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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
What does it mean to say "I am an Irish Citizen."?
Mother: Irish Born, Irish Citizen
Brother: Irish Born, Irish Citizen
Me: Canadian Born, Irish Citizen?
Under Irish law, because it is the case that my mother and my father are Irish born, and were Irish citizens at the time of my birth, I am automatically an Irish citizen.
What does it truly mean to say, "I am an Irish citizen"?
Strictly speaking, to be an Irish citizen means that I am a member of a political community, specifically the nation of the Republic of Ireland. With Irish citizenship come certain legal rights; for example, I am allowed to travel on an Irish passport. Ireland is a member of the European Union (EU); therefore, as an Irish citizen I am free to live and work in any member country of the EU. No residence or work permits are necessary for me. It all sounds very nice and uncomplicated; however, with rights come responsibilities, so what is required of me as an Irish citizen?
As an Irish citizen living outside of Ireland there is little required of me, at least in legal terms. I am not allowed to vote in Irish elections, nor am I allowed to be a jury member. I am an Irish citizen, but I am on the outside looking in. In some respects it appears as though the legal designation is a meaningless one; however, for me being a citizen of Ireland is more than just a legal or political designation. To be a citizen is to represent the country of Ireland in the best possible way. Perhaps this explains my tendency to "get my knickers in a knot" when I feel as though Irish research is being misrepresented.
A few years ago when I attended an Irish women's history conference, I had a discussion with a couple of Irish academics about the way in which Ireland is viewed by citizens living outside the country. In the case of my parents, and some other family members who had emigrated out of Ireland, it seemed to me as though their idea of Ireland was frozen in time, as if the country remained exactly as it was when they left it. It also appeared that over time their view of Ireland had changed. In their estimation it now seemed as though the country was a sort of dream-like place, a place without hardship or conflict, a place to look upon with only fond memories. I asked the academics if they thought that ex-patriot Irish could really understand what Ireland was like today. They said that they thought there might be a tendency to view the country through rose-coloured glasses. This certainly makes sense to me.
It seems to me as though to 'lose' a country, by emigrating, is almost like losing a loved one. When we look back over the life we shared with a now deceased family member, the troubles between us lose their edge and fade into the background. The happy times, and all that was good about that individual, come marching into the fore. Perhaps the same holds true for the immigrant when they are no longer "legally responsible" for the country of which they are a citizen. Perhaps an immigrant wants to remember, and to bring to their new country, only all the best of what they knew in their homeland.
In many ways I have taken on my parents' ideal of what Ireland is. It is only when I travel to do research, and meet with family members who still live in Ireland, that I get a very small taste of exactly how things are politically and economically. Despite that, I have always loved the country of Ireland, and it is still my dream to one day live there in the person of a 'real' citizen. Although I may be viewing it through rose-coloured glasses, I am proud to say I am a citizen of Ireland.