They say the third time’s a charm – and that was the case as I attempted to get my Irish passport over the years.
Many of my IrishCentral colleagues have written columns on this subject. With all due respect, they are mostly lazy journalism with nothing more than cuts and pastes from the Irish Consulate’s website. These articles just don’t give you a true appreciation for the frustrating hoops a hapless yank like me had to jump through to obtain one!
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a man and that means I’m allergic to following or asking for directions. So, yeah, sure, the Irish government isn’t solely to blame for a process that was akin to wearing a crown of thorns while carrying a cross around a block of Manhattan. I admit to making this harder on myself than it needed to be the first few times I applied.
“It should be a piece of cake,” my publisher Niall O’Dowd said way back when. “Make sure you tuck a copy of the Irish Voice under your arm for that extra special ID."
It was great advice, but as it turned out I didn’t need it. The woman behind the bullet proof glass knew me by sight and reacted like a member of Boyzone strolled into the consulate. “I’ve been reading your column for fifteen years and have Farraghers in my family,” she gushed. “I always wanted to ask if we’re related.”
We traced our roots and saw no tangles: her Farraghers were from Mayo and mine are from Athenry.
“Ah, who cares? We are cousins now, darlin’,” came my eventual reply in the most buttery tone I could muster.
She sheepishly asked me to sign the latest copy of The Irish Voice, which of course I did, slathering on the charm and the banter with each twirl of the pen. When I delivered the documents to her, she asked where my parents’ marriage certificate was.
“Beg your pardon?”
“I see your birth certificate here and that of your parents, but where is their marriage license?
Panic set in. I opened up to the page of the Irish Voice where I had just signed.
“But I’m Mike Farragher! See? There I am, right there! Aren’t we cousins? I thought we had something going?”
“Sorry, luv,” she said with a frown. “Sure, I know who you are, but that won’t be good enough for the crowd in Dublin.”
Because I was born at Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City, NJ before 1967 (like pretty much every middle aged citizen of the Garden State), my flimsy birth certificate was invalid as well in this age of ID theft and terrorism. I had to go to the Office of Vital Statistics in Trenton for a more detailed long form birth certificate.
The original marriage license I was told was in some Hall of Records in Brooklyn, which is another planet when you live on the Jersey Shore. Going to both inner city Trenton and Brooklyn was too much to bear at the time, so I gave up at that point.
Yet those Facebook posts IrishCentral does about the passports got me thinking about biting the bullet and making the trip. When I mentioned it to my mother, she said, “sure, don’t I have the marriage license here the whole time? Ye never asked me for that.” With journey cut in half, I drove down to Trenton and got the long form birth certificate and decided to make another run at it.
Problem solved, I went back in with my completed passport paperwork. My faux cousin was nowhere to be found, replaced instead by someone who told me that the forms and pictures I provided weren’t notarized. Besides, the pictures I took at the passport office were all wrong and I was given new guidelines.
“I am so frustrated right now I want to hurt someone!” I exclaimed under my breath but loud enough for the curly gingered man from Kerry who was trying to renew his passport to hear me.
I licked my wounds on the NJ Transit train and plotted my revenge. This meant war! Lesser men might give up but not me! I was going to get my passport just to spite ‘em all!
The passport photograph requirements, tucked into the deep recesses of the Consulate General website, are as follows.
- Photographs should be not more than 6 months old.
- They may be in colour or black and white [b/w preferred].
- Minimum photos size 35mm x 45mm, maximum size 38mm x 50mm
- The photograph should show a full front view of the subject’s head, as he or she would normally appear.
- The image must be sharp and clear, and taken against a plain white or light grey background
- Sunglasses are not acceptable. Tinted glasses may be worn provided they do not obscure the person's eyes.
- Photographs should not show military or police uniforms.
- Only head coverings worn for religious reasons are permitted. Hair bands are not allowed.
"It is essential that the photographs submitted with the application meet the Passport Office photo guidelines. These guidelines are based on internationally accepted standards. See Advice for applicants and technical advice for photographers links below for details.
"Unacceptable photographs include where the face is not clear, the top of the head is not showing, where parents hold infants in their arms, person has dark glasses, home produced photographs which are not identical or where the paper quality is not suitable for scanning by the Passport Office, and photos taken against a dark background."
Did you get all that? When I brought those requirements to my New Jersey passport agency office, they claimed this was an uncommon size and requirement that they could not accommodate, suggesting instead I go to Walmart.
“You think they’ll let me in? I have a full set of teeth!”
I quickly discovered that, like some of their Irish colleagues, American passport agents have zero sense of humor.
Don't bother going to the Consulate without everything being nice, official, complete, and notarized!
You might be asking to yourself, 'Why did he go to the consulate so many times when mailing it in would have done the job just fine?' Well, my mother and father were so paranoid I’d lose the only copies of their birth certificates and marriage license that the pain of guilt and shame that would have rained down on my head if they were lost in the mail on my account were just too much to bear. This blatant mistrust of their son probably has something to do with me losing a few Communion bonds back in the second grade and you just know an Irish mother never forgets that. But that’s another story for another column.
Suffice it to say that bringing the original documents in by hand was the only option. And yes, my OCD required me to check them in the bag no less than twenty times between New Jersey and the Consulate Office on Park Avenue.
Alas, I digress.
Don’t forget that you have a total of four passport photos with two of them notarized as well. Good luck trying to find someone who does that! Most Notary Publics looked at me like I had two heads when I asked. I finally found someone at my bank who had done this before for another Yank trying to get their passport.
There is also other fine print you might want to read as well, like how the consulate doesn’t accept cash, personal check, or credit cards. This leaves a cashier’s check from your bank,
I checked their list repeatedly and satisfied that I had everything, chose one of the hottest days of the year to make the pilgrimage to the consulate for my third trip and by the time I got there, the heat and humidity, coupled with the bouncing around the picture did inside the envelope which was in my man bag had smudged the ink of the passport seal on the back of the glossy paper of my photo.
Mercifully, the person behind the glass said nothing about it. I neglected to include copies of two bills made out to me that show I live where I say I live. Panic set in again, but I was told that a file could be started on my case with the 99% I had gotten right and that I should mail the copies of the bills when I got home.
I did that and six weeks later, I got my prize—an Irish passport! It truly is gorgeous, with raised gold seals of Celtic knots on some of the pages and beautiful depictions of Irish life on the pages where an Irish Immigration agent will eventually stamp an official welcome on my next visit to Mother Ireland.
The first sentence on page 2 of the document put a lump in my throat and made the whole hellish ordeal worthwhile:
"The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland requests all whom it may concern to allow the bearer, a CITIZEN OF IRELAND, to pass freely and without hindrance and to afford the bearer all necessary assistance and protection.”
In the end, that’s all a Yank ever wants: for the Irish to say, “yer one of us now.”
Please note that with effect from 17 February 2014, applications for citizenship by descent (Foreign Births Registration) are no longer being handled by the Consulate General of Ireland in New York. Queries relating to applications submitted on or after this date should be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Check here for the website with full information on obtaining Irish Citizenship by Descent (Foreign Births Registration)
*Originally published in July 2014.