"I want to become an Irish citizen. My grandmother was born in Co. Westmeath in 1900. She came to America and had nine children, including my mother. I want to live in Ireland for a period of time but there may be a problem. Eight years ago I was arrested for a felony involving a fight, and served five years. Will this be held against me when I apply for Irish citizenship? Will they even find out during the application process? If I married an Irish citizen would it be easier for me to live there?"
As your maternal grandmother was born in Ireland you have a claim to Irish citizenship. The fact that you have a felony conviction will not be held against you because of the grandparent link.
If you were a non-Irish national applying for naturalization in Ireland the felony conviction could well be held against you.
As in the U.S., candidates for naturalization in Ireland have to show that they possess "good character." Serving five years in prison on a felony conviction would be a strike against meeting the good character requirement.
Before we get into the process of securing your Irish citizenship via your grandmother, to answer your last question, it wouldn't be any easier if you married an Irish citizen for you to live in Ireland, since you are entitled to citizenship in your own right.
In fact, those who seek to acquire Irish citizenship via marriage have to be married to the citizen for at least three years, and during the four years immediately preceding the citizenship application the applicant must have maintained a residence in Ireland amounting to at least two years.
In order to obtain your Irish citizenship and passport, you'll have to apply for what's known as Foreign Births Registration. This step is necessary to prove that you are indeed the child of an Irish-born grandparent.
You'll need quite a number of documents to establish this link, including your birth certificate, the birth and marriage certificate of your mother, in addition to a further identity document or death certificate. The same also holds true for your Irish-born grandparent.
Don't be daunted by the prospect of obtaining the relevant certificates for your grandmother.
The Irish General Register Office maintains an excellent website (www.groireland.ie) which provides information on how to obtain the documents. You'll be able to apply for what you need via mail.
Once you acquire the certificates you can apply for Foreign Births Registration at either the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C., or at an Irish consular office nearest to where you live.
The application can be downloaded at the embassy's website, www.irelandemb.org, and it requires pretty standard information.
When the registration has been approved you will be notified. At that time you'll be an Irish citizen in good standing and will be able to apply for an Irish passport.
All in all, expect the process to take several months to complete.
As you likely know, once you are an Irish citizen you'll receive a passport that's good for work and residency not only in Ireland, but throughout the European Union, which is one of the reasons why Irish citizenship is so valuable.
For more detailed information, visit the embassy's website.