The Black Irish: my thoughts

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on June 13, 2005

In Reply to: The Black Irish: my thoughts posted by James Briggs on June 13, 2005

: : My dad was told by his mother, an immigrant from Ireland, that she was Black Irish. This didn't refer to any new racial designation, but to the fact that dark hair and eyes represent dominant genes. Though all I've read of the Black Irish puts it in the catagory of legend, I would think that an Irish-born woman and her family would know where they descended from. As the Irish are typically of fair and freckled skin, gray to green eyes, and red to reddish brown hair (the last two recessive genetically), it would stand to reason that the introduction of dominant dark hair and dark eye genes would produce not necessarily a change in skin color (as normal skin color is dominant as are freckles) but a change in eye and hair color, and that this is predominantly where the term Black Irish originated; fair skinned, brunettes with either brown or green eyes. My dad had black hair and green eyes as did his mother and the majority of his brother's and sisters.
: : Below is a list of dominant and recessive characteristics:
: :
: : eye coloring brown eyes grey, green, hazel,blue eyes
: :
: : hair dark hair blonde, light, red hair
: : non-red hair straight hair
: : curly hair baldness*
: : full head of hair normal hairline
: : widow's peak

: : skin normal pigmented skin albinism
: : freckles no freckles

: : It should be easy to see that if the Spanish survivors intermarried with the local Irish (as I believe they did, though more because I heard it persay from the "horse's mouth"), that the products of those unions would more often be dark haired, dark eyed, with fair to normal, freckled skin.
: :
: : It has also been mentioned that no Spanish or Spanish sounding surnames names have come down through the generations and that this is surely a sign that the legend is false. But two facts seem to be overlooked in that arguement: 1) the language barrier and 2) if a group is in the minority as the Spaniards were in Ireland, little if any of their heritage is likely to survive generation upon generation? We have only to look at the Africans that were brought to this country as slaves and immigrants from other countries for evidence of this (the German Scheider changed his name to Taylor, etc. While the Spaniards were not in Ireland as slaves, they were most assuredly there in small number and on, what would have been considered, hostile soil.

: The true Irish are Celts - small dark haired, dark eyed and darkish skinned. You see them in Southern Ireland, Wales and Brittany. They have nothing in common with Spaniards, apart from possibly a distant ancestorial type.
: The fair skin and freckled Irish are actually Scots-Irish and come from Scandinavia, via Scotland. Ethnically they are Caledonian and not Celts. However, the term Celt is less strictly applied than it should be and often refers to all Scots.

The idea that black-haired Irish people are descended from shipwrecked Armada sailors is pure fantasy. Good Queen Bess's men conducted a very thorough and well-documented mopping-up operation against the Armada survivors (many of whom were handed over by the native Irish) and although no doubt some of them were never caught, you'd be talking a few dozen at most - an impossibly small number to affect the country's gene pool, even if they all survivied and bred like rabbits.

The same story is sometimes repeated about black-haired Cornish people; the notion of 1590s Cornwall being full of Spanish sailors marrying local girls and having children is even sillier!

It's not quite true that dark Celts "have nothing in common with Spaniards"; the name of the northwestern province of Spain, Galicia, is actually Celtic (it's cognate with "Gaul") and the Galicians reckon themselves to be ethnic Celts. They play bagpipes incessantly to prove it. - VSD