On top of announcing 17 inaugural landmark scholarships for asylum seekers, the University of Limerick also held its first-ever citizenship ceremony.
All colours and creeds came together under the roof of the UL Foundation Building to set in stone the beginning of the end of a long journey.
The 355 applicants who attended the ceremony, finally able to call themselves Irish citizens.
Since 2011, more than 100,000 nationals from 178 countries have been granted Irish citizenship, with the top three nationalities from Poland, India, and Nigeria.
Others who have been awarded the coveted certificate of citizenship, have come from Romania, Philippines, Pakistan, Latvia, Brazil, China (including Hong Kong) and “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
Beauty Matombela, 37, from South Africa, who is now living in Dublin, was delighted with her newfound Irishness.
The mother of two first waited 15 years to be able to apply for her Irish passport.
“I first came in 2002 and went home in 2004, and then returned in 2008. It was a long journey with struggles, trials, and victories,” she said.
Having come to Ireland for good after a marriage separation, she added: “I’ve learned a lot and it made me stronger. I was away from family and friends and I met new friends and had new experiences. Some are interesting and joyful and some were not so.
“Irish people in general are very nice. You Irish always say ye are mad, and ye are really interesting.”
“Then you meet some who are not so nice, but hey that’s life; you meet them everywhere.”
The worst thing about leaving her native land for the green grass of Eire?
“The weather, of course,” said Beauty.
Tears welled up in her eyes, being far from home, and her happy moment is twinned with sadness: “It’s a sort of a sad moment, because I’ve been through a lot, and, I’ve finally got here. Wow, it’s emotional.
“I believe Ireland is a good country and gives people a chance. If you want to achieve something in Ireland, there’s a 99% possibility you can be anything you want to be.”
The new team of Irish citizens also included New Zealander Monique Howlett, wife of ex-Munster and All Blacks rugby star Dougie Howlett, who described it as a “very proud day” for all the family.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, welcomed the new citizens and told them: “Ireland is open, diverse, and tolerant.”
Meanwhile, more and more UK citizens are reportedly applying for Irish passports in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote.
Mr Flanagan, who had responsibility for the passport service in his previous cabinet brief in Justice, said: “I have to acknowledge that we are dealing with unprecedented levels of applications for Irish passports.
“There were over 500,000 applications last year, and we are running at currently at about 10,000 applications per week.”
He advised applicants to “allow a couple of weeks to ensure the process can be dealt with”.
“There are security issues and formalities, and it’s not something that can be done in a 24-hour period,” he said.
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