Black Irish

Recently I used the phrase “that’s very Black Irish” in conversation with Sam. She hestitantly questioned “I know I’ve always heard it, and don’t tell my grandmother I didn’t know, but what exactly is Black Irish?”

I knew what I meant by it, but I wasn’t sure about how to explain it to her. Certainly not in one concise sentence. Being a bit curious about how others had explained the Black Irish, I googled it. Instead of a clear definition, I found a miss-mash of questionable ideas.

One site promoted the idea that the Black Irish descended from Spanish ship-wreck survivors, speculating that the “black” referred to their hair color, while another site logically debunked that whole idea.

One site even went so far as to suggest that there are no Black Irish based on the fact that they couldn’t find any people in Ireland that knew the term or concept. While that’s an interesting point, it speaks more to the modernization of Irish society than to the lack of Black Irish. For example, if you asked 99.9 percent of the American population about the Blue Fugates you probably wouldn’t find anyone that knew about them (although it’s a fascinating part of Kentucky history). The same goes for the Melungeons of Appalachia. Both are relatively undocumented sub-groups of a population. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that information is hard to find.

Here’s my personal thoughts on the Black Irish.

As I understand it, the “black” in Black Irish refers to personality, although a large percentage also seem to have dark hair. Which would make sense in that both hair color and personality are hereditary.

The Black Irish personality might be most simply described as obsession/compulsion within personal relationships. Intense loyalty is everything. Often the intensity is hidden behind quiet cool detached reserve, or easy laid-back laughter. But that loyalty is like a banked fire, ready to spring full-force when provoked … providing the strength and conviction to make great sacrifices, spurring them to survive as a way of enabling great sacrifices in the future.

This might sound like any other personality to you. I don’t think I’ve done an especially good job of explaining it. I’m reminded of the phrase “you’ll know it when you see it’. So, here are a few examples to help you get the idea …

Some might stab you in the back, Black Irish will stab you in the front in order to see your eyes as the blade slides in.

Some might be willing to die for you, Black Irish will live through unimaginable horrors for you.

Some might remarry, Black Irish love once and forever.

Some might forgive, Black Irish have no mercy.

Some might kill in a murderous rage, Black Irish will plot a lifetime of torture and suffering.

Some might put you in a nursing-home, Black Irish will gently care for you for the next twenty years (or more) and be glad of the opportunity to serve you.

Its a complicated thing, a two-edged sword, to be so full of love and hate.


One theory is that in 1588 the Spanish armada having being defeated by the British or by a bad storm, depending on your interpretation, went east and then north. They made landfall in Ireland and did the usual things conquistadors were supposed to do: looted, pillaged and raped the local women. The offspring of their activities in Ireland who have dark hair are referred to as Black Irish. Actor Alec Baldwin is a Black Irish, to name one.
like it or knot its the truth

john | 03/20/2006 - 11:29 PM

I was told that when born the hair is blond or light brown then by the early 20's their hair turns black.

I know this to happen as my father and several friends have this situation.

Red Raven | 07/09/2006 - 07:27 PM

I thought black irish refered to the irish that imigrated to the USA in the 19th-century because of the Black Blight - the Potato Famine of Black '47, They came very poor and proud. A perfect example of this imigration is told by the writer Frank Mccourt who told his biography in "Angelas Ashes" and "tis".

ursula | 03/06/2007 - 01:27 PM

im not shure what black irish is but i do no that most have dark hair and blue eyes not beacuse are ansesters were raped!!!

Piper | 07/19/2007 - 06:51 PM

im not shure what black irish is but i do no that most have dark hair and blue eyes not beacuse are ansesters were raped!!!

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