Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Claiming an Irish passport - Part 1

Many of you who have attended talks that I have given over the last few years might have heard me refer to the identity crisis that first led me to start researching my family history in 1999. As a child of both Irish and Scottish stock who grew up in the Northern Ireland of the Troubles, I was never comfortable with my description of 'British' or its alternative of 'Irish' - the idea that I was being labelled with an identity simply because of an accident of birth and history, which society dictated that I must adhere to, to become loyal to the ideals of one 'tribe', and not the other. Indeed, I've often jokingly referred to myself as suffering from something called Sruth na Maoile syndrome, the Gaelic phrase for the Straits of Moyle, which is the waterway that divides Scotland from Ireland - the inference being that my true identity is all at sea somewhere in between! (You can hear me discuss this in a talk I gave at St. Catherine's Ontario 2 years ago, at

Obviously since carrying out my ancestral research I have been able to throw all that baggage away, and discover from scratch my true identity for myself, which derives from the sum of all my ancestral parts, and not some politician's pen. As I have lived in the UK for all of my life to date, I currently have a British passport, issued by the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. To me, my British passport does not indicate my identity - my family history reveals that - but it does permit me certain rights and protections as someone who has grown up in the UK when travelling. It is more than a British passport, though, in that a holder of a British passport is currently also a member of the European Union, and has the same rights in law as any other EU citizen when so doing - it's why all EU passports are the same shape, size, colour, and with similar wording. However, as you may be aware, next week we are having a referendum on whether the UK retains its membership of the European Union. As a consequence, these rights and protections as an EU citizen may soon be withdrawn.

I do not wish to give up my EU rights when travelling - and I have a way to bypass this eventuality. As someone who was born in Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland, under the current rules in the Republic of Ireland I can also claim an Irish passport - indeed, so too can my children, as even though they were born in Scotland, under Irish law, they are automatically considered to be Irish citizens simply because they have Irish parents, irrespective of whether we are from the north or south (we come from each end of the island!). The Republic of Ireland is also a member of the European Union, and isn't planning on going anywhere on that front. Now, partly because of the entirely negative nature of the current UK referendum campaign, on both sides, and partly because I now feel comfortable in the fact that my true identity lies embedded across the islands of both Ireland and Britain, I have finally decided that I am going to exercise my right to claim dual citizenship. 

The ability to claim an Irish passport and hold dual citizenship is something that many people in Britain, and further afield, have enjoyed for decades. But what are the rules on eligibility? Well, it all depends on whether you have a connection to Ireland - and this is where the genealogy bit comes in! The Irish Government's Citizens Information site neatly outlines the criteria that must be fulfilled for qualification at This is the key part - for clarification, the use of the term 'Ireland' here refers to the island, encompassing both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (the 'Irish state'):

Citizenship through birth in Ireland

If you were born in Ireland and your parent(s) were Irish citizens, then you are also an Irish citizen.

However, in certain circumstances some people born in Ireland have to claim Irish citizenship. You can find more details about claiming Irish citizenship through special declaration in 'Further information' below.

Children of foreign national parents

A child born in the island of Ireland on or after 1 January 2005 is entitled to Irish citizenship if they have a British parent or a parent who is entitled to live in Northern Ireland or the Irish State without restriction on their residency. A child born in Ireland to a parent who has been granted refugee status is also automatically entitled to Irish citizenship.

Under the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004, children born of other foreign national parents in the island of Ireland on or after 1 January 2005 are not automatically entitled to Irish citizenship. These parents must prove that they have a genuine link to Ireland. This will be evidenced by their having 3 out of the previous 4 years reckonable residence in the island of Ireland immediately before the birth of the child. On proof of a genuine link to Ireland their child will be entitled to Irish citizenship and can apply for a certificate of nationality - see 'How to apply' below.

Children born outside Ireland to Irish citizen parents

If either of your parents was an Irish citizen who was born in Ireland, then you are automatically an Irish citizen, irrespective of your place of birth.

Irish citizen parents born outside Ireland

If you were born outside Ireland to an Irish citizen who was himself or herself born outside Ireland, then you are entitled to become an Irish citizen. If your parent derived Irish citizenship in another manner, for example, through marriage, adoption or naturalisation, and was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth, you can become an Irish citizen.

However before you can claim Irish citizenship, you must have your birth registered in the Foreign Births Register, which is maintained by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - see 'How to apply' below. If you are entitled to register, your Irish citizenship is effective from the date of registration - not from the date when you were born.

If the parent through whom you derive Irish citizenship was deceased at the time of your birth, but would have been an Irish citizen if alive at that time, you are also an Irish citizen. Also, you derive citizenship through an Irish parent whether or not your parents were married to each other at the time of your birth.

Citizenship through descent from Irish grandparents

If one of your grandparents is an Irish citizen who was born in Ireland, but none of your parents was born in Ireland, you may become an Irish citizen. You will need to have your birth registered in the Foreign Births Register.

If you are entitled to register, your Irish citizenship is effective from the date of registration. The Irish citizenship of successive generations may be maintained in this way by each generation ensuring their registration in the Foreign Births Register before the birth of the next generation.

Since 1 July 1986, a person registered in the Foreign Births Entry Book after 1986 is deemed to be an Irish citizen only from the date of his/her entry in the Register and not from the date of birth. This means that children born to that person before his/her date of entry in the Register are not entitled to citizenship.

People registered before July 1986 are deemed Irish citizens either from the date the original Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act came into force, that is, 17 July 1956, or their date of birth, whichever is later. Only children born after 17 July 1956 can claim citizenship in such cases.

Other Irish ancestors

Unless at least one parent or an Irish-born grandparent was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth, you cannot claim Irish citizenship on the basis of extended previous ancestry (that is, ancestors other than your parents or grandparents). In addition, you cannot claim Irish citizenship on the basis that relation such as a cousin, aunt or uncle was an Irish citizen if none of your parents or grandparents was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth.

In case it should provide some assistance to anyone else who may be interested in doing likewise, I've decided I will share my experience in claiming an Irish passport over the next few weeks.

The first stage will be to initiate the application process, and to get a copy of my birth certificate, the processes for which I will outline in due course!

PART 2 at
PART 3 at 
PART 4 at


For details on my genealogy guide books, including A Decade of Irish Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923Discover Scottish Church Records (2nd edition), Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit


  1. Does 1922 affect the "citizenship" - granny born in Dublin 1870 would have been Irish but Mother born in Dublin 1925 would she have been British or Irish?

  2. Born in Ireland 1925 - Irish, as a citizen of the Irish Free State. Born in Dublin pre-1922 (and after Jan 1801) - British, as a member of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. But it's irrelevant - as long as you were born on the island of Ireland, no matter who was running the show. Just now I am British, and hold a British passport, having come from Northern Ireland, which remains a part of the UK. But Northern Ireland is on the island of Ireland, and so I can claim an Irish passport also - which is what I am now doing.

  3. Ooh...maybe I could look into this too? Dad born in Donegal in 1915.

  4. Very helpful. I have started the ball rolling too. I'm British but with a Grandmother born Killiney County Dublin 1899. Seems to be taking a while in the post Brexit turbulence but will no doubt be processed in due course.

  5. My grandfather was born in London to Irish citizen parents who were refugees seeking temporary work during the famine. Do the circumstances of his birth prevent me from claiming citizenship by descent? Or, was my grandfather an Irish citizen through whom I could claim citizenship?

    1. I'm not sure that you would qualify if your grandfather was born in England, but best to check with the relevant authority.

  6. Well done. I travel extensively in Europe for business so would have done the same. Unfortunately a generation too late (5 Irish Great Grandparents, 3 Scot, all grandparents born in Scotland).