US woman Elizabeth Darmody Leonard made history last week when she became the first ever person to receive Irish citizenship in a private ceremony.
Elizabeth told the Tipperary Star that it was a “fantastic day” at her home in Portroe when John Ryan of the Immigration Section of the Department of Justice in Tipperary Town arrived to present her with her papers.
She said she had fallen in love with Ireland from the time of her first visit here in 1967 when she arrived in Ireland alone at just 19 years of age.
“I fell in love with the country and that love has never lessened,” said Elizabeth, who is undergoing chemotherapy at the moment.
The former California university lecturer recalled that she went back to America and returned to Ireland again in 1968 for five months.
She returned again in 1972 but in the meantime had begun seeing her future husband, Bob. When she came back to Ireland she “honestly did not know if I would ever go back. I told him that. I never wanted to go back. I always felt at home here.”
However, she did go back and marry Bob and for their 30th anniversary they came to Ireland.
“To keep the man entertained we would look at old, derelict structures, but never had a plan to buy anything. It was purely for the craic,” said Elizabeth.
And that is how she came to live in Portroe.
“We were self-catering in Castlelough and we stumbled across our cottage. Our lives were transformed purely by serendipity,” she said.
Elizabeth described her life so far as a “remarkable journey”, but maintained: “My heart has never changed towards this country”.
She has yet, however, to apply for her new passport, because, she explained: “I am on chemo and I have lost my hair. I don’t mind that, but I prefer to wear hats than a wig and you can’t have your passport photo taken with your head covered, unless for religious or cultural reasons. I don’t want a bald head on my passport and will get a wig.”
And when she does get her new Irish passport, Elizabeth and Bob are thinking of using it for a river cruise somewhere in Europe.
And how does she cope with all the rain in Ireland? “I grew up in a desert. I don’t mind the rain,” she replied.
Elizabeth thanked Junior Minister Alan Kelly and Cllr Virginia O’Dowd for “making her dream come true”, saying it was a “testamount to their persistance” that she had been granted citizenship in her home.