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Why I’m Choosing to Become an Irish Citizen

Irish Passport

BREAKING up is never easy. But how do you break up with a country?

That’s the question that I — along with many fellow Britons — am asking now that the country has voted to leave the European Union.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve grudgingly accepted that 52 percent of my fellow citizens wanted to leave the European Union, a 70-year-old project that has united much of Europe into a somewhat unwieldy economic and social colossus, allowing roughly 500 million people to travel and work unhindered from Ireland to Greece.

But for me, those benefits — particularly as a reporter who has lived and worked across the Continent — are worth holding on to. And that’s why, with a heavy heart, I’m applying to become an Irish citizen, saying goodbye to Britain just as it wants to say goodbye to Europe.

My change of allegiance is by no means a one-off. Many Britons like me have parents or grandparents who were born in various countries in Europe. And, under the quirks of European rules, we are eligible to apply for another country’s citizenship, as long as we can produce documents like a birth certificate to prove our forebears’ connections to the country. We can still hold onto our British citizenship, too.

These choices, though, are not simple. Many people (including me) looking to apply for other European citizenships have little or no connections to these countries. And with the country throwing its support behind leaving, those wanting to jump ship could find their patriotism being questioned.

Yet Milla Jackson, a 27-year-old theater director here, is taking the plunge, along with her father and brother, applying for Italian citizenship through a grandmother who emigrated from Italy after World War II. “My grandmother embraced being British, even down to the Sunday roasts,” said Ms. Jackson, who fretted that the Italian bureaucracy might slow down the applications.

“I don’t want to give up being British,” she added. “But I don’t want to give up my European identity.”

Britain will spend the next two years figuring out its new relationship with the European Union, and the nation’s potentially reduced access to the Continent. The status of other Europeans already living in Britain is also up in the air, though legal experts say both sides are likely to come to some sort of compromise.

For Neil Murray, that uncertainty is too much to risk. With a Danish partner and a business spread across the Nordic region, Mr. Murray, a 30-year-old journalist, is looking to apply for Irish citizenship through his grandmother (who left the country when she was just 6 months old), as well as secure dual citizenship for his two children, both under 4 years old. “I need to prioritize,” he said. “Do I get the kids Danish passports first, or my Irish one?”

My situation is a little easier: I’m going full Irish. That’s how I found myself last week requesting copies of the birth certificate of my own Irish grandmother, who was born in County Mayo in 1923. Ireland joined what became the European Union in 1973, the same year as Britain, and uses the euro as its national currency along with roughly two-thirds of other member countries.

For less than $50, two copies should soon arrive in the mail. Then, I can register online with the Irish government, a relatively straightforward process that will cost $300. (Irish officials say they’ve seen a noticeable tick up in citizenship applications as Britons with Irish roots have started to file paperwork.)

My decision has also made me an unwitting cheerleader for Ireland. As I spoke about my plans with my father, who lives in Massachusetts, he also became eager to apply for citizenship. Yet after a quick phone call to the Irish Consulate in Boston, he was told that as the son of an Irish citizen, he was already a native.

“Congrats,” I told him when he called me excitedly with the news. “We should rename ourselves the O’Scotts.”

My citizenship quest is shared by (mostly young) Britons across the country, as well as those who already live throughout the European Union.

Richard Ayling, a 36-year-old Briton, has spent the last nine years living in Germany, first as an English teacher and now as the owner of a language and translation business. The day before the British referendum, Mr. Ayling said, he applied for German citizenship, a simple procedure that involved a language test (he’s fluent), a basic residency requirement and a multiple-choice test on German history.

Now that the country of his birth has voted to leave, Mr. Ayling says he will let his British passport lapse when the time comes. The decision was a no-brainer, he said, as he will soon split his time between Hamburg and a new house he recently bought on the outskirts of Lisbon.

“Being British or German, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “It’s about having the freedom to work and live wherever I want.”

  • Mark Scott is the European technology correspondent for The New York Times.


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About the author

Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

Twitter: @syd_field