Certify Me, I'm Irish
December 23, 2011 5:36 AM   Subscribe

Conceived at the Global Irish Economic Forum in 2009 as a way to engage with the Irish diaspora, the Irish government's Certificate of Irish Heritage program opened to applicants this fall. The €40 (€100 framed) certificate is a document that officially recognizes one's Irish heritage, and is aimed at those with Irish ancestry who do not qualify for Irish citizenship. Though initial reports indicated some tourist discounts would be attached, it confers no legal or financial benefits.

When details of the certificate first emerged, Irish Independent columnist Martina Devlin scathingly declared it "a demeaning device to hoodwink the descendants of emigrants." Another columnist lampooned the idea with an "Irishness quiz," while polls on other news sites questioning whether it was worthwhile or welcome produced mixed results.

In September, the Minister for Foreign Affairs awarded the first Certificate of Irish Heritage posthumously to New York firefighter Joseph Hunter who was killed in the 9/11 attacks. And while application numbers have been low since the worldwide launch, the company contracted to operate the certificate service is planning a major marketing drive in the new year, which will include presenting certificates to select celebrities with Irish ancestry.

Cork city councillor Laura McGonigle believes the certificate program is "a great initiative, and creates great value and a bond with our people wherever they live." In fact, she was so inspired by the idea that she has recently proposed the creation of a "Cork passport" as a way to boost local revenue. But if her efforts fail, those proud of their Cork heritage can always get the People's Republic of Cork passport cover.
posted by lovermont (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps the Irish government should just offer official "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" t-shirts.
posted by craichead at 5:47 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

I swear the following story is relevant:

About 20 years ago, the first time I visited my friend and her family in Cork, her father and teenage brother Donal took me to Blarney Castle ("yeah, it's corny, but you can't come all this way and not do that"). We were all browsing in the gift shop after, and I noticed the muzak was this incredibly twee, chirpy choral arrangements of songs like "How Are Things In Glocca Morra" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and the like. And after a few minutes of watching my growing horror, Donal came over to me, took my arm, looked me in the eye, and said: "I want you to know: this is the sort of music that embarrasses us."

I think Donal lives somewherein Germany now, but I like to think he is cringing at this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:56 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Man, talk about the perfect addition to my Certificate of Perfect Attendance from elementary school and my Doctor of Immortality degree from the Universal Life Church for my Hall of Meaningless Honors.
posted by Copronymus at 5:59 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

I used to befuddle Irish people I talked to when I lived in Ireland. Upon learning I was Canadian, they immediately asked if I was over looking into my ancestry. I always got a funny look when I said that I wasn't.

On the one hand, I don't blame the Irish government for trying this - from their perspective, there's an enormous untapped market out there of people keen on discovering and celebrating their Irish roots. They hear about it incessantly whenever tourists arrive in Ireland, which is pretty much all the time.

But from my perspective, the last Irishman in my family came to Canada during the famine, and it's now been six generations or more since then. I have no right to claim "Irishness" of any sort. I'm a Canadian. Saying this to Irish people who asked why I wasn't seeking my heritage always impressed them.
posted by LN at 6:02 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

When I was in seventh grade, we'd play this quiz game in social studies. On St Patrick's Day this kid who was forever bullying me somehow convinced the teacher to make the teams based on who was of Irish descent. This, of course, resulted in hilariously lopsided teams, at least numbers-wise. (Basically, the kid was trying to make my team lose to have something extra to mock me about.) What he didn't realise was that the non-Irish team had two of the three smartest kids in the class and, because our team was so much smaller, our turns came round faster. Of course, we won handily. I have no idea how this is relevant, but it's what this made me think of.

That said, the discounts are potentially not to be sniffed at. In Rome, EU citizens under 18 get into all sorts of stuff free and it really adds up.
posted by hoyland at 6:14 AM on December 23, 2011

Never mind just a certificate of Irishness, since 2002 Macroom Land Trust has been offering a piece of Ireland in the shape of a 1 sq foot plot of land in Ireland at apieceofireland.com to go along with the certificate of ownership.
posted by shortland at 6:35 AM on December 23, 2011

I thought we wanted everyone to stop using IE?
posted by srboisvert at 6:36 AM on December 23, 2011

Jesus sometimes I'm so embarrassed to be Irish.
posted by nfg at 6:48 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

You might not understand what being Irish means in the midwest US. There are Irish bars everywhere, Irish theme stores, Irish charities, Irish churches, Irish private schools. Universities make a bundle doing night school Gaelic classes. People go on honeymoons to Ireland. I'm not talking about full-blooded Irish, I'm talking about people with one Irish great-grandparent for whom being Irish is a huge part of their identity. It's almost as if being of generally mixed European stock is too boring so people have to find a "tribe." I wonder if any other small underdog of a country, like maybe Latvia or Greece, will figure out how to capitalize on its American progeny.
posted by miyabo at 7:05 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Piggybacking on what miyabo just said -- someone I used to work for had an interesting theory about why there's so much of a pull towards "Irish", especially now.

He argued that it took about 5 generations for a group to assimilate and then "re-research" itself -- you had the people who actually emigrated, and then their kids and grandkids spent all THEIR energy trying like hell to assimilate, so then by the time the third and fourth generation came along -- the great and great-great-grandkids -- they were pretty much assimilated. Maybe they knew "oh, yeah, we're part whatever" but they'd pretty much absorbed themselves into the new culture. But then in the 4th or 5th generation, there was enough of a remove that you started to have the kids start wondering, "okay, wait -- we're part [whatever], but I don't really know what that means," and so then they're the ones that start really pouncing on it and trying to re-create it.

He pointed out, too, that far and away the biggest period of Irish emigration was during the Great Famine; and, too, that the fifth generation descended from those emigrants is....the people who are alive right about now. And sure enough, me and my brother and my cousins are the ones who are getting onto Ancestry.com to try to track down where great-great-great-grandpa Hurley was born and teaching ourselves how to play bodhran and such, while our parents and grandparents are intrigued, but mostly bemused. (Fortunately the fear of embarassing one of my best friends has kept my own obsession in check -- although, her mother's maiden name is also Hurley, so we've both entertained the fancy that "hmm, I wonder if we may be related?").

So maybe the whole "Irish obsession" in the U.S. is related to that, and in about 50 years or so we'll see similar crazes going on in other groups.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hilariously embarrassing. I actually thought the idea was dead, seems like a long time since I last read about them. Please tell me there are not actual civil servants producing these things and the govt subcontracts it out to some genealogical research firm or something?
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:34 AM on December 23, 2011

Oh, another tale -- my friend was over here for a visit in February, and we went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden while she was here. While we were both poking around the gift shop, I found they were selling this shamrock growing set that boasted on the package that it included a packet of "certified 'auld sod'," a pound of genuine Irish dirt.

My friend came looking for me as I was standing there gaping at the cheese, and she looked at it a moment with me. Then she turned to me. "A word of advice?"


"Put that down and walk away." And she spun on her heel and started marching out of the gift shop as I cracked up.

I think I spent the next hour or so teasing her that "you know, it's actually a good idea for you to raise quick cash..."


"I'm serious, just go out to your backyard with a shovel -"

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look at my last name. I don't need no freaking certificate :)

Great grandparents emigrated to Boston. I believe I still have a cousin living on Inis Mor which is the last "blood" connection to the "homeland."
posted by COD at 8:17 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man, talk about the perfect addition to my Certificate of Perfect Attendance from elementary school and my Doctor of Immortality degree from the Universal Life Church for my Hall of Meaningless Honors.

Oh, I ascribe a ton of meaning to your Certificate of Perfect Attendance; you might not like the meaning, but it has meaning.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:19 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is going to look so nice on the wall next to my Green Bay Packers stock certificate.
posted by briank at 10:57 AM on December 23, 2011

[…] I don't need no freaking certificate […] Great grandparents emigrated to Boston.

You don't need a certificate because you're not Irish? Agreed.
posted by urschrei at 11:12 AM on December 23, 2011

PS I have an Irish parent, an Irish passport, an Irish accent, and I've lived here for ~25 years. I only feel Irish on alternating tuesdays, and a lot of people here feel I'm Irish even less frequently than that. So.
posted by urschrei at 11:16 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wonder if any other small underdog of a country, like maybe Latvia or Greece, will figure out how to capitalize on its American progeny.
My sense is that Greek-Americans tend to identify quite a bit with Greece. There are fewer of them than Irish-Americans, and they're more recent, which means that they're probably a little less nostalgic. But I bet there are Greek companies selling them stuff. (I'm actually technically Latvian-American, but I'm Jewish, and I don't think you're going to find many Jews who have warm-fuzzy feelings about Latvia. I don't know how many non-Jewish Latvian-Americans there are, really. Probably not enough to sustain any goofy industries.)

Honestly, it's fun to mock this, but it seems pretty harmless. I imagine that the main market is people buying Christmas presents for hard-to-shop-for elderly relatives. It's sort of the genealogical equivalent of those "you've had a random star named in your honor" certificates.
posted by craichead at 11:41 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can't I just have a box of Lucky Charms instead?
posted by jason's_planet at 3:20 PM on December 23, 2011

I have in-laws that are very proud/identified with their Irish heritage. Cool story: my husband's grandfather was a deserter from the British navy!

The certificates are amusing, and if the Irish government can make some euros out of it (and believe me, they will), and it makes some Americans feel part of a culture that they otherwise have no connection to (other than naming their children Brian and Erin), I say why not?
posted by honey badger at 3:25 PM on December 23, 2011

I have a great-great-something who was a protestant landlord in Ireland during the famine, does that count?
posted by Grimgrin at 5:26 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

jamesonandwater: No civil servants are involved – some private financial services company in Kerry won the contract to run the program. Perhaps there are seedy backroom deals being cut with genealogists, though (it's amusing to imagine, anyway).
posted by lovermont at 7:12 AM on December 24, 2011

some private financial services company in Kerry

That's kinda interesting in itself. I suppose they aren't selling many investment products these days!
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:55 AM on December 24, 2011

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