Wednesday 20 March 2019

Discarding the maple leaf for the wearing of the green

Why would a Canadian law academic who could live anywhere, come to call Ireland home? Roslyn Fuller reveals all

Roslyn Fuller.
Roslyn Fuller.

Roslyn Fuller

Given the amount of time I spend complaining about all things Irish, it can come as a bit of a shock to find out that I am, in fact, myself Irish. Not only that, but my citizenship was not an accident of birth but the result of an entirely sober choice made the far side of 30.

So, why would I, coming from Canada, a country synonymous with economic opportunity and tolerance, ever want to become Irish? First off, I like Irish people. In fact, Irish nonchalance is what convinced me to stay here in the first place. It was not the food ("At least we'll lose weight," was my initial verdict). It was not the infrastructure ("It's nice how you've kept the old trains going"). It was not the allegedly poetic Irish language, which, truth be told, sounds like something out of Mordor.

It was basically the mood that came through early on that whatever I was doing, Irish people were pretty cool with it, because Irish people are apparently pretty cool with everything. Sure, they might talk behind your back, but where I come from, talking behind other people's backs is considered perfectly normal and certainly much more polite than telling them what you think to their face.

I landed in Shannon Airport on Easter weekend 2006, having intended, at the time, to set up my abode in Galway. I'd just finished my bar exams in Germany and was coming to Ireland to write my PhD under a German academic at Trinity College. Already a veteran of European immigration systems, I had spent months fruitlessly trying to get a grip on the paperwork I would need to facilitate my move. This had been impeded at every turn by Irish officials insisting that I should just come to Ireland and we would deal with things then.

On arrival, I was fully expecting to have to spend a few hours in a cell over this woeful state of affairs. I don't think I'll ever forget the immigration official I got. Upon hearing that I intended to stay "potentially forever" without any documentation to back this up, he chuckled, gave me a few directions to sort myself out with the gardai "in the next few days", told me I had a nice smile and welcomed me to Ireland.

I lived in Germany for five years before I came to Ireland. Not one person ever welcomed me to Germany. Not once. Few people refrained from asking when I would leave.

I do realise that a Canadian passport tends to get you immigration treatment that's a cut above what's going elsewhere, but this was a sea change from how I'd been treated in other European countries. It got things off to a good start and it kind of went up from there.

Somewhere deep inside, Ireland – where such previously forbidden behaviours as betting, public drunkenness, creative cursing and coming in late to work were de rigueur – and I were made for each other. The military neutrality and anti-imperialism cemented the deal.

Because, of course, as a new Irish citizen, I had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Irish State. That's right, all of us "new" Irish have literally taken an oath to defend this bit of real estate. It's not something you do lightly and I don't think a lot of "born Irish" people understand how strongly many new Irish feel about what we think of as the unique Irish values. When you take on citizenship, you are becoming a part of a nation and a part of a people for the rest of your life. It's not a decision to be taken lightly.

Life on a visa, of course, is hell. You worry constantly. Your life is in limbo. You can't vote. You pay into social security, but if you lose your job, you'll simply be deported. It takes more than visa pain, however, to decide to actually throw in your lot with the locals. Most of us are pretty educated. We could have gone to England, or Germany, or the US. But we came here and we stayed because eventually when we said "home", this is the place we meant.

And if we complain sometimes, I like to think that just reflects our integration process. After all, what could be more Irish than having a good rant?

Sunday Independent

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