28 April 2016

Citizen of the world

This week, I took part in a ceremony during which I was granted Irish citizenship. I was one of a thousand people swearing allegiance to a new country, the place we call home.

In some ways it was a bit strange after the years of pledging allegiance to the United States of America as a child in school every day. But I am still American. I retain my US citizenship, which makes me a dual citizen. I am now actually a citizen of the EU and the US, which covers a lot  of territory. Both are democracies so there is no conflict.

In a sense, I've gone full circle. My parents left Europe to make a new life in the US. I left the US to find a new life in Europe. It feels good to be back here where I've found home.

What it means is that I can vote, have a passport, and have the full rights that Irish citizenship confers. The only issue is that I cannot run for office in either place, which would be my worst nightmare anyway so that's not an issue. It will make travel so much easier.

The ceremony was a very Irish way of handling things. First we queued outside in the freezing cold wind on the shady side of the convention centre. Then we queued inside a huge room and had to walk around and around in airport-like meanders. We stood waiting, while the 'processors' sat waiting at 24 desks. Each of us had a green letter with our number, desk number and oaths on it. We walked up, handed in the letter, received a plastic folder with our papers and signed a paper that said we had read and agreed to the oath. I thought, "Is this it?" Then we were herded into the auditorium. So far, I was not impressed with how these people from all over the world were being welcomed.

Our guests had to go to the next level up and were not allowed to sit with us. We filled every seat in the room, 1000 of them. Then the curtains opened and the Garda Siochana band started playing.  There was a selection of music that included a traditional tin whistle tune, Galway Girl sung by a tenor, a saxophone solo, a Glenn Miller tune, and the theme from Peter Gun. I'm not making this up.

I was sitting between a woman from Congo who just kept saying, "I made it, I made it.  We all made it." She and I took selfies together. The woman on the other side of me was from Sri Lanka. There was every ethnicity, colour, shape and age represented in the room. It was rather emotional for many. It was a most diverse gathering in this rather homogeneous country. The country is becoming more diverse with each day. About 100,000 people have been naturalized since they started this ceremonial process four years ago. In a country of 4.5 million, that's a hefty percentage. The census was just this past Sunday. Too bad they moved the date of the ceremony from the 15th to the 26th of April or I would have reported being a dual citizen in the census form.

When the room was full, a rather-casually-dressed MC came in and said the Minister for Justice and Equality couldn't make it that day so he was standing in. He never introduced himself. He asked us to stand as the colour guard brought the flag in. Then he introduced a retired judge. The judge gave a rather nice but rather lengthy speech about what it means to be Irish and that 150 countries were represented, each one with a story attached. He welcomed the diversity and actually got the people psyched about being there. He led us in the recitation of the oaths and then the band played the national anthem. The words were in our citizenship packages so I was able to sing along. Most people didn't know it.

At the end, a representative of the immigration office told us how to apply for passports. Despite the promise of 10 days' processing time through the express passport service at the post offices, he said it was taking 4-6 weeks to process passports due to very high demand.

And that was it. We all filed out onto the street and went our separate ways with our plastic folders. New citizens with new freedoms and responsibilities. I wonder how many will stay on here and how many will go on to other places in Europe. I know I'm staying. This is home.

Video of oath on YouTube. 

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