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Leaving Dublin, and Ireland

...and finally getting questioned at border control

I got caught illegal in Ireland just as I was leaving.

I was returning to the United States. When I got to the departure area I learned that my flight had been canceled. There'd been some disturbance in Barcelona, or a strike, and the Aer Lingus plane that was going to take me to Chicago was not available. The airline offered accommodation and a flight the same time next day. There were other options, but none were as workable.

What I did not consider was that I was on the "other side" of the border. I'd have to go through Irish immigration control to go outside and get on a bus to the hotel.

I had left and re-entered the Irish state seven times in a decade. Each time I had answered two questions with three words: "Are you here on business or pleasure?" — "pleasure." "How long are you going to stay?" — "Two weeks." I had an apartment, and a tea kettle.

My passport had been stamped, but across the pages helter-skelter, so the story of my travels (and non-travels) had been fairly well obscured.

I'd worried a little bit every time, but I was careful to act in a simple, confident way. I can't underestimate the fact that I'm American, either — often not even considered foreign by the average Irish person.

But in May of 2011, I didn't think about it. And anyhow I was going home, for good, to America. I had other thoughts on my mind. I'd pass back through border control, um...

What I also didn't think about is that I'd renewed my passport while I was living in Ireland — since I'd last crossed a border. There was not a stamp in it — nothing but my face.

And there it was, the immigration control booth. Nobody else was around. It was just me and the border gard. We had lots of time.

He was sound. He was completely patient with me, more than he had to be. He said I'd never be able to return to Ireland... then he eased off the statement, a bit, afterward. And I don't know.

He wasn't supposed to let me leave his custody until the next day's flight. He kept my passport until then.