There is a fascination with the Black Irish and many ideas and theories that cannot be agreed on.
Here are some myths and truths about the Black Irish:
The Spanish Armada
The black Irish are not descended from the survivors of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Only a few dozen of the 700 survivors washed up on Irish shores, and most of them were captured. The Irish even handed some of them over to the British authorities at the time.
The Battle of Kinsale
Further “research” has claimed that the black Irish may have come from survivors of the 1601 Battle of Kinsale, which included some Spanish soldiers. But there are no Spanish surnames worth recording in subsequent Irish births.
The mythical Milesians
The Milesians, the original conquerors of Ireland according to myth, are said by some to have come from Spain. There is no evidence whatsoever to justify that.
Black Irish in Montserrat
There are black Irish not in Ireland, but rather in Montserrat in the Caribbean where Oliver Cromwell shipped thousands of Irish who then married the natives.
The term Black Irish is mostly used today in an Irish context as in “black Protestants” in Northern Ireland to denote those who are especially anti-Catholic still.
The medieval Irish were also slave traders who roamed far and wide seeking victims. It is quite possible black slaves were shipped in from places as far away as Africa and the Spanish regions and their offspring intermarried.
Ireland's dark-skinned invaders
Many of the invaders in Ireland over the centuries were of darker skin. Dun Na Gall, “Fort of the Dark Foreigner,” is the meaning of the name of Donegal, for instance. Places that end in "Gall” usually connote settlements of dark-skinned foreigners who eventually intermarried. Ironically, one of those is Moneygall where former US President Barack Obama’s ancestors hailed from.
Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.
The Fir Bolg
The Book of Invasions, "Leabhar Gabhala," is a semi-mythical history and one of the oldest Irish texts. It described the Fir Bolg, a small dark people, as one of the original invaders of Ireland.
The British! Yes, DNA shows that fair-skinned Irish ancestry is much more prominent among the most Celtic and original settlers. However, the British invaders had a much more mixed DNA from the far larger gene pool in Britain and many were from darker climes.
* Originally published in August 2016, updated in April 2023.