Francois becomes an Irishman
I recently became an Irishman. It still feels weird to say that out loud: "became an Irishman". Our nationalities are usually thrust upon us from birth. But rather than just falling out of the right vagina at an agreeable set of coordinates, my nationality was gained through paperwork, monetary expense, and anxiety. When I emerged there was no nurturing midwife in sight. No babyshower. No announcement on Facebook that I was ‘a healthy weight and the mother was doing well’. For I was brought into the world as an Irishman via a citizenship ceremony on a blustery Dublin afternoon; suckling at the very teet of bureaucracy with my fellow brothers in ceremony.
Every three to four months, the Irish Naturalisation Service books out the Dublin Convention Centre for its citizenship ceremonies. An invite, written with stilted politesse, arrives in the post requesting your attendance. Thousands of immigrants make the pilgrimage to what is a sort of governmental Hogwarts.
When I arrived I was inevitably directed into a queue. One last mindless suppression to the will of my superiors to mark the end of my foreignness. Then we shall stand together as equals. I lined up next to Filipinos, Romanians, Ghanians - all people who would imminently be made my compatriots through vague bureaucratic decree.
The doors to the convention centre opened and we filed in. "Keep moving, have your identification ready," bellowed the heavyset guard, repeating his phrase like a Vedic hymn. "I don't really like Ireland," the Romanian man behind me tells a Filipino woman. "When I get my passport, I will go to New Zealand." I read between the lines and exclaimed that I too, was incredibly proud of my new adopted home nation. Such a proud moment for us all.
At the end of yet another queue stood a row of stations, each one numbered from one to twenty. I was assigned station 14. I made a quip about finding station 9 ¾ - my Romanian friend did not afford me a response.
When I got to my station, I handed over my invitation and my South African passport. Satisfied with my identity, my passport was handed back along with my naturalisation certificate. The gatekeeper of this process, offered me "Congratulations" in a way that was somehow both rehearsed and sincere. Certificate in hand, I was directed into the auditorium for the main ceremony. Oh no, this wasn’t just a day of paperwork and formalities.
We sat there, we foreign Irish people, staring at a harp (the Irish State symbol) projected onto the stage curtain. Irish music blared over the P.A, the sort you'd hear in a tourist information centre.
The P.A fell silent. The curtains rolled back and a palpable expectation filled the grand hall. There stood the Garda band, playing a stirring and grandiose anthem so appropriate for the gravitas and ceremony of the situation. Except they didn’t play anything like that. They played "YMCA" by The Village People. I traded glances with the Nigerian Irish guy next to me, before I started laughing at the pure comedy of uniformed officers playing The Village People.
From there we received the full cultural experience: first "Sarah's delight" on the tin whistle, then we were led in a rendition of "Galway Girl", and the undoubted highlight, a rendition of "Swing”, sadly cut short when the policeman forgot the words mid verse. Sitting together, now bound by our shared citizenship, we clapped and laughed at the Garda's forgetfulness. I also get the feeling that we laughed - or, at least, I did anyway - because such a painful, laborious process would end in such gleeful gawkiness. I didn't really care, if this weird ritual was required to get my passports, then so be it.
As a crowd, we made our oath of fidelity together, a cacophony of accents. Some of those gathered strained to read the English and only mustered a growl. The stern faced judge leading processions nodded, satisfied at our beautifully diverse chorus and congratulated us on our Irishness. When we finished, I shake the hands of the people around me. We smile relieved smiles.
There wasn't much time to bask, we were swiftly ushered out. Only allowed to use one exit, we packed tightly down the stairwell. Again, my thoughts drifted to Irish people who got their nationality as a birthright. They came into this world Irish, screaming and covered in placenta. And I came into my Irishness, dressed semi-formally, listening to incongruously performed gay anthems.
It's hard to know, really, just which one is messier. What I do know however, is that I recently became an Irishman.