Irish Roots


February 27th 2012

- now also available as an Irish Times blog.

John Grenham


When the Certificate of Irish Heritage was first proposed back in 2009, the response from the standing army of Irish genealogists was sceptical, to put it mildly. Some of the gentler contributions from the sideline included the words "Leprechaun" and "Begorrah".

In the Irish Independent, Martina Devlin got very annoyed indeed, calling the whole scheme "tawdry, tricksy and really kind of icky . a demeaning device to hoodwink the descendants of emigrants." Even the practical obstacles seemed huge. How exactly would "Irish Heritage" be measured? Would anyone who ever did an Irish dancing class qualify? The begrudgers were unanimous. It could be little more than a state-sponsored "Kiss me I'm Irish" hat.

The scheme has now been in operation for five months and it is time for some of us cynics to eat a few words. Fexco, the Kerry company chosen to run the programme, looked at the image problems and the practical problems as openly as possible, and tackled them head-on. The result, visible at heritagecertificate.ie, is utterly genuine. The Certificate is simply an acknowledgment by the Government of an individual's historic link with Ireland, based on demonstrable evidence and with text consisting mainly of a quote from Article 2 of the Constitution: "The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with those of Irish ancestry living abroad".

Anyone who has researched the ancestors of Irish emigrants knows that it can be nearly impossible to make a documentary link to the precise Irish place of origin, especially for those who flooded off the island during the Famine and its aftermath. That doesn't make them any less Irish, or their descendants' connection with Ireland any less real. At the very least, contemporary Ireland owes them recognition of that connection. The Certificate provides just that, straightforwardly and honestly. With not a shamrock or a shillelagh in sight.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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