Growing up and even into my adult hood I have often been referred to as one of the “Black Irish”; my father calling me his “Black Irish Rose”! Where did the term come from; or more importantly who am I descended from? I’ve always believed I wasn’t, or at least didn’t look, completely Caucasian, my father didn’t look Caucasian nor did my paternal grandmother. I was told a story growing up that my grandmother had been in the Belfast Train Station with my father when a stranger “welcomed them to their new country”!
In my many trips back “home” I’ve been questioned about my ethnicity; and some were disbelieving that I was born in Northern Ireland. However, I was; as were my parents, grandparents and many generations further back in time.
In just the last year a 2nd cousin found me through www.Ancestry.co.uk; I hadn’t known he existed; in fact he hadn’t known I existed either! When I saw his photo for the first time it was very apparent that we were family! We both have an olive complexion; he has very dark eyes whereas mine are very light; supposedly grey but changing from green to blue! We most certainly have the same DNA – no tests required!
The Definition of the Black Irish as per http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_people
“Black Irish is an ambiguous term sometimes used (mainly outside Ireland) as a reference to a dark-haired phenotype appearing in people of Irish origin. Opinions vary in regard to what is perceived as the usual physical characteristics of the so-called Black Irish: e.g., dark hair, brown eyes and medium skin tone; or dark hair, blue or green eyes and fair skin tone. Unbeknownst to some who have used this term at one time or another, dark hair in people of Irish descent is common, although darker skin complexions appear less frequently. The physical traits associated with the term Black Irish are sometimes thought to have been the result of an Iberian admixture. One popular theory suggests the Black Irish are descendents of survivors of the Spanish Armada, despite research discrediting such claims. In his documentary series Atlantean, Bob Quinn explores an alternative ‘Iberian’ hypothesis, proposing the existence of an ancient sea-trading route skirting the Atlantic coast from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula to regions such as Connemara. While preferring the term “The Atlantean Irish”, Quinn’s reference to certain phenotypical characteristics (within elements of the Irish populace and diaspora) as possible evidence of a previous Hibernian-Iberian (and possibly Berber) admixture mirrors common descriptions of the Black Irish.”
As I was born and raised in Northern Ireland, as were my ancestors, I would disagree with the Wikipedia article that it is a term used “mainly outside Ireland”!
Irish Central states: “While it at various stages was almost certainly used as an insult, the term ‘Black Irish’ has emerged in recent times as a virtual badge of honor among some descendants of immigrants. It is unlikely that the exact origin of the term will ever be known and it is also likely that it has had a number of different iterations, depending on the historical context. It remains therefore a descriptive term used for many purposes, rather than a reference to an actual class of people who may have survived the centuries.”
The full article can be found here: http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/who-were-the-black-irish-92376439-237784721.html
Personally, I proudly consider it a “badge of honour” and am looking forward to tracing my family lines back far enough to find the connection!
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I was just trying to explain what “Black Irish” is to my husband yesterday! Funny coincidence!
It is an odd coincidence! I still think there is something to the Spanish “thing”; as I have had Spanish friends as if I’m from “their country”!
makes great reading as I was told the same thing by my grandfather Walter Cowan
Hi Margaret, I’ll have to delve a little deeper into Walter Cowan’s history!
Grandma looks black. I’m serious. There is an african hiding in your DNA,,,
I tend to agree with you Susan! 🙂 I just haven’t found them yet; but I’m still looking. I’ve been told MANY times by a variety of friends (Haitian, Jamaican etc.) that I have “black blood in me”…. I would love to find out where and who it came from!
We always understood we were Black Irish decent according to my father whose parents were from Ireland. But recently my cousin found the term Black Irish started when the English were kidnapping young Irish girls and selling them to be used to work and breed with the African slaves in the British owned Islands like Jamaica and Bahamas. That goes way back to the 1600’s Maybe some of these dear missing ones or their children made it back to Ireland? Very interesting A lot can happen in 400 years.
HI Mary Ellen, I’ve never heard that particular story. I do know there are Irish in the British West Indies, who ended up there during the plantation. However, that wouldn’t explain my grandmother or fathers looks (or even my own). It’s a subject I’ll definitely be researching further. Thanks for reading my blog. Colleen
Can you tell me why there is not more knowledge and research into the Black Irish? An ancient Iberian North African trade connection seems a much more plausible explanation for such a dominant phenotype than the more simplistic and sensationalist Spanish Armada story.
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That’s a question I can’t answer with any authority Marton. However, here is a link I was just reading about the Iberian Connection; which may be of interest to you.
Recent DNA research is showing that the Iberian roots theory might not just be myth. This is interesting: http://www.sott.net/article/263587-DNA-shows-Irish-people-have-more-complex-origins-than-previously-thought
At some point in the not too distant future I will have DNA autosomal testing done. The results, I’m sure; will be interesting.
Fascinating! I’ve never heard the term “Black Irish.” If you do manage to find out more about the origin of the term (and the look), be sure to post it; I’d love to learn more. Cheers, Su.
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At some point I’m sure I will Su! My paternal grandmother and family certainly don’t look completely Caucasian! I’ve always been curious about where our looks come from. I’ll keep you posted! 🙂
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Just stumbled to your fascinating article. I have black Irish looks, specifically the blue/green eyes, dark curly hair and pale skin type. I am Australian but I only know my ancestry to be predominantly Irish. I always felt I looked a bit different to typical Caucasian and when I was 25 I travelled to Spain for a holiday. When I was in the north (Barcelona) I had dozens of people both locals and tourists alike mistake me for being Spanish! So this experience really picued my curiosity about my ancestry as well as ensuring some pretty funny exchanges with people. Last year I was reminded again when I was in Bali in a convenience store a guy approach me and start speaking Spanish with me! When I said I’m not Spanish he was shocked telling me “you must be! I thought you were from my city Barcelona”.. so anyway I just wanted to share my anecdotes, there must be some ancient connection between Spain and Ireland, I have no doubt. As for your photo I am amazed because to me you look southern Spanish/ Andalucian 💯 also you posted this article on my birthday which I think is a sign! ❤️
Hi Suzanne, sorry about my delay in response. We know there is ‘something’ running through our viens and have still not been able to discover what exactly. We’ve often thought it was a Spanish influence. I am olive in complection with light eyes and dark hair – well before it became highlighted in silver!!! I had my DNA done, by one company only, and have found that I have trace results from Central Asia – India, Pakistan and Nepal. Like you, many have mistaken me to have Spanish heritage and African! One day I’ll know for sure. 🙂 Colleen