Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara was once denied US citizenship because officials said she was English!
However, she was eventually successful in her goal to become an American – thanks to her ‘gift of the gab’.
The Quiet Man star was always fiercely proud to be Irish but also fell in love with the US and applied for American citizenship.
Things didn’t go to plan when she had filled out her documents only to later discover that they had been altered.
Where O’Hara had written ‘Irish’ for her nationality, it had been replaced with ‘English’. The same alteration was continuously made throughout the document.
O’Hara told how her first application got lost in the system, so she had to apply a second time. She took and passed her history exam, but then things started to go wrong.
She said: “I went to a desk that had a lady behind it. She said, ‘put your hand up’ and I did. She said ‘now you’re going to foreswear your allegiance to England’.
“I said ‘I’m terribly sorry but I can’t forswear an allegiance I don’t have. I have no allegiance to England at all, I’m Irish’.”
For some reason, Ireland had been replaced by England throughout the document that O’Hara had filled in.
She refused to accept it and had to go before a judge later that day.
After a long discussion the judge told her that as far as he was concerned, she was English.
Again, O’Hara refused to accept that she wasn’t Irish.
She said: “Under those circumstances, I cannot be an American citizen.”
The judge sent a clerk to communicate with Washington to determine what O’Hara’s nationality was – the answer came back as ‘English’.
O’Hara continued the story: “I said ‘your honour, I’m very sorry but I’m not responsible for your antiquated records in Washington.
‘Thank you very much, but I cannot accept citizenship under those conditions.’”
O’Hara had one last play up her sleeve. As she was leaving the court, she turned to the judge, determined to have the last word.
O’Hara continued: “I said ‘Your honour, do you realise what you are trying to do to my children and grandchildren? You’re trying to take away their right to boast about their wonderful Irish mother and grandmother.
‘He threw his hands up in the air and said ‘get that woman out of here – give her anything she wants on her papers just get her out of here’.”
O’Hara made history with the completion of her journey to becoming an American citizen.
She said: “That was the first time in the history of the United States of America that an Irish person was accepted and officially pronounced to be Irish.
“So, this is a terribly important legal document – and I’m very, very proud of it.”
Take a look at the video below.
The reason for the confusion between O’Hara and American immigration officials may lie in the political status of Ireland up until 1949. The Irish Free State may have been declared in 1922 after the Irish War of Independence but the country didn’t become fully and legally independent until 1949 with the passing of the Republic of Ireland Act.
This finally broke the legal ties with the United Kingdom. Up until that point, Irish people were still technically British in the eyes of the rest of the world, including the United States.
This may have been at the heart of O’Hara’s difficulties in gaining American citizenship. Strictly speaking, she was still British even though she understandably regarded herself as Irish.
Even after full independence in 1949, Irish people were entitled to consider themselves British citizens if they so wished, although very few chose to do so.
More information of gaining Irish citizenship
Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling