No Memories are Contraband

Why Irish citizenship doesn't make me any more legitimate than I was before

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Last week I bought a Kelly-green jumper. It seemed apropos.

I was about to become an Irish citizen, an oh so tiny part of the Irish Diaspora coming home.

My grandmother's grandfather was born right off the boat in New York City in 1855. A Casey likely from Cork, I can only assume they left because of the famine, but who really knows? All I know is that they made their way to a new home in America and married into German and Swedish and Norwegian blood. I do not know their music, their songs or the stories of the old country. I only know a name Thomas Casey and the path of lineage that led to a Monday morning oath. 

With over 1000 of my new best friends, my husband and I pledged fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the State. Between all three ceremonies, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan TD welcomed 3,200 people from around the globe into “our national family."

"The possibilities opened up to you in Ireland today are almost limitless,” Flanagan stated. “One day, you or a child or grandchild of yours may be up here as Minister for Justice, or as Judge, or perhaps the President of Ireland."

Since 2011, over 82,000 nationals from 181 different countries have been granted citizenship in such a ceremony. Though most immigrants hail from Eastern Europe, a rush to beat Brexit have brought more Anglo-Irish into the fold.

According to the Department of Justice, over 600 British nationals applied for citizenship this year. In fact, the day after the Brexit referendum was the single busiest 24 hours ever for the Immigration and Naturalisation website. Coincidentally, we applied ourselves on November 9, the day after America voted Donald Trump as our next President (don't read too much into that!).

I’m still trying to find words to do it justice, the idea of becoming a full and equal member of Irish society, entitled to every benefit and responsibility under the law. Even now I don’t know how to describe it. In a slightly over-emotional email to my parents the night before, I said it felt like gestating a giant baby for months and years, giving birth to a new identity (one only seen from within), and then going back about your life the next day as if nothing – except your homeland – has changed.

Retired High Court Judge Bryan McMahon, who presided over the oath, made it clear that though we are now fully Irish in every way, we need not forget the places we came from.

“When the State honours you today by granting you citizenship, it does not require that you forget the country you come from,” he said. “It does not ask you to erase your memories or your personal and unique history. Do not forget your own country, your own people, your own traditions. Such memories are not contraband."

I won't lie and say that didn't hit me right in the heart. One who leaves his or her passport country to live and work (or serve) in another can't help but feel torn in two. We are not fully part of either; we are both and we are neither. We have become a new thing. 

At times along this journey, all manner of feelings have felt contraband, not to mention the anxieties that rise amid escalating tensions in both America and Europe right now. Love and anger, fear and hope exist right along each other, and the cultural and national securities with which we were raised take on new facets and shapes. Jagged edges are exposed by a different light; hidden gifts revealed from a new perspective. 

And yet, I think of God’s word to immigrants, pilgrims and wanderers. He brought an entire nation of exiles into a new land, taught them how to welcome the stranger among them. He created a home for us here on earth while reminding us of a new one to come. He sent His own Son to a new world, made Him a refugee, and then called Him out of exile as King of a new Kingdom.

We are not strangers to Him.

No matter how long I waited for this day to come, the truth is I was legitimate, equal, and whole all along. This is just the next chapter of the same story.

“Bring with you your songs, your music, and your stories,” Judge McMahon told us. “Someday your children and your children’s children will ask you about their grandparents and will inquire about the old country. Do not deny them their legacy.”

Our old country is not so old, but our story is now told in American folk legends and Irish poetry, African-American hymns and rebel songs.

And we are so very privileged to share our songs with you. Thank you for sharing Ireland with us.

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Karen O Huber

Originally from Kansas City, Karen is a freelance writer and expat mom now living in Dublin, Ireland. Together with her husband and three children, they work in community development, the local church and creative arts.