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What Is Black Irish? Photos of Black Irish People

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Enya is what they call "black Irish."

Enya is what they call "black Irish."

What Is Black Irish?

"Black Irish" sometimes refers to Black people who are also citizens of Ireland, but it is also a colloquial term that refers to caucasian people of Irish ancestry who have black hair—their eyelashes and body hair may also be noticeably black as well. When this dark hair is accompanied by pale skin and blue or green eyes, it produces a particularly dramatic effect that is sometimes called "black Irish." The term, which is rarely heard in Ireland but may be heard among Irish Americans, often leaves people perplexed, since "black" doesn't refer to skin color but rather to hair color.

Where Did the Term "Black Irish" Come From?

During periods of increased European immigration to the United States, European-descended people found new ways to distinguish ethnic European groups and sub-groups from one another.

Since the majority (65%) of Irish people have brown hair (only 15% have black hair, and almost all of them are fair-skinned and blue or green-eyed), classifying this subgroup with the term "black Irish" made them instantly distinguishable.

This was a way of noting that black Irish people differ from most people with more typically Irish features, but it should also be noted that black Irish are higher in number than redheaded Irish.

Jennifer Connelly is part Irish and she could easily be called black Irish. Having black Irish features can definitely be one of the most gorgeous looks on the planet!

What Are the Origins of Black Irish People?

It should be noted that there hasn't been any proven theory as to how the black Irish came about. Black hair can be found in almost every European people, so these specific features are not exclusive to the Irish in Europe.

There are many theories about the origins. There is evidence that a small percentage of prehistoric people that lived in present-day Spain and Portugal (the Iberian Peninsula) migrated to present-day Ireland. The Iberian Peninsula already had different ethnic subgroups of people living on it, including people from the Eastern Mediterranean. Many ethnic Iberian groups have also since died out.

Another theory notes that the Irish were originally descended from Scythians, from present-day Iran (and that these people also migrated to Spain). They were white-skinned with black hair. They intermarried with other tribes in Ireland and the results were blue and green-eyed people with black hair and fair skin.

Another even smaller group of Irish people (around 1% of the population) have black hair, light or tan skin, and brown eyes. This group is also sometimes referred to as black Irish.

Paul Ryan: Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

Paul Ryan: Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

Examples of Black Irish Celebrities and Public Figures

Enya, Paul Ryan, Lara Flynn Boyle, Peter Gallagher, Rob James Collier, and Jennifer Connelly all have Irish ancestry, and all four of them would be called black Irish in the colloquial sense.

I had always thought Siouxsie Sioux (born Susan Janet Ballion) of the punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees was Irish but, according to her Wikipedia bio, she is Belgian Walloon and English.

I am convinced that Siouxsie has Irish blood through the English side simply because she is just about the most Irish-looking human being I've ever seen, with her lovely square face, blue eyes, and black hair. For the majority of her career as a singer in the public eye, she has kept her hair black. I don't think anyone has looked prettier with jet-black hair than her. Not only that, but her band name is very Irish-sounding (banshee, anyone?) and many of her songs have a Celtic sound.

The Beautiful Siouxsie Sioux. . . Black Irish?

The Beautiful Siouxsie Sioux. . . Black Irish?

Black Irish Poll

Jemmye Carroll may or may not have Irish ancestry, but she sure looks the part.

Jemmye Carroll may or may not have Irish ancestry, but she sure looks the part.



Joffre Meyer from Tyler, TX on February 27, 2020:

Thank you, Life and Luxury of South Beach, Florida! I'm Secondary Certified in History among other things too.

Life and Luxury (author) from South Beach, FL on January 11, 2020:

It is good that you know your family history, Joffre!

Joffre Meyer from Tyler, TX on January 10, 2020:

Mom said we were Black Irish; however, that could mean really Black in our case. When Alzheimer's kicked in, she admitted that her stepdad was a bootlegger with the Underwood family of Dallas, and she had to answer the phone--despite being 14 or younger. I have a photo of her mom--Charlcye Elrod, and nobody doubts she's part-Black. Mom's accent changed late in life. She asked the home health care aid, "What cha goin' to do to me today?"

pip Macbhloscaidh on April 07, 2018:

this article is very interesting indeed. one side of my mothers family had this stark look , and i have some of it. Both sides,in fact all my family branches - whatever date they cam to England - are irish catholics, having the oldest gaelic names in Ireland...andmostly the very west too. I agree with te Scythian theory of it's origins(Black Irish) and have always noted the similarity with some peoples from what was souther states in Russia/caspian sea regions, in as much as i would go to talk to them thinking they were my people/ somehow family.

IMPORTANTLY, there is also alot of misleading 'genetic' hogwash, being just misinterpreted to try and prove we are not Irish, Not celtic etc, or just disprove links with the other Celtic peoples. I would need hours ofwriting here to make my point;( lets just say - that if it shows your dNA test has 44% irish , 22 scottish, 4 spanish, 3 african etc does NOT mean you are not 100% irish, because these are just indications of similarity- not bloodlines at all. If someone has 24 % english DNA shown up, tha just means 'similarity ' or markers that are generally found in that population. I know that most of the people i went to school with in Jarrow, south tneside(northeast england) were all from ireland and the area is more irish than those left behind in Ireland itself, so that any test of' English people' here along with myself would show mostle Gaelic markers...not Anglo-saxon or Germanic. The interpretations of the findings of DNA are just that 'interpretations' ...very contentious and very misleading.

Life and Luxury (author) from South Beach, FL on January 09, 2018:


Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on January 08, 2018:

Apparently "Black Irish" also means "good lookin'".