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.