Tuesday 3 December 2019

is saoránach mé

Jakers, it's been a long time a-coming, but I/we have now returned home . . . whence my father departed in 1931 at the age of 13¾. That was when he enrolled in the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and effectively joined the navy. In 1931, a decade after the end of the War of Independence, he was living in Dunmore East, Waterford, Irish Free State - Saorstát Éireann - nominally still a constitutional monarchy. Ireland didn't dump the last vestiges of Tory Misrule until 18 April 1949 when the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 came into force. Purist should note that the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 was not finally repealed until 1962. My position is that, for many at that time, issues of identity and loyalty were more fluid and less  Black-and-White  than now.

Whatever! That young chap needed to find some sort of career and the choice of jobs, for one of his class and religious background, was limited. It was, for example, inconceivable that he'd become an aircraft mechanic; butcher; costermonger; dentist; . . . yogi; zoologist. After WWII, he fell for a girl from Dover and all their children were born in that slightly ramshackle ferry-port. As a serving Royal Naval officer, he could hardly hold anything other than a British passport and all his children followed suit. When I started in Trinity College Dublin in 1973, a British passport / domicile worked rather well because I got a grant from the UK which was chunks better than what, say, The Beloved was able to claw out of Kilkenny CoCo. For the next 20 years we bounced about - Dublin, Rotterdam, Boston, Newcastle upon Tyne, Dublin - without really developing roots but needing some sort of passport to service these movements. In the mid 1990s we bought the farm and were gifted two small girls and round about the turn of the millennium it became obvious that I was likely to end my days in the Ould Sod.

Shortly thereafter, I set out to vindicate rights to citizenship through my paternal grandfather who grew up in The Big House in King's County at the end of the 19thC and, after an adventurous and much travelled life, became Harbormaster of Dunmore East at the foundation of The Free State. But no amount of searching could turn up a birth certificate for him and baptismal certs were not valid to establish birth on the island. One of his older brothers was registered but not the other: it was as if the family couldn't be bothered to register their offspring with the state. There didn't seem to be any urgency about colour of passport in 1999, so I sank back exhausted from the abortive search and mollocked along as a Brit. I felt about that nationality, as was said of the Duke of Wellington by Daniel O'ConnellThe poor old duke what shall I say of him? To be sure he was born in Ireland, but being born in a stable does not make a man a horse.” This lack of a sense of belonging, used to cause a far-too long, much qualified, <TMI> answer to the innocent / inquisitive question "where do you come from?" . . . "Well, I was borrrn in shadow of the white cliffs of Dover but . . ." Now I can just say "King's County, and you?"

But I did, and do, have a very strong sense of being [EEC/EU] European. I gave a lot to Europe as the director of the Irish node of a European quango; through teaching and administration, I helped benighted regions of the continent [Turku, Helsinki, Uppsala, Cambridge, Nijmegen, Oslo] to equilibrate upwards - a key concept in Eurospeak. I also benefitted tremendously from the sweep of the European Vision, meeting interesting and hospitable folks on many trips to Brussels, Bruges and Bari and a teaching gig in South Africa and another in Istanbul. Those EU days are behind me but the ideas underpinning the European Dream are still as valid as ever.  French students in The Institute? Yes! courtesy of the Erasmus Scheme.

Along with thousands of others I was badly shook by the outcome of the Brexit referendum and the political opportunism and posturing that came in its wake. I was galvanized to pursue a much less obvious route to the Foreign Birth Registry FBR. I'd always known that my Scottish Grannie was born in Limerick. It was pretty much the same accident of birth that had me being born in Dover two generations later. Her Father, John Vass, was a shipping agent from Ayrshire on the West coast of Scotland and was posted to mind the office in Limerick for a couple of years in the 1890s. His two daughters Lilian Valentine (Grannie - guess the date of  her birthday; hint Feb) and Greta were born there. Later he shipped out to Dover to manage the company's affairs there. And that's where Lily and Greta grew up: going up town to view Blériot's plane after he made the first flight across the English Channel. From step one, obtaining a certified copy of Lilian's birth-certificate, I started assembling the identity audit trail of birth, marriage and death certs that the FBR requires to ascertain who can play soccer for Ireland and/or apply for an Irish passport. With hindsight, I could have been more efficient, but it took several months and €€ & ££ in 2018 to  compile the dossier; then start the process on-line; then pay over another substantial pile of money (40% more than for getting married but much less than the fee for becoming New Irish as opposed to Born-again Irish) and then sit and wait for the FBR fact-checkers to check their facts.

At the time of submission, the FBR website was talking about a 6 month lag time but it actually took exactly 365 days for the Certificate of Registration [slip shown at top] to come into my hands; including 6 weeks just to mail the parcel of documents back to me after the Cert was printed on 14th October.
Táim fós san Eoraip.


  1. It seems a shame that having a grandparent born in Ireland entitles one to an Irish passport without the need for any kind of domicile. One would hope that having lived in, and paid taxes for upwards of 30 years would automatically provide you with Irish citizenship quickly and without any cost.

    1. Yes, yes, but you're in the minority on this one. The 2004 citizenship referendum was passed easily to stop any of those automatic rights . . . especially as applied to tanned-people. Also IMO there should be a cost to the application process to prove to the applicant that they really value the change. As realists know, the only value in today's society is monetary value. Consequence of 2004: