Smart Thinking

This week I became Irish. And maybe a little more British too

What does it really mean to be British? Or Irish? Or European? Here's why the stereotypes are wrong

This week I became Irish. Officially. It’s something I’ve thought about doing for years, slightly romantically, but which pragmatically I always dismissed.

After all, I’m not Irish. I was born in Blackpool, raised in Lancashire. I’m Northern and proud. I have friends from the north of Ireland – some of them would describe themselves as British, some Irish, some Northern Irish. None of them would describe me as anything other than English – in name and in nature. To claim Irish citizenship seemed disingenuous, like some kind of cultural appropriation, a way of expiating the sins of ‘Englishness’ which always seem to be highlighted to me by locals on foreign holidays. Everyone loves the Irish, whereas being English seems to come with a lot of imperial baggage. I want the world’s affection, not its resentment.

My grandad was from Dublin and moved to England in pursuit of my grandmother, who’d met him on holiday in Ireland. Her father was Irish too, from Cavan. So was her maternal grandfather.

“I’m going to own it. Just like I own my Englishness, my Northernness, my Lancashireness, and my ongoing European-ness”

I claimed my citizenship through my grandad and submitted evidence of my lineage: birth, marriage and death certificates, copies of passports, and a small sum of money for processing. Hey presto, six months later, I got a lovely letter congratulating me on becoming Irish, along with a certificate registering my foreign birth.

You may have guessed it was Brexit that tipped my balance. Yes, I’m English, but I’m also European. And I want to stay that way. So I made use of my heritage to do so. Some estimate that 6.7 million Brits can do the same. That’s more than the current population of the Republic of Ireland (which is 4.8 million).

I got some stick from Leavers I know about being traitorous to my motherland. Had I no pride in being English? And of course I do, though it’s a mixed up kind of pride. I’m not really sure what it actually means to be English. Being Irish seems to be a clearer and more coherent identity.

But anyway, English I remain, as I also remain a subject to the Crown. I’m not renouncing anything. I’m adding in.

The process has made me query how ‘Irish’ I am, culturally. I don’t want a pastiche kind of Irishness that’s all Guinness drinking and pithery-ootle-teetle-title music. If my ‘Irishness’ were just from one person – my grandad – then I’d say I’m probably not much Irish at all. But there’s a whole stream of Irishmen down my mother’s side of the family and I can’t imagine they left no cultural legacy in my family.

There have always been things that we’ve said ‘oh that’s the Irish in you’ about each other in our family. Thick hair, fiery temperament, stubbornness, the proclivity to overrun yourself in conversation, a delight in words, a tendency to sing lustily when together, and to drink a little too much. Are these Irish? Or English stereotypes of Irishness? I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, ethnically I can tick the White Irish box on forms, and now officially I can carry an Irish passport, so I’m going to own it. Just like I own my Englishness, my Northernness, my Lancashireness, and am grateful for my ongoing European-ness. Maybe for the first time I’m realising what it is to be British after all. A mix of identities, all valid, sometimes confusing or conflicting, but all rich and welcomed.