I am Irish. I will always be Irish. Yet there are times when I feel that Ireland has abandoned me. Returning home from Florida, I am viewed as the Yank. While living in the US I am viewed as the Irishman. And even though I am now a citizen of both countries, there are times when I feel that I am a citizen of none. That is the true story of the Irish diaspora. Our families love and miss us, and we miss them, but the moment we step onto the plane in Cork or Dublin or Shannon, our connection to home is severely and irreparably damaged. We still carry our Irish passports. We still maintain the same cultural ethic. Yet the reality is that we are essentially no longer important in the eyes of the state. There is no tax money being generated from us and no social welfare being paid out. It is as if we never existed.
What is it like being an immigrant abroad? You live with the reality that your phone could ring at any time, calling for you to rush home to Ireland for an emergency. You miss birthdays, christenings, weddings and family gatherings, and you live them through phone calls and FaceTime. For me, the struggle to make it home is financial. For the undocumented, they have no choice. They knew of their sacrifices when departing, yet it still jars at the soul.
I left Cork in September 2004, clinging to the hope that I would one day bring my American sweetheart home. Jobs and life caught up with us and I now have the most amazing wife and 3 children living in the Florida sun. In the early years, I always struggled with the idea of becoming an American citizen as I longed for home, and always thought that next year would be the year to return. We even sent money home every month to pay for health insurance in case we were to return home to start a family. Yet people always asked when I was going to become a US citizen. Nothing makes me prouder than being Irish. How could I dilute that? The advent of the Trump administration would change everything. Even though I had permanent residency, a culture of fear had developed in this country and a reality that nothing appeared permanent anymore. The time had come to protect the ones I love. The time had come to be able to have a say in the future shape of the United States, and not just for me, but for the thousands of Irish who have never had that opportunity. I became a US citizen in July 2019. I will always be Irish, but now like my wife and three children, I am American as well. Does this make me any less Irish that my brothers and sisters? Fundamentally it does not due to dual citizenship agreements between the two nations, of which the bond goes back so far. The reality though is that I lost the most fundamental right of being a citizen the day I left Cork Airport. I essentially became disenfranchised from the right to vote and was silenced as soon as the plane left the tarmac.
Raising an Irish family overseas is a task I embrace. As soon as the children were born, we applied for Irish citizenship. Drives to daycare and school were undertaken while learning our numbers in Irish and singing Irish songs. The internet and advent of smart phones has transformed the experience of the immigrant. RTE news is the first thing I look at in the morning. I connect with friends and family via social media. I can even facetime my brother to watch a local hurling match. I get all the TV channels and shows beamed in from home. Every so often I even splurge on buying some rashers and sausages, but that can be very costly. The reality is that when it comes to goings on in Ireland, I often know more about what is going on than my siblings. I can only hope that a time will come when those at home will see me as Irish once again.
The detractors will suggest that the emigrant is not entitled to have a say in the affairs of the country, with the old adage “no representation without taxation”. After all, why should those living abroad be afforded a voice in the affairs of the country, when they are not even living there? In terms of taxation, the reality is that only the United States in the developed world places a tax on its citizens on foreign earned income. It is not demanded amongst any of our European counterparts and nearly every country has some form of emigrant voting rights. While the eyes of the world shine on the American electoral process every four years, and its system is far from perfect, it does allow for its citizens living abroad to vote in Presidential elections. The role of the president in Ireland is largely ceremonial. However, he or she does have the ability to refer legislation to the constitution. It is Bunreacht na hEireann that states that it is the “birthright of every person born in the Island of Ireland … to be a part of the Irish Nation”. Surely if it is our birthright to be a part of the Irish nation, and the President protects the constitution, we should have a say in who is elected president? Wouldn’t it be nice if all those Irish citizens living abroad were allowed to be heard?
Our greatest export is our people and the amazing young minds that have left the island to build a new life further afield. Very often we have left out of economic necessity, a lack of opportunity and a lack of hope. We represent the people of Ireland every day in everything we say and do. Many of us want to return home but cannot. Many more will want to come home in the future but will not be able to. Our hearts will forever be in Ireland. We have become ambassadors on every level and have grown to the top levels in industry and business and society around the globe. The Irish government has been happy to invite Irish owned companies back to the emerald isle to set up and invest in the country. Surely it is not too much to allow those of us living abroad a say in how we want to see Ireland grow and develop.
I am proud of my culture and heritage. But at times it can feel that our love for home is not reciprocated. Two signatories of the Easter Proclamation were emigrants (Thomas J. Clarke and James Connolly) and fought for the rights of Irishmen around the world. They were honored and recognized throughout the centennial celebrations. They will never be forgotten in Irish history. Let us take this opportunity to ensure we never forget all those who have left our shores. Our voices have been silenced for too long.
Dr. Morgan O’Sullivan is the Director of Student Financial Services Communications and Operations at Lynn University in Florida. Hailing from Ireland, Morgan graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from University College Cork, National University of Ireland in 2000. He completed his MSc. (Commerce) in 2001 with a thesis titled “American Foreign Policy Intervention: A Case Study of Bill Clinton and the Irish Peace Process”. He has also qualified as an elementary school teacher completing his Postgraduate Certificate in Education (Elementary) in London in 2004. Morgan moved to Florida in the fall of 2004. He completed his doctorate in educational leadership which focused on the theme of financial literacy in May 2018. He has presented nationally for NACUBO, NASFAA and NSEA as well as at regional and local level. He is married with three children (Caitlin, Sean and Molly) and currently resides in Boynton Beach, Florida. He is a big Liverpool football club supporter, Star Wars fan, and likes to travel.