The Road to Irish Citizenship

How this Connecticut Yankee got himself an Irish passport!

Our pathway to Spanish residency meandered through Ireland. Not physically, bureaucratically. Ireland offers citizenship by descent to the grandchildren of any person born on the island of Ireland (even Northern Ireland).

Both of my father’s parents were born there. In 2015 I received my Irish citizenship and in 2016 got my Irish passport. Since Ireland is a member of the E.U., this permits me to travel, live, and work anywhere in the EU without restrictions, and to bring my non-EU spouse with me.

Many people have inquired about my experience, so read on for details if you’re interested. BTW, it’s not necessary to visit Ireland to do this; I never set foot on Irish soil until six years after I got my Irish passport.

NB: if either of your PARENTS was born in Ireland, you were an Irish citizen AT BIRTH. Your process will be similar, but just a bit simpler. My father, whose parents were born in Ireland, obtained his Irish passport after I did using the same documents I collected for mine.

The tl;dr

Visit the Irish government’s website to verify current requirements.
– Gather the required documents.
– Complete the application.
– Get the required photos.
– Get your application packet solemnized by a qualified individual.
– Submit the packet.
– Receive your Foreign Birth Registry, which is your Irish birth certificate.
Apply for your Irish passport (and passport card, if desired.)
– Receive your passport.

Read on for a detailed description of my process and more resources.

NB: I am describing the process I went through in 2015 and 2016. Be sure to check the Irish government’s website for the most recent rules and documentation requirements before beginning your process. Also note that while my citizenship application was processed and approved in four months’ time in 2015, as of September 2022, the Irish government is taking more than two years to complete this process.

It’s also worth noting that many other countries in Europe and around the world offer similiar citizenship by descent programs, though eligibility and processes differ widely.

The Legwork

I have two Irish grandparents; only one is required for this process. I chose to apply via my grandfather because he, my father, and I all share the exact same name (save for our honorifics, mine being III.) Anything you can do to make it as easy as possible to verify your lineage is a good idea.

I needed three primary sets of documents, one for each generation in the lineage, my grandfather, my father, and me:

– A certified copy of the birth certificate
– A certified copy of the marriage certificate (if applicable)
– A certified copy of the death certificate OR
– A photocopy of the current passport.

Birth certificates

This is the fundamental documentation that kicks off the process. This can be the most challenging for folks who know their grandparents were born in Ireland but are not sure where or when. There are resources and services out there to help people research this, but I was fortunate enough to have the details I needed to locate my grandfather’s birth certificate. I was also fortunate to have an Irish friend willing to visit a General Register Office to pull my grandfather’s birth certificate while visiting his family. They can also be ordered for delivery by mail.

For certified copies of my father’s and my U.S. birth certificates, I used VitalChek. Yes, we had certified copies in our family records, but I figured getting clean, fresh new copies that I didn’t mind putting in the mail and risking not getting back was a good idea.

With the birth certificates sorted, it was time for the next set of documents, the marriage certificates.

Marriage certificates

I am a Virgo with OCD-adjacent tendencies, so I comply with instructions completely and to the letter. I have been told that I probably didn’t need the marriage certificates, as there were no name changes involved as we are all men who didn’t change our names through marriage.

This is for sure needed if there is a difference in the name anywhere in the lineage. For example, your grandmother is your Irish grandparent and she married and changed her name. Or your mother married and changed her name. Or you married and changed your name. Or all three. I did it anyway and this turned out to be the trickiest bit for me.

My grandparents were long gone by the time I started this process. My father and his siblings knew the generalities of my grandparents marriage, but not the specifics. They knew they were married in New York City and they new the year but were not certain of the exact date, nor the exact church. Enter the NYC City Clerk’s Marriage Bureau research service. I downloaded the form, provided as many details as I could, mailed it in with payment and they found the record for me and sent me a certified copy.

I obtained a certified copy of my parents’ marriage certificate from the state vital records office where they were married. I had a copy of my husband’s and mine. VitalChek has many of these records as well.

Now for the final documents death certificates and passports.

Death certificates/Passports

I only needed one death certificate, for my grandfather, which I obtained through the state vital records office in the state where he died.

I made photocopies of my father’s and my US passport information pages.

One last thing

I also needed documents to verify my current residence at the time; I used either bank statements or utility bills or maybe both. Not sure how many I needed.

As I recall, this entire process took me about two months.

The Application

In 2015, I actually wrote to the Irish Consulate in the U.S. to request a paper form by mail, but these days you begin the process online.

(Side note: Ireland’s deployment of electronic technologies for these processes is impressive. For my Irish passport card, ordered in 2020, I was able to submit a photo my husband took with my iPhone to be used as the official photo on the card! The AI evaluated the photo in realtime and approved it within minutes. The entire application took less than 15 minutes, all online.)

I visited the Triple A office to exercise my annual passport photo benefit to get the two photos I needed to send with my application. They needed to be European passport sizes, not US, and AAA knows how to do that, not all passport photo places in the U.S. do.

Once my application was complete and with photos in hand, I had to get the application form and photos validated by an official. Normally in the U.S. we would use a Notary Public, but Ireland did not recognize U.S. notaries. The application listed a number of options for recognized officials, the first of which is a priest. (Big surprise there!) Judges, lawyers, justices of the peace, and some other officials are all acceptable. Interestingly, all that’s required to prove their provenance is a business card attached to the application. I know, right? Appearing before a notary is far more authoritative; anyone can get business cards made that say anything. Nevertheless, I asked a friend who was a justice of the peace to solemnize my form. She also had to sign the back of my pictures to confirm they were actually photos of me.

Then I sent the form and all the original (!) documents to Ireland. (The original documents do get returned.) I sent mine with tracking, but it’s not necessary. I was told it would take four months to process. I tracked the envelope to make sure it arrived and left it alone. (I do think today you can probably track the processing online, but it wasn’t possible then.)

The Irish Birth Certificate

Fast forward almost exactly four months. I’ve been busy and oddly enough, I have not been obsessing over my application. I get home to Seattle from a visit to my folks in Connecticut to a slip from the Post Office alerting me to a package I needed to pick up. The slip indicated the package was from an international shipper and indicated that it was “retail.” I could not for the life of me figure out what it was, so I went down to the Post Office.

The Postal clerk returned from the back office with a brown Kraft paper packet that looked homemade. It was hand-addressed in script that looked like my grandmother’s handwriting. I looked at the postage stamp, saw it was from Ireland, and realized I was holding my new documents in hand!

I waited until I got back to my car to open the package. The weight of the moment hit me. I reflected on my grandparents’ history, the reasons they left Ireland, the fact that they were leaving a land that presented little to no opportunity for them, striking out across the ocean to a land where they knew only one or two family members who had preceded in order to forge a new life.

At that time, the U.S. was the promised land; U.S. citizenship was the gold standard. I knew my grandfather never wanted to return to Ireland, even to visit. His life there had been so hard that he would say “why would I ever want to go back?” (He eventually did make one trip back, at the behest of his only daughter, who asked her parents to accompany her on a trip. How can any father say “no” to his daughter?)

I wondered what my grandparents would think of what I’d done. The efforts I’d gone through to seek out citizenship in the country they both left so they could be come U.S. citizens and so their children and grandchildren could be Americans. I’m still not sure how they would react, but my father thinks they’d be proud. Maybe. All I knew was that the world has changed since they left Ireland. We live in a globalized society. The U.S. is arguably no longer the only leading source of freedom and opportunity. While my motivations were entirely sentimental, I did think, “I have options, now.” Simple as that.

With that I opened the packet and pulled out the letter of congratulations and my certificate of Foreign Birth Registry, effectively my Irish birth certificate. Now I was eligible to apply for my Irish passport.

The Irish Passport

Applying for my Irish passport was pretty much the same as applying for a U.S. passport. The Foreign Birth Registry served as my birth certificate; my U.S. birth certificate was not required. The process took about a month.

The Irish Passport Card

When I was getting ready to move to Spain, I decided to order my Irish passport card to carry in my wallet as my identification here. I can also use the card to move around the E.U. as it is accepted at the borders.

Benefits of an Irish Passport

– Residing and working anywhere in the E.U.
– Using the E.U. passport lines in airports in the E.U.
– More powerful than a U.S. passport in terms of visa-free world travel.

What Next?

Read my post about using my Irish passport for Spanish residency for me and my non-EU husband.