Immigrant groups throughout history have generally been treated poorly by the indigenous population (or by those who simply settled first).
Derogatory names for immigrant groups are legion and in the case of those who left Ireland include "Shanty Irish" and almost certainly "Black Irish." It is also possible that within the various Irish cultures that became established in America that there was a pecking order, a class system that saw some of their countrymen labeled as "black."
The term "Black Irish" has also been applied to the descendants of Irish emigrants who settled in the West Indies. It was also used in Ireland by Catholics in Ulster Province as a derogatory term to describe the Protestant Planters.
While it at various stages was almost certainly used as an insult, the term 'Black Irish' has emerged in recent times as a virtual badge of honor among some descendants of immigrants. It is unlikely that the exact origin of the term will ever be known and it is also likely that it has had a number of different iterations, depending on the historical context. It remains therefore a descriptive term used for many purposes, rather than a reference to an actual class of people who may have survived the centuries.
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