Ireland’s newest citizens were told at a citizenship ceremony that integration was a “two-way process” and they should feel encouraged to get involved in their communities.
Close to 3,300 people will become new Irish citizens over the next two days in Killarney, with the UK once again the lead nationality and the USA also in the top 10 nationality groups.
Monday’s ceremonies in Killarney were notable for the numbers of people opting to wear green – green ties, dresses and, in the case of one Hong Kong native, Man Wah Law from Bundoran, Co Donegal, special green shoes and matching dress.
Harpist Elaine Hogan got sustained applause for her rendition of O’Carolan’s Concerto as did the music by the army band under Capt Fergal Carroll. There was spontaneous applause and whistling by the new citizens from 130 countries at the end of the ceremony.
Retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon addressed the attendees and their families and departed from his usual lighthearted address to preface his remarks with how in recent years “the world as we know it has changed utterly”.
He said that western democracy itself was being threatened in its traditional bastions the UK and the USA, before administering the oath of allegiance to the new citizens of the Irish State.
War, natural disaster and famine had led to an unprecedented 100 million people being displaced. Other events such as the Covid pandemic, “the existential threat” of climate change, and the economic shock of the recent invasion of Ukraine, were among the recent changes, he noted.
“Democracy itself is being challenged by a new type of demagoguery,” Judge McMahon said.
“Personal integrity, morality and principle” were no longer in evidence.
“I refer to the UK and the USA in particular – two traditional bastions of western democracy,” he said.
It was “with some regret” he referred to these events on a day of such personal achievement for the new citizens. However, he said, “no man is an island, no island is an island”.
“It is time for concern and vigilance. We must be vigilant in these strange times,” he cautioned, before giving “the good news” of administering the oath to respect Irish democratic values, and encouraging the new citizens to become part of their communities, while not forgetting their roots and their own histories.
“Integration is a two-way process,” he said, urging new citizens to get involved in their communities.
Afterwards Darryl Vance, originally from the USA and now living in Loughrea, Co Galway, said he had been waiting for this day “for a long time”. Judge McMahon was “absolutely right” about the USA and Donald Trump especially, he said.
“I’ve just been put on the guest list to the world’s greatest club. Not the poshest, not the flashiest, but the best,” he said of becoming an Irish citizen.
No country was perfect but Ireland was holding on to its values of democracy and inclusion, he said.
“Come on in and bring your own culture – that just killed me,” he said, referring to the speeches at the 40-minute ceremony.
Elden Acabal, a healthcare assistant with St James’s Hospital, Dublin, had been waiting for two years, and worked through the pandemic. Ms Acabal is originally from Manila in the Philippines, and her husband, Cyril, is also a healthcare assistant at the hospital. The couple have two children. The whole family are now Irish citizens.
“This is my greatest day,” she said. It meant she can travel in and out now without a visa and can work without a work permit.
Abigail Rowe, who moved to Cork 30 years ago, said it was “about time” she became a citizen in the country she loved and regarded as her own.
Originally from Sussex in the south of England, she works as an administrator in the Imperial Hotel and feels part of history, though she still has to see Michael Collins’s room in the famous hotel in the South Mall.
Abigail’s oldest daughter Bridget has been in Ireland since she was two and also became a citizen.
“We have been wanting to do it for years. I love this country. Any patriotism I have is for Ireland,” she said.
Home is where you choose to live out your life and die and she will be buried in Ireland, she said.
“I feel so privileged to be allowed to become an Irish citizen.”
Bridget, an accountant, said it was wonderful to be at the ceremony together.
“Technically I was English but culturally Irish,” the new citizen said.
Sheila Hennessy, from Mogeely in east Cork, has been in Ireland for 50 years. She has four sisters and seven grandchildren. She had no Irish roots but her first husband, Tim Herlihy, was from Middleton and she arrived in Ireland in 1972 from Birmingham.
This was an Ireland of no running water. But that did not turn her off.
“The first day I came to Ireland I loved it,” she said.