Julie McDonald: Irish citizenship offers new take on St. Patrick’s Day celebration


Despite my rich Irish ancestry, with 96 percent of my DNA tracing back to Ireland, I mark most St. Patrick’s Days simply by wearing green to avoid being pinched.

This year, though, I gathered with three of my sisters in Washougal for a dinner of corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad and Irish soda bread with “bloomin’ apples” and Irish mint cream puffs for dessert.

Why? To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a big way because of what arrived in the mail last week for all four of us and my brother — our Irish citizenship.

“I always did a little bit with St. Patrick’s Day, but I feel a little more like celebrating St. Patrick's Day because I’m more Irish than I was before,” said my eldest sister, Charline Wright, of Washougal.

I love the United States of America, and I would never renounce my U.S. citizenship.

Yet, 60 or 70 nations allow for dual citizenship, and Ireland allows citizenship by descent. My mother and one of my sisters had applied for Irish citizenship in 1986 before laws changed making it more restrictive. Mom’s grandmother was born on Dec. 17, 1872, in a stone cottage at what today is called Cronin’s Yard near Mealis, Beaufort, in County Kerry. The cottage was nestled in the foothills of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks at the entrance of Hug’s Glen, which is the starting point for climbing Ireland’s highest mountain, 3,406-foot Carrauntoohil and MacGillycuddy’s Reeks on the Iveragh Peninsula.

When my parents and sister Cathleen visited Ireland in 1986, they saw stones from the cottage. By the time I traveled there with my mother and another sister in 1993, most of the stones had disappeared.

Although we met my mother’s cousins during our trip to Ireland, including Eileen Cronin, whose son, Gerald, guided mountain climbers up Carrauntoohil, I never thought much about Irish citizenship. My mother’s Irish passport had come in handy in Brussels, where a hotel manager required us to leave our passports at the desk. Mom left her Irish passport, keeping her U.S. passport safely with her.

At any rate, in early 2019, I learned that a cousin in Illinois had obtained his Irish citizenship, so I contacted him to find out how he’d done it. Tim had applied through his mother’s line; his father was my uncle, my mom’s brother. But he shared information about registering as a foreign-born Irish national if you have a parent or grandparent who was an Irish citizen. In his case, his maternal grandmother was born in Belfast in 1890.

I dug a little deeper into the process and stumbled upon a company called Irish Citizenship Consultants (https://irishcitizenshipconsultants.com/) that can walk you through the process, which sounded great to me.

Then I discovered that, although we had the paperwork, it could cost up to $1,000. I mentioned it to my son, Paul, saying it might be fun but not at that price. Next thing I knew, he sent me $1,000 via PayPal.

And if all my siblings applied at the same time, using Mom’s paperwork, we could cut the expense a bit. It ended up costing each of us about $770.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, shutting down offices worldwide.

We waited a year. Two years. Three. Finally, in early 2022, I contacted Kelly Cordes at Irish Citizenship Consultants, and we moved forward with the applications.

Cordes outlined what paperwork we needed to gather and submit along with the fee. That included certified birth and marriage certificates, death certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, proof of our address, signed paperwork from a professional witness who knows us and the legitimacy of our paperwork, etc. We mailed all that to Kelly who submitted it to Ireland.

Then we waited another year. And longer. Until last week, when we received certificates in the mail listing us as Irish citizens.

But what exactly does that mean?

We can apply for Irish passports, giving us membership access to the European Union and the ability to travel freely among EU countries and live and work in any of them. We can live in Ireland indefinitely as citizens, vote, run for office and buy property there. We can seek diplomatic support from Irish embassies and serve on juries if called to do so.

My cousin said he may retire to Ireland for a while. He can still receive his Social Security there, he said. He already has an Irish passport. He mentioned applying for a public services card for identification to obtain a driver’s license and perhaps social services. He considers the effort and money well worth it.

People can gain dual citizenship in Ireland by being born to immigrant parents, becoming naturalized citizens as many early pioneers did in the United States, or through descent from a parent or grandparent who were Irish citizens.

Quite a few countries let Americans hold dual citizenship with their nations, among them Portugal, Spain, Malta, Cyprus, Belgium, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. Some become citizens through birth, marriage, descent or investment. Malta, Cyprus and Antigua allow foreign nationals to gain citizenship through large investments in real estate, job creation or government bonds. In other words, rich folks can invest money in the country and obtain citizenship. Portugal and Spain have the Golden Visa, a residence-by-investment program. Each country has its own rules.

In a Feb. 24, 2022, Forbes article, author Laura Begley Bloom stated that 40 percent of Americans might be able to claim dual citizenship and access to the European Union. She also noted that Latin Americans may be able to claim citizenship by Spanish descent. She broke down how many Americans might qualify for citizenship in the following countries:

• Ireland: 33 million Americans (one of the easiest citizenships to obtain)

• Spain: 75 million Americans (including Latin Americans, Filipinos and Sephardic Jews)

• Germany: 43 million Americans (including Jewish Americans forced out by the Nazis)

• Italy: 17 million Americans (depending on whether their ancestors bore children before they became American citizens, thus losing their Italian citizenship)

• Poland: 10 million Americans (one of the most accessible in Europe)

• Netherlands: 4 million Americans

• Norway: 4 million Americans

• Hungary: 4 million Americans

• Greece: 1.5 million Americans

• Portugal: 1 million Americans

• Czech Republic: 1 million Americans

So, was it worth applying for dual citizenship?

“You can go from one country to another in Europe, and I don’t believe you have to go through customs,” said my sister Jackie Young, of Woodland. “With a U.S. passport, we’d have to, but we wouldn’t have to with a European Union passport.”

I’m glad I applied for Irish citizenship because it may someday enable my children to seek dual citizenship. Jackie also pointed out that possibility.

“They would not have that opportunity if we hadn’t done it,” she said.

As I rode to Washougal with my sister Sue from Olympia, we listened to Irish songs, and I pictured our father at the dining room table, singing those same tunes in his rich baritone with an acquired Irish brogue. I think he and my mother would both be pleased we hold Irish citizenship honoring our ancestral heritage.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.