Becoming Irish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

The Irish Premier recently came to the US and announced changes to their laws making it easier for Irish-Americans to get Irish citizenship. In this economic downturn, which has hit Ireland harder than any of the other EU countires, they are trying to get people to move to Ireland.

Irish Passport
Irish Passport

The current law gives you Irish citizenship if one of your parents or grandparents was born in Ireland. You need proof of their citizenship (birth certificate), their marriage and your birth. There is no residency requirement.

The new law will give you citizenship if a great-grandparent was born there! The catch is that you have to live in Ireland, then apply. I don’t know how many years you have to live in Ireland first, but once this law goes into effect, the information will be on the Irish Embassy website. See the Resources at the bottom of this post for links for more information on the current laws.

New York Times, “Irish Premier’s U.S. Trip Has Dark Tone“, by Andy Newman, March 15, 2009
“And in a move to woo Irish-Americans, Mr. Cowen proposed measures to make it easier for Americans to claim Irish citizenship, reversing a restrictive course the Irish government took in 2005. … his proposal to ease naturalization by allowing Americans whose nearest Irish ancestor is a great-grandparent to qualify for citizenship, provided that they have spent considerable time studying or working in Ireland. … The number of Americans with Irish ancestry has been estimated to be as high as 40 million, and millions of those people have no closer blood tie to Ireland than a great-grandparent.”

Why Become Irish?

When you get your Irish citizenship, you can live and work in Ireland. Since Ireland is part of the European Union (EU), you can also live and work legally in any member countries.

How We Became Irish

Steve and I are both US citizens and Irish citizens. We were both born in Canada. We emigrated to the US in the late 1980s, lived and worked here with “green cards” for ten years, then became citizens.

My father was born in Ireland and emigrated to Canada just before I was born. About 25 years ago, when I found out that I was considered a citizen by Ireland because my father had been born there (citzenship by descent), I applied for an Irish passport. I needed a lot of documentation – the long form of my birth certificate, my father’s birth certificate, my parent’s marriage license – but I gathered it and sent it in. It was all returned and I got my Irish passport.

Steve became an Irish citizen based on being married to one (me!). We contacted the Irish Embassy in San Francisco and they told us exactly what steps to follow. (They were very helpful via email and the phone.) We sent in all my original documents, plus Steve’s long form birth certificate and our marriage license. They sent him a citizenship document. He then applied for a passport and sent in that document as proof of citizenship.

Note that the laws changed in 2005, after Steve got his citizenship. Now to get citizenship through marriage, you must live in Ireland for two years, then apply. You must also intend to remain living in Ireland.

The passports renew every ten years. Renewal is easy and no extra documents have to be sent in. We have never traveled on these passports, but if we decide to live in England or France for a couple of years, our EU citizenship will make it legal.


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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

18 thoughts on “Becoming Irish”

  1. Pauline,
    What a perfect post for Saint Patrick’s Day! I wonder if I can transfer to Ireland with my company, then apply for Irish citizenship? hmmmm The wheels are turning… 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. My luck, if it was my Jewish great-grandparents or my Italian great-grandparents I would be in luck, but my Irish side has been in the US one generation too many to make it count. Not sure if I would want to live in Ireland though (too cold and rainy for me) but I would live in Italy to get an Italian passport. Maybe Italy will follow Ireland’s lead? Do you use your Irish passport to get discounts or free admissions as a member of the EU while there?

  3. No, we have never used our Irish passports for anything. I felt like we should get them because we could and they would prove our Irish citizenship if we needed to at some point.

  4. hey, is this just for americans or ca anyone apply, does this include great grand parents born in uk as well since they are joined. it wouldnt be fair if it just had it for the irish americans.

  5. Hello,

    I am an American who has earned a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology here in Ireland at Trinity College, Dublin. I believe my great-grandparent was an Irish citizen, but my parent didn’t apply for Irish citizenship by the time of my birth. Since I am living in Ireland can I apply for citizenship? Initially my plan was to use the green card scheme to acquire a green card working as a psychologist. Then, months before I graduated they amended the green card scheme to omit psychologists from the list of needed occupations. My entire life is now here in Ireland and I m very interested in becoming a citizen- I want to stay, work and pay taxes here in Ireland and I’m finding it difficult to do so! Will this change in policy help me? Please respond, getting anxious.


  6. I think you can apply for citizenship based on the great-grandparent. No one further down the generation tree has to be an Irish citizen. And since you are living in Ireland, you meet that requirement too. You probably need to talk to someone in the government there and start getting your records together – birth and marriage certificates. Good luck!

  7. Pauline, I hope you are correct and I will be talking to the folks at immigration tomorrow. However, the chart that I have attempnted to post here which was taken from the General Information Leaflet on Irish Citizenship (that does not contain any mention of any changes since Mr. Cohen’s speech on St. Patrick’s day, 2009) says that I am a “D” (great grandchild of A, my grandmother is a B and my mother is C) but that my mother (C) would have had to register in the foreign births registry prior to my birth. I hope this is no longer true, or the fact that I’ve been here for over 2 years makes a difference. Do you happen to know anything about this?

    If you are: then you are:

    A: born in the island of Ireland
    – entitled to Irish citizenship or an Irish citizen.

    B: a child of A, born outside the island of Ireland
    – an Irish citizen.

    C: a child of B and a grandchild of A, born outside the island of Ireland
    -entitled to Irish citizenship, but you must first register in Foreign Births Register.

    D: a child of C and a great-grandchild of A, born outside the Island of Ireland
    – entitled to Irish citizenship, by having your birth registered in the Foreign Births Register, but only if your parent C had registered by the time of your birth.

    the pamphlet can be viewed here The leaflet can be viewed here

  8. How sad for the greatgrand child, because in my case I spent years trying to trace my grandfather and was only able to get the info a year ago. Both my children were already born. I have read so many different things on the website its all so confussing and contridictory, I am still in limbo.

  9. Sorry for such a long time before reply, we moved in October/November. I am “B” – born outside Ireland, but child of father born in Ireland – and when I contacted the embassy they said I was a citizen and I only had to apply for a passport (which I did and I have an Irish passport). I don’t know about the Foreign Births Register, but it seems unlikely that many people would register once their family had left Ireland.

  10. Being Born in Northern Ireland I’m able to have a Irish Passport
    BUT Northern Ireland is Part of the United Kingdom (England/Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland) and so I’m British and have a UK
    Passport but I’m able to apply for a Irish one as well and excise my entitlement to Irish Passport

  11. When I was trying to figure out my status I contacted the local Irish Embassy and they were very helpful. Also when Steve was claiming his citizenship (by virtue of marrying me) they were very good to deal with by email or phone.

    Paul, that is amazing! I assumed if you were born in Northern Ireland you had UK citizenship and that was that.

  12. Well I am a B as well, child of Irish born citizen (my father). I also got my passport through the consulate in San Francisco as I as automatically an Irish citizen at birth. I have been to Ireland many times and love the people, so friendly. Dublin is one of my favorite cities and would love to live there for at least few years, but would probably return to sunny California eventually.

  13. My wife has Irish citizenship by descent (FBR). For me as an American to be eligible for Irish citizenship I would have to reside with her for a minimum of three years anywhere in the island of Ireland (yes, Northern Ireland is included). My understanding is an application can only be made after three years of residency, but it may take at least two and half years of processing time. Not that I’m complaining but realistically it will take 5 1/2 years for me to gain citizenship after arriving in Eire.

    What’s interesting is if my wife and I chose to live in Belfast, for example, I could apply for Irish citizenship after three years without ever actually stepping foot in the Republic of Ireland.

    Two years after that my Irish national wife could apply for British citizenship if she so desired. Strange but true! Irish citizens are considered settled in the U.K. and can apply for British citizenship after living five years in Britain or Northern Ireland.

  14. My great grand father is Irish, i have his birth certificate. I am canadian and wondering if any one knows where would a person like me start to obtain irish passport. Do i have to live in Ireland for 2 years before i get citizenship?
    Help please!! I would really appreciate the help as things get confusing.

  15. Hi Pauline,
    Nice blog! I just started obtaining all of the documents I need to register myself in the FBR through my grandfather born in Ireland. Question for you…how long did the whole process take? Thanks!!

  16. Hi Kristin! It was about 25 years ago that I did this, through the Embassy in Vancouver, Canada. It did not take long – a few weeks. Steve got his more recently and I would say a few weeks – but then we had to wait a month or so to get the formal papers from Ireland.

    Let me know how it all goes for you. I should write a page about this for Slow Europe (a permanent page) since it is such an interesting topic.

  17. Very interesting. There is an annual St Patrick’s day parade in Manchester,UK where every true Irishman/woman marches. It my wish to bring out the Irish in every person who can lay claim to having roots in Ireland.

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