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Across the Pond

Another member joins the Irish-American citizenship family

By Steve Coronella
Globe Correspondent / September 22, 2011

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DUBLIN - Like a lot of Greater Bostonians, my sister-in-law, who has resided in Framingham for the past 20 years, belongs to a distinguished statistical category: She’s one of the roughly 45 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry.

Except Dee Smithers acquired her Hibernian roots the old-fashioned way: She was born in Ireland and lived in Dublin until her early 20s, when she moved to the Boston area.

Having passed her United States citizenship exam earlier this summer, Dee is now one of us, a hyphenated American, as entitled to wax nostalgic about her ancestral home as any third- or fourth-generation descendant of Old World stock.

And she’ll soon have her first US passport to prove it. Along with 3,500 other folks and their invited guests at TD Garden, Dee recently took her oath of allegiance to the United States, which requires, among other things, that all newly minted citizens “will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law.’’

I can see Dee being OK with that, although she’ll most likely be the one in charge.

Dee’s life-altering moments this summer brought to mind my own identity makeover not so long ago. In early 2005, I was granted my first Irish passport, the ultimate proof that I had arrived here. Unlike my US-certified sister-in-law, though, I wasn’t required to pass an exam for that privilege. Irish law allows foreign nationals to claim citizenship through a native-born grandparent, and this is where I got lucky.

Shortly after marrying in 1929, my mother’s parents left Cork for Boston aboard a White Star ocean liner - the same ill-fated cruise company that had launched the Titanic only 17 years earlier. With the usual degree of difficulty inherent in being an immigrant to a new land, Margaret and William Reardon made a life for themselves locally, on Tierney Street in Cambridge. (Their experience reflects that of my Sicilian grandparents, Domenico and Guiseppa Coronella, who arrived in Boston’s old West End neighborhood around the same time and eventually settled on Clayton Avenue in South Medford.)

Before I could become an accredited Irishman, though, certain documents had to be found. Thanks mainly to my wife’s efforts, my grandmother’s birth and marriage certificates were traced to a small parish church south of Cork city. The church in question had suffered a serious fire in the intervening years, however, so the original paperwork had gone up in smoke.

In the end, we had to settle for facsimiles authorized by the local priest, and these formed the bureaucratic underpinning of my successful application for an Irish passport.

Several of my grandmother’s siblings remained in Ireland, so I’ve been fortunate enough to find some genuine Irish cousins, with whom I remain friendly as a result of my lengthy visits here in the 1980s. And this reinvigoration of my Irish roots helps to explain my crowning exploit: In 1992, I reversed my grandparents’ journey, departing the Boston area for married life in Dublin. So to my sister-in-law Dee, I say: Congratulations and welcome to the club!

Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. He is the author of “This Thought’s On Me: A Boston Guy Reflects on Leaving the Hub, Becoming a Dub & Other Topics,’’ which is available from The Book Oasis in Stoneham. He can be reached at