February 14, 2012 by David Miller
I visited a friend’s house recently in Co. Wicklow, someone who I’ve known off and on over the years (more off than on), and who’d generously invited our family to have lunch with his family on Sunday. Talking about emigration from Ireland in the context of the crippling current economic tidal wave that has subsumed Ireland over the last 3 and a half years, he asked me if I was ‘homesick’. I didn’t quite understand the question; till I realized that we really had seen very little of each other in the last few years, and when he first met me I was a young British man still in college, at the time dating a young Irish girl who I’d met at the same college; and that he therefore assumed that for me home was somewhere other than Ireland.
Fast forward 13 years from when I’d first met him – and 10 years of marriage to that young Irish girl from college, with the joy of two young boys as well – and of course I realized that there was no reason why he should have known that 2 years ago I’d applied for Irish citizenship – and that home for me was always going to be the community I’d first set my foot in 13 years ago, the community of Enniskerry in north Wicklow.
But it was a good question, and one that got me thinking a little more about what it is to be Irish today.
I started the ball rolling on the road for Irish citizenship 2 years ago, knowing that the bureaucratic lethargy and jobsworth attitude that seems to prevail in certain sectors of the Irish public sector would trigger a totally unnecessary 24 month toing and froing of correspondence designed less to facilitate and more to hinder the process. I was right (more in another post).
Fast forward (again) to last November, and I found myself in a packed Bray District Court, full to the rafters with people waiting to hear when their cases would be listed for hearing before the judge. My reason for being there was simple: to swear a declaration of fidelity to the nation, and loyalty to the state.
Having practiced litigation law over a number of years and in a number of jurisdictions I’m quite used to being in a court room. This was my first time in the witness box. With about a dozen or so other applicants in the same position as me, and none too keen to go first, I stepped up, took the oath, and was pleasantly surprised when, on finishing, the rather harassed looking judge congratulated me and proceeded to applaud me, prompting the packed courtroom to follow suit (though the cynic in my suspects that this was probably more out of deference to the judge than at any particular delight in another citizen joining the nation).
Not to make it any easier, the Irish Nationality Immigration Service then asked me to send them a cheque for €950 for the pleasure of them issuing me with my naturalization citizenship certificate. I’ll have to learn what it says as, other than my name, it’s entirely printed in Irish (it seems bi-lingual requirements only stretch so far).
But there it was: I’d been granted Irish citizenship, and could finally vote in a Presidential election (something which as a UK passport holder I’d previously been denied); but, more importantly, it put the cap on my pledge to a country that has welcomed me with open arms, and which has, since I first set foot in it, made me feel like I was home.