People who should be certified

28th February 1880:  The cartoon on the front cover of 'Harper's Weekly' - 'We are starving in Ireland - the Herald of relief from America.' The Great Famine (1845 - 1849) was caused by the failure of the Irish potato crop and British government inaction. 1 million people died from starvation and disease and another million fled as emigrants to Britain and North America during the Irish Famine.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I have a friend who was born and grew up in Ireland, then emigrated to Canada. In his mid-thirties he was faced with a choice.  Strip away the rhetoric and it came down to this: he became a Canadian citizen or he lost his job. Now he liked Canada a lot and wanted to live there,  but instinctively he was reluctant to give up, as he saw it, his Irish identity.  When I pointed out to him that becoming a Canadian citizen wouldn’t, couldn’t  erase his Irish identity – it was knit into the fabric of his life, regardless of how many oaths of loyalty he took to his adopted country – he cheered up briefly. “Except” I added “Ireland declares war on Canada. Then you’re really screwed”.
I thought of him today as the newspapers inform me that Ireland is considering issuing a ‘certificate of Irishness’ to those who qualify.  It’s not clear what degree of Irishness is required but those who can establish or have established for them that their roots are Irish will get the certificate.  Apparently there’s a real interest among the Irish diaspora, especially in – yes, right first time – the United States.  
It could be a money-spinner. If even a fraction of the 40 million people in the US said to have Irish ancestry apply, and if the certificate issued costs, um, let’s say €10 a head,  that could be a nice little earner, not to mention the reinforcement of the Irish diaspora as  a source of tourism and investment.   It’s an undeniable fact: there are people – again, more often than not American – who like framing their achievements and hanging them in a place of honour.
Sorry, but the whole venture makes me want to put back my head and screech briefly.  Surely being Irish has to do with, yes, your ancestry, but also the interest you take in Irish culture, your familiarity with the country and its people? Getting a certificate for framing proves only that you’re  hung up on hanging things,  and that you’d be well-advised to get a life while there’s still time. 

3 Responses to People who should be certified

  1. Dolores Sierra June 26, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    As usual, you've hit the nail on the head at the first whack! Americans do like to hang things on walls, do like to proudly proclaim their Irish heritage, but many times do NOT know the Irish history, culture or struggles in America. They think wearing green, or a leprechaun hat or marching in a parade on St. Pat's makes them “Irish”. I'm American and of Irish descent. I didn't know much about my Irish heritage growing up, but do now. I guess the cynic in me says good on Ireland for tapping in to a way to make some money, because Americans will surely pay for the certificate! And they'll think they have a life…Do I sound mean spirited about my fellow Irish Americans? Oh well…truth hurts sometimes….

  2. Anonymous June 27, 2010 at 8:54 pm #

    I came to Canada from Ireland (Derry to be specific)in 1976 and have dual citizenship,Irish and Canadian,two passports and my daughter who was born in Canada also has dual citizenship,she applied for and received her Irish passport with the the assistance of our former neighbour and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.We both have the best of both worlds,love Canada,it really is a great country but feel our roots are undeniably Irish being just one generation removed from the land in Desertegeney,Inishowen myself.Like many Irish I left mainly because of economic reasons,basically I needed a job but having returned many, many times for weddings,deaths,vacations and so on I feel as Irish as the day I left.Also with the Internet I can chat with family and friends back home and I can watch current affairs,the Sunday Game,news etc on RTE streaming video and all the news headlines with Nuzhound.Being an exile isn't what it used to be when once you got on the boat you knew you might not see your family or Erin's isle for 25 or 30 years.I knew older generation Irish/Canadians who came in the 40s and 50's that had never been back to Ireland since emigrating but had never lost their love for the place of their birth ,it's really a soul thing.

  3. Noreen Bowden June 27, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    I'm an Irish-American who lives in Ireland (since 1997), and I think Dolores and Jude are both being hard on the Irish-Americans.

    First off, this idea is coming out of the Irish government's desire to reconnect with the entire Irish diaspora as a way of getting us out of the economic doldrums. Saying that there's a big interest in this in Irish-America is just a big ol' assumption without basis – there hasn't been any research done on this, and many of the reports I've heard back from people I know in the US are indifferent or negative. Assuming it's going to play big in the US is really just stereotyping at this point.

    And if you think that you need to know “Irish history, cultural or struggles” in order to actually be Irish, I'd like to introduce you to my fellow residents of this island. Many of them simply don't give a fig for culture or history – and there are plenty of Irish-Americans who could teach the natives here a lot.

    I don't agree with you Dolores that Irish-Americans generally think that wearing green makes them Irish. People who are of Irish heritage are perfectly entitled to consider themselves Irish simply by virtue of having that heritage, and it's not up to anyone else to judge them insufficiently knowledgeable for the title. As the anonymous commenter says, “it's really a soul thing”, and who are we to say people can't pass down their love of Ireland to their kids and grandkids, even if its largely unschooled?

    Certainly the Irish government is looking to encompass the whole 70 million of the diaspora in our giant Irish club. Blame them if you don't like the idea; don't blame Irish-America, who are wrongly maligned enough.