Irish Time

Saturday, October 17, 2009


They say opinions are like Arsenils and everyone's got one !

Here are just some diverse opinions on what the term 'Black Irish" means. Other opinions are welcome !

The term Black Irish is used in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada to describe individuals of Irish ancestry who have features which are darker than stereotypical Irish features — blue or green eyes, fair hair, and pale skin. Irish individuals with dark hair and eyes are often referred to as Black Irishand are understood to have Iberian ancestors.

Black Irish comes from social and political biases as well as genetic history. In the 1800s, many Caucasian people believed that the Irish were somehow related to Africans. Africans and individuals of very dark features were held in distaste and considered to be inferior peoples. Therefore, the term Black Irish was born and upheld. In 1862, John Beddoe, an esteemed ethnologist, published Races of Britain in which he described those of Celtic descent as having features similar to those of African descent.

"I am 100 percent Irish American with possibly 1/8 Belfast Orangewoman blood. My grandfather has always been described as Black Irish with thick, black wavy hair, dark eyes and skin. Also, his wife, my paternal grandmother came from a family of three siblings - one red haired and freckled like me (like my grandmother), one blond haired, blue eyed with pale skin who looked Scandanavian and one who was dark haired, with dark eyes and skin. Both my parents are dark haired with blue eyes (although my mothers hair was blonde when she was younger), my three siblings were red-haired and freckled with one sister with blond/light brown hair and green eyes. That said, most groups that have a relatively high incidence of redheads are groups with mostly dark hair (brown and black). Red hair was a mutation of the protein that normally expresses (genotype) as eumelanin, in the realm of the black/brown hair color. This mutation, pheomelanin, is responsible for the yellow-red pigmentation, while eumelanin is the default coloring for most humans - the brown-black end of the pigmentation scale. The mutation that caused red hair is known as the MC1r variant, and first occurred between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. It first appeared in humans with dark hair and skin, enabling them to take advantage of their ability to make more D vitamins, which enabled them to flourish in the higher latitudes. Blonde hair, on the other hand, took much longer to develop, starting gradually with hair colors only slightly lighter than in preceding generations. Consequently, the blonds in northern Europe took longer to develop than the mutant redheads (I say this with tongue in cheek, being of the red persuation myself, lol). Therefore, of the groups inhabiting northwest Europe, while the blonds were the result of extended exposure to the higher latitudes of Europe over a period of time, the redheads appeared suddenly (due to mutation) within dark haired, original populations of CroMagnon Europe. If there could said to be an aboriginal population during the Upper Paleolithic, this was them. In addition to appearing amongst humans, the pheomelanin carrying individuals also appeared amongst mammoths, bears and other mammals of the Upper Paleolithic. It would eventually show itself amongst other animals of the period, continuing until today. Irish setters and Persian cats also bear their coloring in the modern era. So, the orignial group that redheads appeared amongst were those with the eumelanin characteristics. That said, an ancestral relationship of dark hair/coloring/eyes in the greater ethnic group of the Celts would be compatible with a high incidence of red/yellow haired/colored individuals. That does *not* preclude the general coloring of Irish individuals to include those with darker hair and coloring. Where this coloring may originate is an interesting question. Given that Celtic lanuages have as much in common with Semitic languages as with IndoEuropean languages, it is no great stretch to imagine an ancestral group with general coloring in line with Jews and Arabs. That said, imagine a group that broke off millenia ago from a larger group of Semitic languages to encounter and colonize the lands to the north and west. Over time, this group would retain much of its original language, and incorporate the language of the "new" peoples it encountered. What you get in the end are Irish and Scots Gaelic. Moreover, the Celts looked different from the Germanic peoples who lived nearby. Their hair was curly/wavy instead of straight and lank. Their noses were softer and smaller than their Germanic counterparts - more like African than "European" (as it was generally understood). That, along with other characteristics, show the modern day Irish and Scottish and others of the original Celtic nations to be a distinct people unto themselves, rather than some variation of Teutonic origins, as with the English. Yes, there are black Irish - maybe they are examples of the first Celts."

People on the west coast of Ireland are almost genetically identical to people in the Basque region. As are the welsh. If you go to Irish speaking communities, you will see a significant number of the population with dark features. I look like a Spaniard in the summer.

Mention the term "Black Irish" to an American, and you'll usually be met with confusion. They've not heard of the lore of the Black Irish, tales of a Spanish Armada wrecking along the coast of Ireland. Black, to them, means only one thing -- African American -- and this idea clashes horribly with their idea of the Irish and what being Irish means. Forget that the Irish were once known as "white Negroes" and black peoples as "smoked Irish." This website is about me and thus about the contradictions of a society that judges the individual by the stereotype rather than vice verca. We tell people that they look like such-and-such a star rathan than the star looks like them, and when exciting things happen, we say it's "just like the movies," judging reality by the fiction.

interview with the author at

Q: You point out that at one point the Irish were known as "white Negroes" and black people were referred to as "smoked Irish." What did those terms reflect?

A: They reflected the scorn and disdain with which both were regarded by the better situated, by the leading elements of American society. There was speculation that there would be some "amalgamation," that is, that Irish and black would blend into each other and become one common people.

Montserrat was devastated by the eruption of its volcano, and areas now under volcanic ash include the Galway wall, Cork, Kinsale, and Sweeney's Well. A high percentage of Calypsonians are from Montserrat; they reflect their Irish heritage in their singing.

St. Kitts has built a monument to Irish slavery in commemoration of the 25,000 Irish men and women who were shipped there as slaves. In one particularly grueling story, over 150 Irish slaves were caught practicing Catholicism, and were shipped to tiny Crab Island, where they were left to die of starvation. Many of the Irish who managed to survive, and their descendants, were eventually shipped from the West Indies sugar plantations to the new English settlements in South Carolina.

Lest I be accused of presenting a one-sided view of history, let me hasten to add that there were other Irish, or more correctly Anglo-Irish, who also had an influence on Jamaica.

National Portrait Gallery, London
Robert Nugent, Earl Nugent, by James Sayers, 1782
Both Lord and Lady Nugent had Irish ancestry. George Nugent served as Adjutant General in Ireland. His signature is on the death warrant for patriot Robert Emmet, who was executed in 1803 and whose speech from the dock contained the immortal phrase: "When my country takes her place among the nations of the Earth, then -- and not till then -- let my epitaph be written."

Lady Nugent, in the journal of her residence in Jamaica, had the following to say in regards to her African slaves: "We treated them with beef and punch, and never was there a happier set of people. All day they have been singing odd songs, only interrupted by peals of laughter; and indeed I must say they have every reason to be content, for they have many comforts and enjoyments. I only wish the poor Irish were half as well off."

William O'Brien, the second Earl of Inchiquin, was made governor of Jamaica in 1690. Howe Peter Browne, the Marquess of Sligo, was governor of Jamaica at the time of emancipation from slavery in 1834. It is in his honour that Sligoville, the first freed slave village, is named. Thomas Lynch from Galway, also known as Buckra Lynch, came over as part of Venebles army. He became chief justice and eventually governor of Jamaica, after the tenure of notorious pirate and buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan. He is also supposed to be the man who designed and built Flat Bridge over the Rio Cobre, which makes sense as the bridge has no sides to it and is at right angles to the main road! This bridge spans the Bog Walk Gorge, and as the Irish (or at least the part I come from) were often referred to as Bogtrotters, I have no doubt we had a hand in naming that, too

Various Irish regiments, such as the Earl of Ulsters, the Royal Leinsters, the Royal Irish Rifles, and the Royal Inniskillings, were all billeted at New Castle. Irish Town and the Cooperage are testimony to the Coopers, who were brought over to make the wooden barrels for the export of rum and coffee. Between Irish Town and New Castle is the quaint district known as "Red Light," where Irish colleens gave lonely soldiers religious instruction, usually on how to break the 6th commandment. The Jamaican Constabulary was patterned after the Royal Irish Constabulary, down to the red stripes on the side of their pants.

And how did they reach Barbados? For that we have to thank Oliver Cromwell, who in 1648 put down a rebellion in Ireland with such savagery and cruelty that his name is still today burned into the Irish psyche. In his own words after the siege of Drogheda, "the officers were knocked on the head, every tenth man of the soldiers killed and the rest shipped to Barbados."
Cromwell drove Irish men and women from their home counties into the relatively barren and inhospitable province of Connaught. The soldiers and the intelligencia, mainly Catholic priests, teachers and Gaelic bards, posed a real threat to a new government. His solution was to institute a system of forced labor, which would also provide British planters in the Caribbean with a massive influx of white indentured laborers.

According to Thurloe's state papers, "it was a measure beneficial to Ireland, which was thus relieved of a population that might trouble the planters, and of great benefit to the sugar planters who desired the men and boys for their bondsmen and women and Irish girls in a country where they had only Maroon women and Negresses to solace them." Speaking from my own personal experience, I would say that the planters came off the worse in that deal.

Cromwell's son, Henry, was made Major General in command of the forces in Ireland. It was under his reign that thousands of Irish men and women were shipped to the West Indies. From 1648 to 1655 over 12,000 Irish political prisoners were shipped to Barbados. Although indentured servants (Irish included) had been coming to Barbados since 1627, this new wave of arrivals was the first to come involuntarily.
The Irish prisoners made up for a serious labour shortage caused by the English planter's lack of access to African slaves. The Dutch and Portuguese dominated the slave trade in the early 17th century and most white landowners in Barbados and the neighboring islands were unable to purchase slaves of African origin.
Numbers vary, but reliable estimates put the number of Irish shipped out at between 30,000 and 80,000 persons.

Bono once said that you have to be either black or Irish to sing this song. It's a cover of Bob Marley's famous song of freedom.

Redemption Song

Old pirates yes they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty
We forward in this generation
All I ever had, is songs of freedom
Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever had, redemption songs
Redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look
Some say it's just a part of it
We've got to fullfill the book

Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever had, redemption songs
Redemption songs, redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but oursekves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look
Yes some say it's just a part of it
We've got to fullfill the book

Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever had, redemption songs
All I ever had, redemption songs
These songs of freedom, songs of freedom

A year earlier, Bono inducted Bob Marley into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Here's his speech.

"I know claiming Bob Marley is Irish might be a little difficult here tonight, but bear with me. Jamaica and Ireland have a lot in common. Naomi Campbell, Chris Blackwell, Guinness, a fondness for little green leaves- the weed. Religion. The philosophy of procrastonation- don't put off till tomorrow, what you can put off till the day after. Unless, of course, it's freedom. We are both islands; we were both colonies. We
share a common yoke: the struggle for identity, the struggle for independence, the vulnerable and uncertain future that's left behind when the jackboot of empire is finally retreated.

The roots, the getting up, the standing up and the hard bit, the staying up. In such a struggle, the voice of Bob Marley was the voice of reason...These were love songs that you could admit listening to, songs of hurt, hard but healing, tuff going...Songs of Freedom, where that word meant something again ... Redemtion songs. A sexy revolution where Jah is Jehovah on street level. Not over his people but with his people. Not just stylin', jammin'. Down the line of Judah, from Eithiopia, where it all began for the Rastaman...

I spent some time in Ethiopia with my wife, Allie, and everywhere we went we saw Bob Marley'sface...There he was, dressed to hustle God. Let my people go. An ancient plea. Prayers catching fire in Mozambique, Nigeria, the Lebanon, Alabama, Detroit, New York, Notting Hill, Belfast.

Dr. King in dreads. A Third and a First World superstar. Mental slavery ends where imagination begins. Here was this new music, rocking out of the shantytowns....Lolling, loping rhythms, telling it like it was, like it is, like it ever shall be. Skanking. Ska. Blue Beat. Rock Steady. Reggae. Dub. And now ragga. And all of this from a man who drove three BMW's. BMW- Bob Marley and the Wailers, that was his excuse!

Rock & Roll loves its juvenilia, its caricatures, its cartoons. The protest singer, the pop star, the sex god, your mature messiah types [laughs]. We love the extremes, and we're expected to choos: the mud of the blues or the oxygen of gospel, the hellhounds on our trail or the band of angels.

Well, Bob Marely didn't choose or walk down the middle. He raced to the edges, embracing all extremes, creating a oneness. His oneness. One love. He Wanted everything at the same time. Prophet. Soul rebel. Rastaman. Herbsman. Wildman. A natural-mystic man. Lady's man. Island man. Family man.
Rita's man. Soccer man. Showman. Shaman. Human. Jamaican!

So the spirit of Bob and the spirit of Jah lives on, in his son Ziggy and his lover Rita Marley...I'm proud to welcome Bob Marley into the Hall of Fame.


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