22 October 2010


     I will not be able to post next week, October 29th. So, in lieu of the post, I suggest a Week of Family History Action. Get out of the archives and off the online databases. Find, call, visit, write, or email at least one family member and talk about your family history. Share stories and memories. Ask questions. Get your aunt to 'fess up and come clean with the family secrets.
     Try my tried-and-true jelly donut method: bring along some jelly donuts, sit down with a family member and let them talk. Don't forget to audio or video tape the visit (use a tripod for the video so that you can eat jelly donuts, too). I would love to hear of any discoveries or success stories!
    Also, don't forget to check "LABELS" section in  the column to the right. "Labels" is really an index to previous blog postings (don't know why Blogger uses the word "labels" instead of "index," it took my thick head a few months to realize what labels meant!). Search my labels for earlier blog postings that deal with those subject headings you might find useful to your research.

     Every so often after one of my talks, an audience member will tell me that he or she is a  descendant of "Black Irish." Others often ask if I had heard of the term. I usually ask in reply, "How does your family define Black Irish?"
    Whatever the reply, I joke that he is wrong and that it really means that he is descended from selkies (female seals who become human women for a time). See the movie The Secret of Roan Inish for a good selkie tale! (Also the movie Ondine, a more modern take on the legend, has been recently released on dvd).
      I have found that the term "Black Irish" is rarely used in Ireland and seems to be an American invention.
     Most people I meet who use the term do not use it in reference to race. Their explanations are many. A few that I have encountered in my research or through my fellow researchers include the following:
     1. Dark hair and/or eyes. This is the most common explanation I have been given.  I know of one man who would ask his grandmother why he did not have red hair, and the grandmother answered, "Because we are the Black Irish, that is why!"  Being a descendant of a line of dark haired, blue eyed Irish myself, I often heard other children remark that I didn't "look Irish" because their idea of Irish was of a different hair coloring (however, I did inherit the pale skin and the tendency to burn instead of tan!).
     2. The Spanish Armada. Others claim that their dark hair is a trait passed down when a female ancestor married a Spanish sailor who washed up on Irish shores after the Armada was defeated. I have not been able to find any verification of these tales.
     3. The term has also been used in the US in a racial manner. I have read that it has been applied to persons of mixed racial descent, one component of which was Irish. There is a rich Irish heritage in many Caribbean islands, particularly Monserrat, where many Irish indentured servants had settled during the colonial period. I have also read that the term was used, mostly in the South, to refer to people of mixed Irish and Cherokee descent.
     The term does remind us of the rich genetic heritage found in Ireland. If we dig far enough into our roots, we will most likely find Danish, Norman, French Huguenot, English, Welsh, Scottish or Spanish ancestors, among many others, contributing to our gene pool. I am always meeting researchers who have found, not just another surname, but another ethnicity in their Irish family tree!
LINKS for more information:
Ireland-Information.com website article about "Black Irish"
Discover a rich Irish heritage--visit or learn about Montserrat
Wikipedia entry on "Black Irish"