Monday, August 6, 2012

Irish Citizenship by Descent

Today's guest post comes courtesy of Lucy Faraday, a freelance writer. I've only written one substantial bit about Ireland, regarding year-long student work programs in Ireland, so I'm happy that Lucy provides a nice article about claiming Irish citizenship via ancestry. It's one of the many areas I should write more about.

Ireland: The Easiest Way into the EU

ireland - church
Church Ruins in Galway, Ireland
Photo by jenbaltes
Gaining residency in the EU has great benefits. Under EU rules, anybody with citizenship in one country is allowed to visit, settle and work in other EU countries, without restrictions. This gives an immense amount of freedom as not only can you live and work wherever you want, you can also claim welfare payments, get access to a country’s free healthcare, and even vote. Gaining entry to the EU can be extremely tricky, though, and some countries make the task nearly impossible, even for citizens from America or other developed nations. However, one EU country provides a much easier route than any otherinto the EU: Ireland.


While Northern Ireland (a separate country and under UK rule) has suffered its fair share of trouble, Ireland itself has a long, peaceful history. It remained neutral during the world wars, keeps out of global politics, and is one of the most relaxed places to settle. It offers free health care, has no national military service, has a friendly, welcoming population, and allows dual citizenship, so you won’t have to relinquish your original passport and nationality. Cities such as Dublin are cosmopolitan and vibrant, while the countryside around Ireland is some of the prettiest in the world. Recently, Ireland has suffered some economic problems, which may make finding a job a bit tricky, but it also means that it has never been cheaper to move there. Besides, once you have obtained an Irish passport, you do not even have to go to Ireland, as you are permitted to travel by air, Fred Olsen Cruise, express coach or train in order to holiday, live, and work anywhere in the EU.

Irish Descent

It is estimated that nearly 40 million Americans have Irish ancestors. Irish immigrants have made their way to America by their thousands, and this has some distinct advantages for an American looking to gain Irish citizenship. While most countries make provisions for people to claim citizenship if their parents came from the country, Ireland goes several steps further.

Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1956, people born outside Ireland can claim citizenship, not only if their parents were born in Ireland, but also if their grandparent, or in some circumstances, great grandparent was born there. For an American, this means there is a really good chance that one of your grandparents, or great grandparents (of which you have eight), originated from Ireland. Of course, you don’t have to be an American to apply, as anybody with ancestors born in Ireland has the right to claim citizenship.

If you are claiming Irish descent because of your great grandparent’s origins, there are some stipulations. Somebody in your lineage must have already made an application for citizenship since your great grandparents left Ireland. However, even this stipulation has been wavered on more than one occasion, so it may be worth applying even if this is not the case. It is important, though, to remember that since 1922, Northern Ireland has been part of the UK, not Ireland, so if you grandparents or great grandparents came from the Ulster area, you can only claim citizenship if they were born before 1922 (otherwise they are classed as British).  

Irish citizenship by descent

cork, ireland
Cork, Ireland
Photo by Travis Crawford
Under the Nationality and Citizenship Act, applying to live in Ireland because of descent is a fairly straightforward process. If your parents are Irish, you are automatically entitled to citizenship. However, if you are applying because your grandparents or great grandparents came from Ireland, you have to establish a chain of lineage. This is simpler than it sounds. All you have to do is collect birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates for yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and your great grandparents.

For those descendents who were born, married or died in the United States, these documents are available from the Office of Vital Statistics or Office of Vital Records, in whichever state they resided. For Irish documents, these are available from the Irish General Registry Office. If you do struggle getting hold of the relevant documents, it might be worth hiring a genealogy service who often have access to extensive databases and should be able to track them down for you. All documents need to be originals, not photocopies, and you need to make sure you get the full-length certificates, not the shortened versions.

Applying for citizenship

Once you have established your lineage, you need to request an application form from the nearest Irish embassy or consulate office, or download one from the new Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. Fill in the application and send it off along with your documents. After this, your local embassy or consulate will then contact you and arrange an interview. This is quite informal, and nothing to worry about, although you do have to pay a fee (around $150). During the interview, they will discuss your lineage and ask why you wish to settle in Ireland, so it is worthwhile having a little story about getting back to your roots. After about six weeks, you should hear whether you have been granted citizenship. If you have, the embassy or consulate will send you Irish citizenship papers, which will allow you to then apply for a full Irish passport.


  1. Hello!

    Just a quick query! You mentioned that "However, even this stipulation has been wavered on more than one occasion.....". Can you give us an example? I am fascinated by that the most positive way!


    1. Hi Anonymous,

      The post above was a guest post and I am unsure where that bit came from. However, here's the Irish government's description of how to apply for Irish citizenship via ancestry and here's a summary of that information (easier to read, but may be out of date).

    2. Just thought I should clarify so no one gets their hopes up, in order to get citizenship through a great grandparent, one of your parents must already have been registered at the time of your birth. There are no waivers, I wish there were. My mother is an Irish citizen, I sorted the paperwork out for her, but because she didn't register before I was born I have no access to it, no arguments.....soo frustrating. Sorry if a buzz kill . ---Tab

  2. Hi!
    It is said in the media that the law might change "soon" (a post written in 2008) and I think it is worth waiting until a new law is being voted. But for sure it doesn't cost much trying to ask for irish citizenship - who knows, it might be under the irish government discretion to give someone this citizenship, like they sometimes do in Germany.
    I am also of irish descent but it's unfortunately my great-grandmother who was born Irish, not my grandfather. I'm also expecting the law to change. It's really frustrating because I lived in Ireland in 1998 and I still have relatives living there. I live in Europe as well (Switzerland) and I'm definitely European.
    I met a American guy a few years ago who had never been to Europe or Ireland before who became Irish by descent and got a good position in a company in Switzerland. But he was soooo American, the only irish thing he had was his passport.

    Well, if anything changes in the law, please let us know. I'm still keeping an eye on the government's votes.

    Cheers! PHIL

  3. Me and my child have been severely abused and our human rights taken away from us by an organized stalking harassment group in the USA our whole entire lives. We both have Irish Ancestory and we would like to move to Ireland to be safe. How do you request this?

    1. Do you have an Irish grandparent (a grandparent born in Ireland)? If the answer is yes, you simply get their birth cert, the birth cert of their child (your parent) and your own birth cert. You then register on the Foreign Births Register (foreign meaning you were not born in Ireland) and once you are registered you can get an Irish passport. You can then travel to Ireland on the Irish passport.

  4. I am very curious about this. I would love to get dual citizenship to Ireland. Both sets of my great grandparents were born in Ireland. However, my grandfather was born in scotland. Would my grandfather have automatically been considered an Irish Citizen, since his parents were Irish Citizens? Could I apply through this route?

    1. Anonymous, I can't say what Irish nationality law was like back then, but I would suggest you research it. There's a very good chance that your grandfather would have been Irish via jus sanguinus, potentially giving you a claim. If you go this route, I'd love to hear more about it!

  5. Hello,

    This is an interesting discussion. My great grandfather, on my mother's side (her father's father - so her grandfather) was born and raised in Ireland. He immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s. He died in Edmonton. However, she did not apply for Irish citizenship. Based on the information above, it would seem that while I am not eligible for Irish citizenship, I would be eligible to apply for some sort of Irish residence status provided that I am able to produce my great grandfather's birth certificate and death certificate. Is this correct?

    Thank you.