The Black Irish

My curiosity was piqued while reading an article in the September/October 2015 issue of American Spirit, published by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

It’s a great magazine and I subscribe, but most public libraries also have copies. I always find something of interest.

A story entitled “Freedom Fighters” was written by Bill Hudgins.  He draws from many sources to try to describe the common soldier in the Revolutionary War. One set of clues came from historian Harold E. Selesky’s “A Demographic Survey of the Continental Army that Wintered at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777-1778. Soldiers are described by Age, Physical Characteristics, Literacy, and Occupation.

Here’s the paragraph that made me stop and ponder:

Records of soldiers’ physical traits could be deceiving. Selesky wrote: Six men in one Massachusetts unit who were described at one point as having dark complexions were later described as having light complexions. And terms such as “black complexion” did not automatically mean African-American. For example, all the Irish soldiers in one Delaware company were described as having black complexions.

While I’ve heard the term “Black Irish,” I realized I didn’t really know much about what it meant.

I found an article by James O’Shea in Irish Central, “Who were the Black Irish, and what is their story?” O’Shea’s conclusion about the origin of the term is more about historical context than physical attributes. You can read the article here:

Everything I read seems to confirm the ambiguity of the term “Black Irish,” which is used mainly outside of Ireland. Perhaps DNA will have the final word.


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