Irish people
Bono at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.jpgSaint Aidan.jpgBrian boru scaled.jpgDaniel O'Connell.pngLady Morgan cropped.jpgCatherine Hayes crop2.jpg
Aodh Mór Uî Néill (anglicisé comme, Hugh The Great O'Neill).jpgGeorge Bernard Shaw notebook.jpgOscar Wilde portrait by Napoleon Sarony - albumen.jpgTynan1.jpgSeamusHeaneyLowRes.jpgRevolutionary Joyce.jpg
Robbiekeane ie.JPGLiam Neeson at 2008 TIFF cropped.jpgJonathanRhysMeyersApr06.jpgPierceBrosnanCannesPhoto2.jpg58pxArthur Guinness.jpg
BonoAidan of LindisfarneBrian BoruDaniel O'ConnellLady MorganCatherine Hayes
Hugh Ó NeillGeorge Bernard ShawOscar WildeKatharine TynanSeamus HeaneyJames Joyce
Robbie KeaneLiam NeesonJonathan Rhys-MeyersPierce BrosnanEnyaArthur Guinness
Total population
estimated 80,000,000
Regions with significant populations
Ireland (Republic of) 3,900,660
United States 36,495,800 [1]
United Kingdom 14,000,000 [2]
Canada 4,354,155 [3]
Australia 1,900,000 [4]
Argentina 500,000 [5]
Mexico 300,000-600,000 [6]
Other Regions

Irish, English, Ulster Scots, Shelta


Roman Catholicism (majority), Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Methodism

Related ethnic groups

Bretons, Cornish, Manx, Scottish, Ulster-Scots, English, Welsh

* Around 800,000 Irish born people reside in Britain, with around 14,000,000 people claiming Irish ancestry.[7]

The Irish people (Irish: Muintir na hÉireann, na hÉireannaigh, na Gaedhil) are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years (according to archaeological studies), with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded[8] have legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolgs, Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians the last group supposedly representing the "pure" Gaelic ancestry, and still serving as a term for the Irish race today. The main groups that interacted with the Irish in the Middle Ages include the Scottish people and the Vikings, with the Icelanders especially having some Irish descent. The Anglo-Norman invasion of the High Middle Ages, the English plantations and the subsequent English rule of the country introduced the Normans and Flemish into Ireland. Welsh, Picts, Bretons, and small parties of Gauls and even Anglo-Saxons are known in Ireland from much earlier times.

There have been many notable Irish people throughout history. The 6th century Irish monk and missionary Columbanus is regarded as one of the "fathers of Europe",[9] followed by Kilian of Würzburg and Vergilius of Salzburg. The scientist Robert Boyle is considered the "father of chemistry". Famous Irish explorers include Brendan the Navigator, Ernest Shackleton, and Tom Crean. By some accounts, the first European child born in North America had Irish descent on both sides;[10] while an Irishman was also the first to set foot on American soil in Columbus' expedition of 1492.[11]

Until the end of the early modern period, the majority of educated Irish were proficient at both speaking and writing in Latin and Greek.[12] Notable Irish writers in the English language include Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney. Some of the 20th century writers in the Irish language include Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien), Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Pádraic Ó Conaire, Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin and Máirtín Ó Direáin.

Large populations of people of Irish ethnicity live in many western countries, particularly in English-speaking countries. Historically, emigration has been caused by politics, famine and economic issues. An estimated 80 million people make up the Irish diaspora today, which includes Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, France, Germany and Brazil. The largest number of people of Irish descent live in the United States—about ten times more than in Ireland itself.

Origins and antecedents[]

In its summary of their article 'Who were the Celts?' the National Museum Wales note "It is possible that future genetic studies of ancient and modern human DNA may help to inform our understanding of the subject. However, early studies have, so far, tended to produce implausible conclusions from very small numbers of people and using outdated assumptions about linguistics and archaeology."[13]

Prehistoric and legendary ancestors[]

Carrowmore tomb, 6000 BC

During the past 8,000 years of inhabitation, Ireland has witnessed many different peoples arrive on its shores. The ancient peoples of Ireland—such as the creators of the Céide Fields and Newgrange—are almost unknown. Neither their languages nor terms they used to describe themselves have survived. As late as the middle centuries of the 1st millennium the inhabitants of Ireland did not appear to have a collective name for themselves. Ireland itself was known by a number of different names, including Banba, Scotia, Fódla, Ériu by the islanders, Hibernia and Scotia to the Romans, and Ierne to the Greeks.

Likewise, the terms for people from Ireland—all from Roman sources—in the late Roman era were varied. They included Attacotti, Scoti, and Gael. This last word, derived from the Welsh gwyddel (meaning raiders), was eventually adopted by the Irish for themselves. However, as a term it is on a par with Viking, as it describes an activity (raiding, piracy) and its proponents, not their actual ethnic affiliations. Template:Irish people The term Irish and Ireland is derived from the Érainn, a people who once lived in what is now central and south Munster. Possibly their proximity to overseas trade with western Great Britain, Gaul, and Hispania led to the name of this one people to be applied to the whole island and its inhabitants. A variety of historical ethnic groups have inhabited the island, including the Airgialla, Fir Ol nEchmacht, Delbhna, Fir Bolg, Érainn, Eóganachta, Mairtine, Conmaicne, Soghain, and Ulaid. In the cases of the Conmaicne, Delbhna, and perhaps Érainn, it can be demonstrated that the tribe took their name from their chief deity, or in the case of the Ciannachta, Eóganachta, and possibly the Soghain, a deified ancestor. This practise is paralled by the Anglo-Saxon dynasties claims of descent from Woden, via his sons Wecta, Baeldaeg, Casere and Wihtlaeg.

The Greek mythographer, Euhemerus, originated the concept of Euhemerism, which treats mythological accounts as a reflection of actual historical events shaped by retelling and traditional mores. In the 12th-century, Icelandic bard and historian Snorri Sturluson proposed that the Norse gods were originally historical war leaders and kings, who later became cult figures, eventually set into society as gods. This view is in agreement with Irish historians such T. F. O'Rahilly and Francis John Byrne; the early chapters of their respective books, Early Irish history and mythology (reprinted 2004) and Irish Kings and High-Kings (3rd revised edition, 2001), deal in depth with the origins and status of many Irish ancestral deities.

One legend states that the Irish were descended from one "Milesius of Spain", whose sons supposedly conquered Ireland around 1000 BC or later.[14] The character is almost certainly a mere personification of a supposed migration by a group or groups from Hispania to Ireland. It is from this that the Irish were, as late as the 1800s, popularly known as "Milesian".[15] Medieval Irish historians, over the course of several centuries, created the genealogical dogma that all Irish were descendants of Míl, ignoreing the fact that their own works demonstrated inhabitants in Ireland prior to his supposed arrival.

This doctrine was adapted between the 10th and 12th centuries, as demonstrated in the works of Eochaid ua Flainn (936-1004); Flann Mainistrech (died 25 November 1056); Tanaide (died c. 1075; and Gilla Cómáin mac Gilla Samthainde (fl. 1072). Many of their compositions were incorporated into the compendium Lebor Gabála Érenn.

This tradition was enhanced and embedded in the tradition by successive historians such as Dubsúilech Ó Maolconaire (died 1270); Seán Mór Ó Dubhagáin (d.1372); Gilla Íosa MacFhirbhisigh (fl. 1390–1418); Pilip Ballach Ó Duibhgeannáin (fl. 1579–1590) and Flann Mac Aodhagáin (alive 1640).

The first Irish historian who questioned the reliability of such accounts was Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh (murdered 1671).


The frequency of Y-DNA haplogroup R1b(the most common Haplogroup in Europe) is highest in the populations of Atlantic Europe and, due to European emigration, in North America, South America, and Australia. In Ireland and the Basque Country its frequency exceeds 90% and approaches 100% in Western Ireland.[16] The incidence of R1b is 70% or more in parts of northern and western England, northern Spain, northern Portugal, western France, Wales and Scotland. R1b's incidence declines gradually with distance from these areas but it is still common across the central areas of Europe. R1b is the most frequent haplogroup in Germany, and is common in southern Scandinavia and in Italy. This has led to some popular writers, such as Stephen Oppenheimer and Brian Sykes, to conclude that the majority of Irish people(and indeed all natives of the British Isles) descend from a pre-Indo-European population living in the Ice Age "Iberian refugium".[17][18]

However, this haplogroup is now believed by some to have originated over 12,000 years more recently than previously thought, in Western.[19] It thus follows that Irish and many other European subclades originating several thousand miles to the west of the region of origin will be considerably younger than the maximum age of 18,000 years. The previous estimates, based on improper dating methods, were 30,000+ years, which made it possible to envision R1b as being more indigenous to Western Europe than it actually was. According to recent 2009 studies by Bramanti et al. and Malmström et al. on mtDNA,[20][21] related Western European populations appear to be of largely Neolithic and not Paleolithic origins as previously thought. There was discontinuity between Mesolithic Central Europe and Modern European populations mainly due to a extremely high frequency of haplogroup U (particularly U5) types in Mesolithic central European sites).

The association of the Irish with the Basques was in fact challenged as early as 2005,[22] and in 2007 scientists began looking at a Neolithic entrance for R1b into Europe.[23] A new study published in 2010 by Balaresque et al. implies a Neolithic or Mesolithic entrance for R1b in Europe from the Middle East.[24]


Early expansion and the coming of Christianity[]

Finnian of Clonard imparting his blessing to the "Twelve Apostles of Ireland"

One Roman historian records that the Irish people were divided into "sixteen different nations" or tribes.[25] Traditional histories assert that the Romans never attempted to conquer Ireland, although it may have been considered.[25] The Irish were not, however, cut off from Europe; they frequently raided the Roman territories,[25] and also maintained trade links.[26]

Among the most famous people of ancient Irish history are the High Kings of Ireland, such as Cormac mac Airt and Niall of the Nine Hostages, and the semi-legendary Fianna. The 20th century writer Seamus MacManus wrote that even if the Fianna and the Fenian Cycle were purely fictional, it would still be representative of the character of the Irish people:

...such beautiful fictions of such beautiful ideals, by themselves presume and prove beautiful-souled people, capable of appreciating lofty ideals.[27]

The introduction of Christianity to the Irish people during the 5th century brought a radical change to the Irish people's foreign relations.[28] The only military raid abroad recorded after that century is a presumed invasion of Wales, which according to a Welsh manuscript may have taken place around the 7th century.[28] In the words of Seamus MacManus:

If we compare the history of Ireland in the 6th century, after Christianity was received, with that of the 4th century, before the coming of Christianity, the wonderful change and contrast is probably more striking than any other such change in any other nation known to history.[28]

However, Christianity in Ireland appears never to have expanded outside the religious sphere of influence, whereas for the English people and the people of continental Europe it became a whole social system. Therefore, the Irish secular laws and social institutions remained in place.[29]

Migration and invasion in the Middle Ages[]

The approximate area of the Dál Riata (shaded)

Around the 5th century, Gaelic language and culture spread from Ireland to what is now the west of Scotland via the Dál Riata. These Gaels soon spread out to most of the rest of the country. "Scoti" is the name given by the Romans earlier in the millennium who encountered the inhabitants of Ireland. The Gaelic cultural and linguistic dominance of northern Britain is the origin of the name "Scotland". The territories of the Gaels and the native Picts merged together to form the Kingdom of Alba. The modern Scottish people have therefore been influenced historically by both the Irish people and the English people to the south. The Isle of Man and the Manx people also came under massive Gaelic influence in their history.

Irish missionaries such as Saint Columba brought Christianity to Pictish Scotland. The Irishmen of this time were also "aware of the cultural unity of Europe", and it was the 6th century Irish monk Columbanus who is regarded as "one of the fathers of Europe".[9] Another Irish saint, Aidan of Lindisfarne, has been proposed as a possible patron saint of the United Kingdom,[30] while Saints Kilian and Vergilius became the patron saints of Würzburg in Germany and Salzburg in Austria, respectively. Irish missionaries founded monasteries outside Ireland, such as Iona Abbey, the Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland, and Bobbio Abbey in Italy.

Common to both the monastic and the secular bardic schools were Irish and Latin. With Latin, the early Irish scholars "show almost a like familiarity that they do with their own Gaelic".[31] There is evidence also that Hebrew and Greek were studied, the latter probably being taught at Iona.[32]

"The knowledge of Greek", says Professor Sandys in his History of Classical Scholarship, "which had almost vanished in the west was so widely dispersed in the schools of Ireland that if anyone knew Greek it was assumed he must have come from that country."'[33]

Since the time of Charlemagne, Irish scholars had a considerable presence in the Frankish court, where they were renowned for their learning.[34] The most significant Irish intellectual of the early monastic period was the 9th century Johannes Scotus Eriugena, an outstanding philosopher in terms of originality.[34] He was the earliest of the founders of scholasticism, the dominant school of medieval philosophy.[35] He had considerable familiarity with the Greek language, and translated many works into Latin, affording access to the Cappadocian Fathers and the Greek theological tradition, previously almost unknown in the Latin West.[34]

The influx of Viking raiders and traders in the 9th and 10th centuries resulted in the founding of many of Ireland's most important towns, including Cork, Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford (earlier native settlements on these sites did not approach the urban nature of the subsequent Norse trading ports). The Vikings left little impact on Ireland other than towns and certain words added to the Irish language, but many Irish taken as slaves inter-married with the Scandinavians, hence forming a close link with the Icelandic people. In the Icelandic Laxdœla saga, for example, "even slaves are highborn, descended from the kings of Ireland."[36] The first name of Njáll Þorgeirsson, the chief protagonist of Njáls saga, is a variation of the Irish name Neil. According to Eirik the Red's Saga, the first European couple to have a child born in North America was descended from the Viking Queen of Dublin, Aud the Deep-minded, and a Gaelic slave brought to Iceland.[10]

The arrival of the Anglo-Normans brought also the Welsh, Flemish, Anglo-Saxons, and Bretons. Most of these were assimilated into Irish culture and polity by the 15th century, with the exception of some of the walled towns and the Pale areas.[29] The Late Middle Ages also saw the settlement of Scottish gallowglass families of mixed Gaelic-Norse-Pict descent, mainly in the north; due to similarities of language and culture they too were assimilated.


The Red Hand of the Uí Néill (O'Neill), the dynasty that claimed descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages

The Irish were among the first people in Europe to use surnames as we know them today.[37] It is very common for people of Gaelic origin to have the English versions of their surnames beginning with "O'" or "Mc" (less frequently "Mac" and occasionally shortened to just "Ma" at the beginning of the name).

"O'" comes from the Gaelic Ó which in turn came from Ua, which means "grandson", or "descendant" of a named person. Names that begin with "O'" include Ó Briain (O'Brien), Ó Ceallaigh (O'Kelly), Ó Conchobhair (O'Connor), Ó Domhnaill (O'Donnell), Ó Cuilinn (Cullen), Ó Máille (O'Malley), Ó Néill (O'Neill), and Ó Tuathail (O'Toole).

"Mac" or "Mc" means "son". Names that begin with Mac include Mac Diarmada (MacDermott), Mac Cárthaigh (MacCarthy), Mac Domhnaill (MacDonnell), and Mac Mathghamhna (MacMahon, MacMahony, etc.). However, "Mac" and "Mc" are not exclusive, so, for example, both "MacCarthy" and "McCarthy" are used. While both "Mac" and "O'" prefixes are Gaelic in origin, "Mac" is more common in Scotland and in Ulster than in the rest of Ireland; furthermore, "Ó" is far less common in Scotland than it is in Ireland.

There are a number of Irish surnames derived from Norse personal names, including Mac Suibhne (Sweeney) from Swein and McAuliffe from Olaf. The name Cotter, local to County Cork, derives from the Norse personal name Ottir. The name Reynolds is an Anglicization of the Gaelic Mac Raghnaill, itself originating from the Norse names Randal or Reginald. Though these names were of Viking derivation most of the families who bear them appear to have had native origins.

"Fitz" is an old Norman French variant of the Old French word fils (variant spellings filz, fiuz, fiz, etc.), used by the Normans, meaning son. The Normans themselves were descendants of Vikings, who had settled in Normandy and thoroughly adopted the French language and culture.[38] Names that begin with Fitz include FitzGerald (Mac Gearailt), Fitzpatrick (Mac Giolla Phádraig), and FitzHenry (Mac Anraí), most of whom descend from the initial Norman settlers. A small number of Irish families of Gaelic origin came to use a Norman form of their original surname—so that Mac Giolla Phádraig became Fitzpatrick — while some assimilated so well that the Gaelic name was dropped in favor of a new, Hiberno-Norman form. Another common Irish surname of Norman Irish origin is the 'de' habitational prefix, meaning 'of' and originally signifying prestige and land ownership. Examples include de Búrca (Burke), de Brún, de Barra (Barry), de Stac (Stack), de Tiúit, de Faoite (White), de Londras (Landers), de Paor (Power). The Irish surname "Walsh" )(in Gaelic Breathnach) was routinely given to settlers of Welsh origin, who had come during and after the Norman invasion. The Joyce and Griffin/Griffith families are also of Welsh origin.

The Mac Lochlainn, Ó Maol Seachlainn, Ó Maol Seachnaill, Ó Conchobhair Mac Loughlin and Mac Diarmada Mac Loughlin families, all distinct, are now all subsumed together as MacLoughlin. The full surname usually indicated which family was in question, something that has being diminished with the loss of prefixes such as Ó and Mac. Different branches of a family with the same surname sometimes used distinguishing epithets, which sometimes became surnames in their own right. Hence the chief of the clan Ó Cearnaigh (Kearney) was referred to as An Sionnach (Fox), which his descendants use to this day. Similar surnames are often found in Scotland for many reasons, such as the use of a common language and mass Irish migration to Scotland in the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries.

Late Medieval and Tudor Ireland[]

Gaelic Irish soldiers in the Low Countries, from a drawing of 1521 by Albrecht Dürer

The Irish people of the Late Middle Ages were active as traders on the European continent.[11] They were distinguished from the English (who only used their own language or French) in that they only used Latin abroad—a language "spoken by all educated people throughout Gaeldom".[39] The explorer Christopher Columbus visited Ireland to gather information about the lands to the west.[11] A number of Irish names are recorded on Columbus' crew roster, preserved in the archives of Madrid, and it was an Irishman named Patrick Maguire who was the first to set foot on American soil in 1492.[11] According to Morison and Miss Gould, who made a detailed study of the crew list of 1492, no Irish or English sailors were involved in the voyage.[40]

An English report of 1515 states that the Irish people were divided into over sixty Gaelic lordships and thirty Anglo-Irish lordships.[29] The English term for these lordships was "nation" or "country".[29] The Irish term "oireacht" referred to both the territory and the people ruled by the lord.[29] Literally, it meant an "assembly", where the Brehons would hold their courts upon hills to arbitrate the matters of the lordship.[29] Indeed, the Tudor lawyer Sir John Davies described the Irish people with respect to their laws:

There is no people under the sun that doth love equal and indifferent (impartial) justice better than the Irish, or will rest better satisfied with the execution thereof, although it be against themselves, as they may have the protection and benefit of the law upon which just cause they do desire it.[41]

The Gaelic scribes and poets reflected the broad education of the Irish learned classes

Another English commentator records that the assemblies were attended by "all the scum of the country"—the labouring population as well as the landowners.[29] While the distinction between "free" and "unfree" elements of the Irish people was unreal in legal terms, it was a social and economic reality.[29] Social mobility was usually downwards, due to social and economic pressures.[29] The ruling clan's "expansion from the top downwards" was constantly displacing commoners and forcing them into the margins of society.[29]

As a clan-based society, genealogy was all important.[29] Ireland 'was justly styled a "Nation of Annalists"'.[42] The various branches of Irish learning—including law, poetry, history and genealogy, and medicine—were associated with hereditary learned families.[43] The poetic families included the Uí Dhálaigh (Daly) and the MacGrath.[29] Irish physicians, such as the O'Briens in Munster or the MacCailim Mor in the Western Isles, were renowned in the courts of England, Spain, Portugal and the Low Countries.[41] Learning was not exclusive to the hereditary learned families, however; one such example is Cathal Mac Manus, the 15th century diocesan priest who wrote the Annals of Ulster.[43] Other learned families included the Mic Aodhagáin and Clann Fhir Bhisigh.[43] It was this latter family which produced Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, the 17th century genealogist and compiler of the Leabhar na nGenealach. (see also Irish medical families).


Robert Boyle, Anglo-Irish scientist and father of chemistry, whose family obtained land in the plantations

After Ireland was subdued by England, the English—under James I of England (reigned 1603–1625), the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658), William III of England (reigned 1689–1702) and their successors—began the settling of Protestant English and Scottish colonists into Ireland, where they settled most heavily in the northern province of Ulster. The Plantations of Ireland and in particular the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century introduced great numbers of Scottish, English as well as French Huguenots as colonists.

Many native Irish were displaced during the 17th century plantations. Only in the major part of Ulster did the plantations of mostly Scottish prove long-lived; the other three provinces (Connacht, Leinster, and Munster) remained heavily "Gaelic" or "native" Irish. Eventually, the Anglo-Irish and Protestant populations of those three provinces decreased drastically as a result of the political developments in the early 20th century in Ireland, as well as the Catholic Church's Ne Temere decree for mixed marriages, which obliged the non-Catholic partner to have the children raised as Catholics.

Enlightenment Ireland[]

There have been notable Irish scientists. The Anglo-Irish scientist Robert Boyle (1627–1691) is considered the father of chemistry for his book The Sceptical Chymist, written in 1661.[44] Boyle was an atomist, and is best known for Boyle's Law. The hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort (1774–1857), an Irish naval officer of Huguenot descent, was the creator of the Beaufort scale for indicating wind force. George Boole (1815–1864), the mathematician who invented Boolean algebra, spent the latter part of his life in Cork. The 19th century physicist George Stoney introduced the idea and the name of the electron. He was the uncle of another notable physicist, George FitzGerald.

Jonathan Swift, one of the foremost prose satirists in the English language

The Irish bardic system, along with the Gaelic culture and learned classes, were upset by the plantations, and went into decline. Among the last of the true bardic poets were Brian Mac Giolla Phádraig (c. 1580-1652) and Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (1625–1698). The Irish poets of the late 17th and 18th centuries moved toward more modern dialects. Among the most prominent of this period were Séamas Dall Mac Cuarta, Peadar Ó Doirnín, Art Mac Cumhaigh Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna, and Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill. Irish Catholics continued to receive an education in secret "hedgeschools", in spite of the Penal laws.[45] A knowledge of Latin was common among the poor Irish mountaineers in the 17th century, who spoke it on special occasions, while cattle were bought and sold in Greek in the mountain market-places of Kerry.[46]

For a comparatively small population of about 4 million people, Ireland has made an enormous contribution to literature. Irish literature encompasses the Irish and English languages. Notable Irish writers include Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), Oliver Goldsmith, Bram Stoker, James Joyce. Among the famous Irish poets are William Butler Yeats, Francis Ledwidge, "A.E." Russell and Seamus Heaney. Irish playwrights include Oscar Wilde, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, Edward Plunkett, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Sean O'Casey, Brendan Behan and Brian Friel. Some of the 20th century writers in the Irish language include Brian O'Nolan, Peig Sayers, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, and Máirtín Ó Direáin.

20th century[]

In 1921, with the formation of the Irish Free State, six counties in the northeast remained in the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland. It is predominately religion, historical, and political differences that divide the two communities of (nationalism and unionism). Four polls taken between 1989 and 1994 revealed that when asked to state their national identity, over 79% of Northern Ireland Protestants replied "British" or "Ulster" with 3% or less replying "Irish", while over 60% of Northern Ireland Catholics replied "Irish" with 13% or less replying "British" or "Ulster".[47] A survey in 1999 showed that 72% of Northern Ireland Protestants considered themselves "British" and 2% "Irish", with 68% of Northern Ireland Catholics considering themselves "Irish" and 9% "British".[48] The survey also revealed that 78% of Protestants and 48% of all respondents felt "Strongly British", while 77% of Catholics and 35% of all respondents felt "Strongly Irish". 51% of Protestants and 33% of all respondents felt "Not at all Irish", while 62% of Catholics and 28% of all respondents felt "Not at all British".[49][50]

"Ulster-Irish" surnames tend to differ based on which community families originate from. Ulster Protestants tend to have either English or Scottish surnames while Catholics tend to have Irish surnames, although this is not always the case. There are many Catholics in Northern Ireland with surnames such as Emerson, Whitson, Livingstone, Hardy, Tennyson, MacDonald (this surname is also common with Highland Roman Catholics in Scotland), Dunbar, Groves, Legge, Scott, Gray, Page, Stewart, Roberts, Rowntree, Henderson, et al.; due to intermarriage.

Recent history[]


In the Republic of Ireland, as of 2006, 3,681,446 people or about 86.83% of the population claim to be Roman Catholic.[51] In Northern Ireland about 53.1% of the population are Protestant (21.1% Presbyterian, 15.5% Church of Ireland, 3.6% Methodist, 6.1% Other Christian) whilst a large minority are Catholic at approximately 43.8%, as of 2001.

The 31st International Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin in 1932, that year being the supposed 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick's arrival. Ireland was then home to 3,171,697 Catholics, about a third of whom attended the Congress.[52][53] It was noted in Time Magazine that the Congress' special theme would be "the Faith of the Irish."[52] The massive crowds were repeated at Pope John Paul II's Mass in Phoenix Park in 1979.[54] The idea of faith has affected the question of Irish identity even in relatively recent times, apparently more so for Catholics and Irish-Americans:

What defines an Irishman? His faith, his place of birth? What of the Irish-Americans? Are they Irish? Who is more Irish, a Catholic Irishman such as James Joyce who is trying to escape from his Catholicism and from his Irishness, or a Protestant Irishman like Oscar Wilde who is eventually becoming Catholic? Who is more Irish... someone like C.S. Lewis, an Ulster Protestant, who is walking towards it, even though he never ultimately crosses the threshold?[55]

This has been a matter of concern over the last century for followers of nationalist ideologists such as DP Moran.


Ireland joined the European Community in 1973, and Irish citizens became additionally Citizens of the European Union with the Maastricht Treaty signed in 1992. This brought a further question for the future of Irish identity; whether Ireland was "closer to Boston than to Berlin:"

History and geography have placed Ireland in a very special location between America and Europe... As Irish people our relationships with the United States and the European Union are complex. Geographically we are closer to Berlin than Boston. Spiritually we are probably a lot closer to Boston than Berlin. — Mary Harney, Tánaiste, 2000[56]


Famous Irish singers and musicians have included the harpist Turlough O'Carolan (1670–1738), Catherine Hayes; and more recently U2, The Script, The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, The Corrs, Dónal Lunny, Van Morrison, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott, Sinéad O'Connor, Bob Geldof, Shane MacGowan, David King, Enya, The Cranberries, James Galway, Colm Wilkinson, Johnny Logan, Damien Rice, Chris de Burgh, Glen Hansard, Kíla, Boyzone and Westlife,The Dubliners,

Famous Irish actors include Maureen O'Hara, Peter O'Toole, Liam Neeson, Richard Harris, Greer Garson, Pierce Brosnan, Spike Milligan, Stephen Boyd, Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, John McNiff and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. One of the most significant national Irish media figures is Gay Byrne, who presented the Late Late Show from 1962-1999. There are several other Irish broadcasters of note who developed careers outside of Ireland, such as Terry Wogan and Eamonn Andrews, who are well known internationally.

In sport, modern Irish figures include Colm Cooper, Peter Canavan, Darragh Ó Sé and Pádraic Joyce (Gaelic football), Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane, Roy Keane, Steve Staunton and Martin O'Neill (soccer); Pádraig Harrington,Rory McIlroy, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke (golf); Steve Collins, Barry McGuigan and Bernard Dunne (boxing); Keith Wood, Brian O'Driscoll, and Paul O'Connell (Rugby Union); Mary Peters, Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy and Sonia O'Sullivan (athletics); Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche (cycling), Michelle Smith (swimming) Henry Shefflin, Andrew Bree, Joe Canning and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín (hurling), Sheamus O'Shaunessy and Finlay (wrestling).

Ireland has produced many famous comedians, known both nationally and internationally. Many of them draw their humour from being Irish, or from their province, county or locality. Irish comedians who were born or raised in Dublin include Dave Allen, Frank Kelly,Dermot Morgan, Ed Byrne, Andrew Maxwell, Dara Ó Briain, and Jason Byrne. Ulster-born comedians include Colin Murphy, Patrick Kielty, and Ardal O'Hanlon, while Leinster has also produced, Neil Delamere, Tommy Tiernan, Deirdre O'Kane and Dylan Moran. Munster and Connaught have produced comedian Pat Shortt,Graham Norton, and comedienne Pauline McLynn respectively. Comedians of Irish descent, born outside Ireland, include George Carlin, Des Bishop (who performed the first live stand up gig in Irish), Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Carr.

Irish diaspora[]

Patrice MacMahon, Marshal of France and first elected President of the French Third Republic

The Irish diaspora consists of Irish emigrants and their descendants in countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and nations of the Caribbean such as Jamaica and Barbados. These countries, known sometimes as the Anglosphere, all have large minorities of Irish descent, who in addition form the core of the Catholic Church in those countries. People of Irish descent also feature strongly in Latin America, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. In 1995, President Mary Robinson reached out to the "70 million people worldwide who can claim Irish descent."[57] Today the diaspora is believed to contain an estimated 80 million people.[58]

John Carroll, first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop of the United States

There are also large Irish communities in some mainland European countries, notably in Spain, France and Germany. Between 1585 and 1818, over half a million Irish departed Ireland to serve in the wars on the continent, in a constant emigration romantically styled the "Flight of the Wild Geese".[59] In the early years of the English Civil War, a French traveller remarked that the Irish "are better soldiers abroad than at home".[60] Later, Irish brigades in France and Spain fought in the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Succession and the Napoleonic Wars.[59] In the words of Arthur Wellesley, the Irish born "Iron Duke" of Wellington, a notable representative of the Irish military diaspora, "Ireland was an inexhaustible nursery for the finest soldiers".[61]

The most famous cause of emigration was Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s. A million are thought to have emigrated to Liverpool as a result of the famine.[62] For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory[63] and became a rallying point for various nationalist movements.

John F. Kennedy visiting the John Barry Memorial in Wexford, Ireland

People of Irish descent are the second largest self-reported ethnic group in the United States, after German Americans. Nine of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence were of Irish origin.[64] Among them was the sole Catholic signatory, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, whose family were the descendants of Ely O’Carroll, an Irish prince who had suffered under Cromwell.[65] At least twenty-five presidents of the United States have some Irish ancestral origins, including George Washington.[66][67][68][69] Since John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, every American President has had some Irish blood.[70] An Irish-American, James Hoban, was the designer of the White House. Commodore John Barry was the father of the United States Navy.[71]

In the mid-19th century, large numbers of Irish immigrants were conscripted into Irish regiments of the United States army at the time of the Mexican-American War. The vast majority of the 4,811 Irish-born soldiers served honorably in the American army, but some defected to the Mexican Army, primarily to escape mistreatment by Anglo-Protestant officers and the strong anti-Catholic discrimination in America.[72] These were the San Patricios, or Saint Patrick's Battalion—a group of Irish led by Galway-born John O'Riley, with some German, Scottish and American Catholics.[72] They fought until their surrender at the decisive Battle of Churubusco, and were executed outside Mexico City by the American government on 13 September 1847.[72] The battalion is commemorated in Mexico each year on 12 September.[73]

During the 18th and 19th centuries, 300,000 free emigrants and 45,000 convicts left Ireland to settle in Australia.[74] Today, Australians of Irish descent are one of the largest self-reported ethnic groups in Australia, after English and Australian. In the 2006 Census, 1,803,741 residents identified themselves as having Irish ancestry either alone or in combination with another ancestry.[75] However this figure does not include Australians with an Irish background who chose to nominate themselves as 'Australian' or other ancestries. The Australian embassy in Dublin states that up to 30 percent of the population claim some degree of Irish ancestry.[76]

It is believed that as many as 30,000 Irish people emigrated to Argentina between the 1830s and the 1890s, having a "seismic" impact on Argentinian society.[5] Today Irish-Argentines number over 500,000—about 1,2% of the population.[5] Some famous Argentines of Irish descent include Che Guevara, former president Edelmiro Julián Farrell, and admiral William Brown. There are Irish descent people all over South America, such as the Chilean liberator Bernardo O'Higgins and the Peruvian photographer Mario Testino. Although some Irish retained their surnames intact, others were assimilated into the Spanish vernacular. The last name O'Brien, for example, became Obregón.

People of Irish descent are also one of the largest self-reported ethnic groups in Canada, after English, French and Scottish Canadians. As of 2006, Irish Canadians number around 4,354,155.[3]

See also[]

Template:Celts and Modern Celts sidebar

  • European ethnic groups
  • Irish martial arts
  • List of expatriate Irish populations
  • List of Ireland-related topics
  • Lists of Irish Americans
  • The Ireland Funds

Template:Ireland topics


  1. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, 2007
  2. ^ "One in four Britons claim Irish roots". BBC News. 2001-03-16. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  3. ^ a b "Ethnocultural portrait of Canada". Statistics Canada. 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  4. ^ The 2006 Australian Census reports 1.9 million people of Irish ancestry in the 2001 Census. Up to two ancestries could be chosen. Recent increases in the number who identify as Australian suggest that this number is an underestimate of the true number with Irish ancestry. With that being said, the number claiming Irish ancestry from the previous census actually more than doubled. One reason, an improved image of what it means to be Irish according to the census experts, making Australians more proud to state their Irish ancestry. Also the Australian Embassy in Dublin states that up to 30 percent of Australians have some degree of Irish ancestry.[1].
  5. ^ a b c "Flying the Irish flag in Argentina". Western People. 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  6. ^ "Irish Mexican - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  7. ^ "More Britons applying for Irish passports | UK news |". Guardian.,,1871753,00.html. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  8. ^ Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. pp. xvi. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4. 
  9. ^ a b "Pope Calls Irish Monk a Father of Europe". Zenit. 2007-07-11. Retrieved 2007-07-15. 
  10. ^ a b Smiley, p 630
  11. ^ a b c d MacManus, p 343-344 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MacManus343" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MacManus343" defined multiple times with different content
  12. ^ MacManus, pp 215; 221-222; 461-462
  13. ^ "Who were the Celts? ... Rhagor". Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales website. Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. 2007-05-04. Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  14. ^ Mac Manus, p 1 & 7
  15. ^ MacManus, p 1
  16. ^ "Y-Chromosome Biallelic Haplogroups". Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  17. ^ Stephen Oppenheimer, The Origins of the British - A Genetic Detective Story, 2006, Constable and Robinson, ISBN 1-84529-158-1
  18. ^ Bryan Sykes, Blood of the Isles: Exploring the Genetic Roots of Our Tribal History, 2006, Bantam, ISBN 0593056523
  19. ^ "ISOGG 2009". Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  20. ^ "Bramanti et al 2009". doi:10.1126/science.1176869. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  21. ^ "Malmström et al 2009". Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  22. ^ Alonso et al. The Place of the Basques in the European Y-chromosome Diversity Landscape. European Journal of Human Genetics, 13:1293-1302, 2005
  23. ^ B. Arredi, E. S. Poloni and C. Tyler-Smith (2007). "The peopling of Europe". In Crawford, Michael H.. Anthropological genetics: theory, methods and applications. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 394. ISBN 0-521-54697-4. 
  24. ^ Balaresque et al. (2010), "A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for European Paternal Lineages", PLoS Biol. 8 (1), doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000285, PMID PMC2799514, 
  25. ^ a b c MacManus, p 86
  26. ^ MacManus, p 87
  27. ^ MacManus, p67
  28. ^ a b c MacManus, p 89
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Nicholls
  30. ^ "Home-grown holy man: Cry God for Harry, Britain and... St Aidan". The Independent. 2008-04-23. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  31. ^ MacManus, p 221
  32. ^ MacManus, p 221-222
  33. ^ MacManus, p 215
  34. ^ a b c "John Scottus Eriugena". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. 2004-10-17. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  35. ^ Toman, p 10: "Abelard himself was... together with John Scotus Erigena (9th century), and Lanfranc and Anselm of Canterbury (both 11th century), one of the founders of scholasticism."
  36. ^ Smiley, p 274
  37. ^ Woulfe, Patrick (1923). Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish names and surnames. M. H. Gill & son. pp. xx. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  38. ^ Richard Hooker. "The Normans". Washington State University. Retrieved 2008-07-12. 
  39. ^ MacManus, p 340
  40. ^ Paolo Emilio Taviani, Chrstopher Columbus, Page 376, ISBN 085613922X
  41. ^ a b MacManus, p 348
  42. ^ MacManus, p 352
  43. ^ a b c Jefferies, Dr. Henry A. "Culture and Religion in Tudor Ireland, 1494-1558". University College Cork. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  44. ^ Boyle on Atheism by J.J. MacIntosh (University of Toronto Press ISBN 978-0802090188), page 6
  45. ^ MacManus, p 461
  46. ^ MacManus, p 461-462
  47. ^ "in, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Fifth Report". Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  48. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey". 2003-05-09. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  49. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey". 2003-05-12. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  50. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey". 2003-05-09. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  51. ^ Population classified by religion for relevant censuses from 1881 to 2006 Summary, Central Statistics Office
  52. ^ a b "In Dublin". Time Magazine. 1932-06-20.,9171,753335-1,00.html. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  53. ^ John Paul McCarthy; Tomás O’Riordan. "The 31st International Eucharistic Congress, Dublin, 1932". University College Cork. Retrieved 2008-06-23. "Newspapers and contemporaries estimated that close to a million souls had converged on the Phoenix Park for the climax of the Congress" 
  54. ^ The figure 1,250,000 is mentioned on the commemorative stone at the Papal Cross in the Phoenix Park, Dublin; a quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, or a third of the population of Republic of Ireland
  55. ^ Pearce, Joseph (March/April 2007). "Editorial: The Celtic Enigma". St. Austin Review 7 (2). 
  56. ^ Aldous, p 185
  57. ^ "Ireland's Diaspora". Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  58. ^ The island history,
  59. ^ a b The Wild Geese, Men-at-Arms 102, Osprey Publishing
  60. ^ McLaughlin, p4
  61. ^ Davies, p 832
  62. ^ David Ross, Ireland: History of a Nation, New Lanark: Geddes & Grosset, 2002, p. 226. ISBN 1842051644
  63. ^ The Famine that affected Ireland from 1845 to 1852 has become an integral part of folk legend. Kenealy, This Great Calamity, p. 342.
  64. ^ "Irish-American History Month, 1995". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  65. ^ Maryland Traces Its Irish Roots, Maryland Office of Tourism
  66. ^ "Presidents of the United States with "Irish Roots"". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  67. ^ Marck, John T. "William H. Taft". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  68. ^ "Warren Gamaliel Harding". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  69. ^ Marck, John T. "Harry S. Truman". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  70. ^ "American Presidents with Irish Ancestors". Directory of Irish Genealogy. Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  71. ^ John Barry Kelly. "Commodore Barry". Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  72. ^ a b c Michael G. Connaughton (September 2005). "Beneath an Emerald Green Flag, The Story of Irish Soldiers in Mexico". The Society for Irish Latin American Studies. Retrieved 2008-07-12. 
  73. ^ Mark R. Day. "The San Patricios: Mexico's Fighting Irish". Retrieved 2008-07-12. 
  74. ^ Ryan, Sean (2006). "Botany Bay 1791 - 1867". Wild Geese Heritage Museum and Library Portumna, Co. Galway. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  75. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Australia". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  76. ^ "Australia- Ireland relationship - Australian Embassy". Retrieved 2010-03-28. 


External links[]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Irish people. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.