The Term 'Black Irish'

As my family has been identified as ‘Black Irish’, I have been interested in knowing the truth about the origin of this term, vs speculation and myth.

I recently visited Ireland and while there, came across a book titled ‘Irish History’ which states that as fallout to the Oliver Cromwell campaign in 1850:

‘Many women and children, defeated soldiers and priests were shipped off to the West Indies to be sold as slaves. These were to be the ancestors of the so-called ‘Black Irish’ of Monserrat, the Caribbean island where Irish was still spoken up to 100 years ago by a mixed-race people.’

Author: Seamus MacAnnaidh, considered a leading world authority on Irish History

‘Irish History’ pg 114

Published by Paragon 2007

First, I think you mean 1650 and not 1850. Second, I recommend reading Cecil’s article on the origin of the term black Irish.

Cecil addresses this question:

Here is a fine example: Notre Dame player Adrian Dantley in the mid-1970s. :smiley:

The term never made the slightest bit of sense to me. The overwhelming majority of people I know who are either from Ireland, or are of Irish descent (the latter includes me and my extended family) are dark-haired, and not noticeably more fair-skinned than any other northern Europeans.

I’ve always understood it to be just as Cecil described in the above article - someone of Irish descent with dark hair. I think Colin Farrell is a good example of this.

These childrenare another good example.

A friend is proud of her Black Irish roots and equates her being Black Irish with her being descended from Travelers.

It sounds like the book is not saying that the Black Irish addressed by Cecil are equivalent to those literally “black” Irish in Montserrat. The quote doesn’t address anyone who is called that outside of Montserrat.

zamboniracer, also him.

In Cecil’s column he refers to the Fir Bolg, the mythical pre-gaelic inhabitants who were said to be darker skinned and haired than later settlers.
In Northern Ireland at least “black” was/is sometimes used to describe someone as Protestant.

I was about 28 years old, visiting my wifes relatives while I was on a business trip. We were watching the Knicks and Pat Riley was on the screen. My wife’s aunt started bitching about him being “black Irish”, a term I never heard of before. I asked her “Pat, what the hell are you yammering on about” (Because Pat is the sort of person you talk to like that if you want her attention). She then goes on some bizarro story about black-haired Irishmen that are descendents of the Spanish Armada (Pat is two years younger than God, bless her old heart) who aren’t like “real Irishmen” because of their black hair.

When she was done I said that that “was the craziest thing I ever heard: being a racist against a group of people because their hair color didn’t fit the national stereotype.” She got pissed and didn’t speak to me for the rest of the visit.

I think everyone here is missing the boat by focusing on the concept of race or colour.

You may be interested to read about the “Black Donnellys” in Canada, a family of Irish immigrants who were massacred by mostly Irish vigilantes in 1880. See their web site at definition of “black Irish” may be only a Canadian thing but I believe it applies elsewhere in the Americas.

If you read the story of the “black” Donnellys of Canada and look at the photos, keeping in mind that early photos could be overexposed, you will note that they were all blue-eyed and fair-skinned. Their hair does not seem to have been jet-black and I see no trace of African ancestry in their features.

I believe the term refers to a lower-class Irish subcaste among the immigrant populations, who were hated, shunned and set apart by everyone, including more sucessful Irish immigrants. Like many such shunned groups, they developed a hostile attitude to society and outsiders. Poverty and social isolation ensured that they continued to be considered “black” because they would frequently be in trouble with the law, or just as frequently would be falsely accused of crimes just because of who they were.

This would perhaps explain why the Irish in Ireland are not so familir with the term “Black Irish”, since it was a phenomenon among immigrant Irish.

As little as 10 months ago I had a couple of brothers, blue-eyed, fair-skinned teenagers with medium-brown hair, from rurual Ontario, tell me that “We Black Irish stick together.”

I am sorry I did not ask them what they meant by that term, but I do know that these two came from a poor, alcoholic and socially isolated milieu.

Here is the correct web site for the Black Donnellys:

Valteron, that’s an interesting and plausible theory. My dad, who had an extensive knowledge of Irish history didn’t know what black Irish meant except in the contexts I posted about above.