Margaret and Dick   


July '09: Irish passport

In France, the first time you fly in a plane or a balloon, they call it a “baptism”.  This week I baptized my new Irish passport – with Guinness of course.

At the Dublin airport, I strolled through the European Union citizens’ line while Margaret waded through the non-EU line for a visa.  No visa for me; as holder of an Irish passport I am an EU citizen.  When I saw that EU citizens were just waved through immigration control, I asked the border agent,  “Do you perhaps have a ‘Welcome to Ireland’ stamp?”  He smiled and stamped the virgin passport with a Dublin entry and date.  I found it a surprisingly emotional moment.  I do appreciate my US citizenship, but the Irish passport is a link to the country of my ancestors who left during times of trouble and poverty. 

Dual citizenship is no problem these days.  The US previously forbad it but found the rule unenforceable.  Irish law permits citizenship for those with a grandparent born in Ireland.  You provide certified copies of documents proving the date and place of birth, marriage (and death, if applicable) of grandparents, parents, and yourself.  My Irish cousins helped score the documents necessary to link me to my grandmother’s Scanlan family.  Margaret is jealous:  her Irish connection is one generation older and doesn’t qualify.  She reminds me regularly that she has more Irish blood than I do.

Why bother with Irish citizenship?  It ends the annual nuisance obtaining a France long-stay visa.  And if I ever choose to become a resident, the EU passport makes me eligible for French medical care.  Medicare doesn’t cover costs incurred outside the USA.

We broke in the new passport with five days in Dublin.  After settling in to our inn – eight rooms above a pub,  perfect! – we were soon at the bar sipping a dark cool Guinness, the national drink of Ireland.  We rarely drink beer at home and more rarely order Guinness, but here it is de rigueur.  Old ads used to say, “Guinness is food,” based on the high calorie count, I suppose. 

We chatted with the bartender/manager.   The Irish are so friendly, and he had a nice light brogue.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “Richmond, Virginia.”   He’s been working so long in Irish pubs in the US, France, and now in Ireland that he’s picked up the accent. 

This pattern of foreigners continued.  In a fine restaurant, we asked the waiter, “Where are you from?”  “Italy,” like most Dublin waiters.  The young hotel cleaner was from Ecuador.  Lots of taxi drivers were African.  The best performers in a sidewalk circus festival (photo) were Danish.  Dublin is as international as any city we’ve visited.  Over a hundred countries are represented, a result of the Irish economic “miracle” during the 20 years since Ireland joined the European Union.  Young Irish found better jobs and moved up the ladder, leaving entry-level jobs to foreigners.  The current recession has slowed the economy, but the level of energy we saw in Dublin suggests that Ireland will bounce back. 

And how was Dublin?  Each day included some culture, some entertainment, some fine food, and (of course) pubs.  Traditional Irish music is hard to find in modern Dublin, since young locals prefer folk or cutting-edge rock.  But we found our “trad” music happiness at O’Donoghue’s.  Push your way in, order your pint, and gently work your way through the crowd to the musicians.  Guitar, banjo, drums, accordion, flute, and a fine tenor formed a constantly changing circle as one joined in and another left.  “When are we going to hear some real Irish music?” asked an 80-year old tourist from Toronto next to me. “Like Molly Malone or Danny Boy.”  I reassured her that this was real Irish music.  And it was grand.   

Touring the mammoth Guinness brewery, we saw what it takes to produce three million pints (a quarter-million gallons) of beer every day.  The city of Dublin used to complain that the factory took too much water from the river Liffey that flows through town.  Guinness insists that it uses no river water, only pure spring water
from the nearby Wicklow mountains.  Given that the Liffey originates in the Wicklow mountains, that gives Guinness lots of flexibility to describe their water source.  In any case, there is certainly no water shortage in Ireland.  Up in the mountains every scratch in the dirt becomes a little stream. 

Relics of eight centuries of British domination were everywhere, from the 18th-century prison that held generations of rebels seeking Irish independence to the public buildings built at the peak of British colonialism.  Dublin’s British-built House of Parliament looks almost identical to the House of Parliament in Delhi.   

Everybody seemed to know at least one Higgins.  “Higgins” translates from the Gaelic “descendant of the Vikings”.  But it’s my mother’s family that got me the passport.  The Higgins ancestors have been traced to 18th-century Nova Scotia, and we always thought of that branch of the family as English.  They arrived there after king George lost the US revolutionary war.  Maybe those Higgins soldiers were actually Irish, just earning a living (!). 

Doesn’t matter.  Welcome to Ireland.  Have a pint! 

Where you should go:
The Pig's Ear
“Good, honest, Irish fare with a modern touch.”
Restaurant L'Ecrivain:  This Michelin one-star restaurant, home of Irish celebrity chef Derry Clarke, serves a sublime synthesis of French and Irish cuisine.
Pub O'Donoghue's:  Live music.

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