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Leaving Dublin, and Ireland

...and finally getting questioned at border control

I got caught for living illegally in Ireland just as I was leaving.

In May of 2011 I was returning to the United States after spending of the previous 10 years in Ireland. 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 (or both [I never found out,]) and the Aer Lingus plane that was going to take me to Chicago was not available. The airline offered free accommodation and food 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 gone through the phallanx of American passport control to get to "departures." I'd have to go back out 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 over a period of a decade when I legally should have been turned away. 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."

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

I 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 a foreigner by the average Irish person.

But the law is the law, and I was illegal. I got away with it, as I returned from the Netherlands, America, Romania — going back to my life in Ireland.

But in May of 2011, I didn't think about it. I didn't even think about passing border control. And anyhow I was going home, for good, to America. I had other thoughts on my mind — whatever the mind even is.

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.

Hm, he wondered. Because here's the other thing: I'd had to renew 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.

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 but did until the next day's flight, and he kept my passport until then.