The “Black Irish” – Who Are We?

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”!

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A Black Irish Rose?

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.

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Eliza (Lizzie) Berry, My Paternal Grandmother.
Photo not to be used without prior consent from the author!

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] The physical traits associated with the term Black Irish are sometimes thought to have been the result of an Iberian admixture.[32] One popular theory suggests the Black Irish are descendents of survivors of the Spanish Armada, despite research discrediting such claims.[33] 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.[34]

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

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My Father and Me…. Back in the Day!
Photo not to be used without prior consent from the author!

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!

Copyright (c) (2014) (https://colleenjmurdoch.worpress.com). All Rights Reserved.

 

 

About CJ Murdoch

Genealogy: Looking For "Dead People"! My Journey Back In Time - Tracing my ancestors and researching the counties, cities and towns where they resided. Taking a “Glimpse” into their lives and stories and the times in which they lived; all in an effort to learn about their “Dash”! “I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of his friend. He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning – to the end. He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the second with tears, but he said that what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.” I have always been interested in researching my family tree and “hanging out” in cemeteries. Like most of us... I didn't ask enough questions when elderly family were still living. Oh, what I would give for 24 hours and a camera with my ancestors… just to sit and listen! I'm researching many family lines, including: Murdoch, Wilson, Berry, Love, Scott, Beattie/Beatty, Hendren, Sweeney, Robinson and Elvin; just to name a few. My families are predominantly from counties Antrim, Donegal and Londonderry. However, it seems that many of my family, both maternal and paternal lines "hailed" from Co. Donegal. I was born and raised in Northern Ireland and now live in Ottawa, Canada, making frequent trips back home to visit with my family. Of course those visits also include treks to the many burial grounds of my ancestors. My most recent trip back home was the summer of 2014! If you are interested in help tracing your ancestors I’d love to hear from you!
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12 Responses to The “Black Irish” – Who Are We?

  1. I was just trying to explain what “Black Irish” is to my husband yesterday! Funny coincidence!

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  2. cjmurdoch says:

    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”!

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  3. Margaret says:

    makes great reading as I was told the same thing by my grandfather Walter Cowan

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  4. Susan V says:

    Grandma looks black. I’m serious. There is an african hiding in your DNA,,,

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    • CJ Murdoch says:

      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!

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  5. MaryEllen says:

    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.
    https://floridairishheritagecenter.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/slavery-and-the-irish/

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    • CJ Murdoch says:

      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

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  6. Marton Sebestyen says:

    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.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Su Leslie says:

    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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • CJ Murdoch says:

      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! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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