“I cried when I got my Irish passport”


Writer Jan Carson, who comes from an evangelical Protestant background in County Antrim, said she cried when she got her Irish passport in recent years.

The author of the recently published novel The Raptures, who won the European Prize for Irish Literature in 2019 for his previous book The Fire Starters, said Brexit “kicked off” at the same time as his writing career. She kept her British passport with her new Irish passport.

“I’ve had it for three years. At the time, it sounded like a really practical thing because. . . I travel around Europe a lot and didn’t want to queue and just thought I’d get both,’ she told The Irish Times Borderlines podcast.

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“But it was really emotional. I was unprepared for when I came home and he was lying on the welcome mat next to my mailbox. I cried. And I still haven’t deciphered what it was, whether it was a good kind of emotion of i’m crying because i’m over things now, or what she felt… you know, i’m the first person in my family to have an Irish passport, definitely.

“My grandfather was an Orangeman and nobody else in the family has an Irish passport, so I kind of felt like, well, I wonder if I betrayed something? There was a lot of mixing, when I say a lot of identity, a lot of emotion too,” she said.

“It was a practical thing but probably weirdly caused by a combination of Brexit and winning the European Prize for Literature. I felt like you couldn’t really be the Irish winner of the European Prize without an Irish passport.

Carson said she felt culturally Irish ever since she started writing, although learning about Irish history, mythology or folklore in high school left her “on the back burner when ‘It’s about being a 42-year-old woman in a very complex place.

She said: “It’s an honor to say you’re an Irish writer, you really are.” But she said there was a lot to be gained from having plural identities.

“When someone describes me as an Irish writer I’m not offended, it’s not wrong, but can we keep talking about it because there’s more going on there.

“Weirdly, I don’t even know what that means, but if someone were to describe me as a British writer, I think I would feel a lot more curled up, like you had a little reduced. . . I don’t know what that says about my politics if I cower a bit if I’m labeled as a British writer.

Carson, from Ballymena, said the rural evangelical community she grew up in was mostly apolitical. “It was a world that was so scared of the world that politics was a dirty thing.”

But she saw in some churches “much more of a return to politics preached from the pulpit”.

“I hear from my friends and people I know who still belong to those churches that we go back to those Paisley days where the minister stands up and tells you how to vote or what you think about things, and that’s really dangerous.”

Carson said she still has a faith and recently completed an essay for the Center Culturel de Paris on “what we lose when we lose organized religion.”

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