisation. They must have spent at least five of the previous nine years living here and it costs €950.
At the end of this process, the new Irish citizen has to make a declaration of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State, and undertake to observe its laws. That last part seems a bit unfair when it’s a long-cherished Irish trait to only obey some of the laws some of the time, but we’ll briskly move on.
The second way to apply to be a citizen is by dint of an Irish parent or grandparent — which was the route I was lucky enough to take.
This entails joining something called the Foreign Births Registry and costs €278 — I also had to pay another €100 to have two long-form birth certs posted over from the UK, as they said the short-form ones I submitted were not deemed acceptable.
The process requires a fair bit of documentation and a professional witness, but you don’t have to swear allegiance to the country at the end of it.
On application, I was told the process would take six months, but this being bureaucracy — and perhaps more pertinently, Irish bureaucracy — it took twice as long, which seems to be the going rate at present, given a recent swell in the numbers applying because of Brexit.
So, how did I feel on the day I finally received that green seal of approval in the post?
Relieved it was over, after almost a year. Happy that I had been accepted. And, OK, a bit conflicted too. I certainly didn’t feel Irish when I read the letter, and, even worse from an Irish perspective, I still felt as English/British as ever.
With sad irony, I realised that the three people who would have been most proud of my Irish citizenship that day — my dad and his Irish-born parents — and who had been my ticket to the Foreign Births Register, are no longer with us.
But I felt conflicted for other reasons too. Your nationality is your own business and can only really be decided by yourself. It is all caught up in a tangle of your innermost thoughts and feelings. Nobody and no scrap of paper can bestow it upon you.
I don’t do phoney, and the Irish can smell the whiff of it a mile away — especially when it comes to Irishness. So, forgive me if you’re offended, but on hearing I was now an Irish citizen, I didn’t dance a jig, shout “Begorrah” and generally party like I had been caught up in an Irish-themed episode of The Simpsons.
I was fairly sanguine about it, to be honest. I looked at the letter, read and re-read the words, but it didn’t lead to a Road-to-Damascus style conversion. In fact, it even made me wonder: Am I a bit of a fraud?
I love this country and its people, even though my wife and my in-laws are Irish...
And, after all, I arrived in Cork all of 19 years ago this month and have made many friends here. I love the people and I love the place. I love the city, county and country. This is home now.
I have paid taxes all that time and feel I know as much about Cork and Irish life, history and culture as many natives.
Sure, I never got the accent — and doubt now I ever will, boy — but my kids have it.
On top of all that, a DNA test once showed I was 100% Irish and British, and my own family research has proved that this goes back in the mists of time, to the west of Ireland on my father’s side and, after a few centuries dossing around England, to eastern Scotland on my mother’s side.
Celtic blood, English heart...
Hence the conflicting emotions. Part of me, the blood part, is almost as Irish as the Irish themselves. But the mental/emotional part just isn’t there.
Will I cheer on Ireland in the soccer World Cup? Yes
Will I cheer on England? Yes.
And if they ever play each other? Hmmm. I’d have to cheer England. But who knows, in 10 or 20 years, will that change?
Someone asked me if I would be happy to swear an oath of loyalty and allegiance to Ireland, and I would, but there wouldn’t be a drop of moisture in my eyes as I did so. I would even feel a fraud if I ever learned more than the first sentence of the Irish national anthem and sang it aloud.
Perhaps all of this is just me protecting myself from charges of being a Plastic Paddy — we’ve all seen the English and Yanks claiming to be Irish and all smiled politely at them while thinking ‘nope’.
Maybe that’s why I’m not feeling the patriotism.
Or maybe I’m a cold, unemotional pragmatist — the archetypal Brit, in other words.
I just wanted to be truthful. I love Ireland and the Irish, I am now officially Irish, but I can’t fake it for effect. I guess I’ll always be a blow-in, in my mind, and probably in yours too. No harm.
One humorous note, for readers aware of my ambivalence to the EU and my desire for ‘Brexit to mean Brexit’ in my former homeland: On January 31, when the UK finally formally leaves the European Union, I will still remain a member! Dammit, I just can’t shake them off!
I will now apply for my Irish passport, which was one of the main reasons for applying for citizenship in the first place. If Brexit ever causes travel complications for UK passport-holders, at least then I will be in the same channel as the rest of my Irish passport-holding family.
I’m also wondering if I can apply for a Cork passport. When I asked a Cork colleague if he could look into it, he replied: “I will yeah.”
You know, I don’t think he meant a word of that.
There are some things about this place I’ll never get the hang of...
If you’re thinking of applying for the Foreign Births Register, I highly recommend an excellent online discussion forum whose users are actual applicants, sharing information and answering questions for each other.
See it at https://www.immigrationboards.com/ireland/foreign-birth-registration-t277641.html