Occasionally, people may refer to people of Irish descent as “Black Irish.” But have you ever stopped to think about where it originates? The phrase “Black Irish” has been in use for hundreds of years, and several brands of Irish whiskey, including Mariah Carey’s Black Irish cream liqueur and Darker Still Spirits Company Black Irish Whiskey, have even named their product lines after the phrase. 

In spite of this, if you ask your coworker or your acquaintance what it means, they will most likely be at a loss for words. While it was most certainly used originally in a derogatory fashion, the term “Black Irish” is now considered a badge of honor. Just ask my black Irish husband, whose family name ironically, in Gaelic derives, from the word “dearg,” which means red.

What does the term black Irish mean?

The term “black Irish” refers to persons of Irish descent who are supposed to be descendants of the Spanish Armada, which sailed around the middle of the 15th century, and had dark hair and or eyes. The term is used among people of Irish descent and sometimes confuses people since it doesn’t refer to dark skin color.

Where Did the Term “Black Irish” Come From?

People of European descent in the United States came up with innovative methods to differentiate different ethnic European groupings and sub-groups from one another throughout times of significant immigration from Europe to the United States.

Because the vast majority of Irish people have light brown hair about 65 percent, and only 15 percent have black hair while the vast majority of Irish people have fair skin and either blue or green eyes. Classifying this subgroup with the term “black Irish” made it easy to differentiate them from other people of Irish descent.

This was a means of pointing out that black Irish people are different from the majority of people who have more traits that are more characteristically Irish, but funny enough, it should also be emphasized that the number of black Irish is more than the number of redheaded Irish.

Black Irish Celebrities and Public Figures

Here are a few examples of black Irish public figures and celebrities who are of Irish descent in Ireland. All of them have Irish heritage, and in the common parlance, all of them are referred to as being black Irish.

  • Colin Farrell
  • Enya
  • Paul Ryan
  • Lara Flynn Boyle
  • Peter Gallagher
  • Rob James Collier
  • Jennifer Connelly