Irish people

Irish people
Muintir na hÉireann
Total population
c. 70–80 million worldwide[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Republic of Ireland   4,581,269 (2011)[2]
Northern Ireland   1,810,863 (2011)[3]
(Irish descent only)
 United States40,000,000+[4]
 United Kingdom*14,000,000[5]
 New Zealand600,000[10]
English (Hiberno-English dialects),
Scots (Ulster Scots dialects),
Mainly Christianity
(majority Roman Catholicism; minority Protestantism, especially Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Methodism)
see also: Religion in Ireland
Related ethnic groups
Irish Travellers, Gaels, Anglo-Irish, Bretons, Cornish, English, Icelanders,[12] Manx, Norse, Scots, Ulster Scots, Welsh

* Around 800,000 people born in Ireland reside in Great Britain, with around 14,000,000 people claiming Irish ancestry.[13]
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History of Ireland

The Irish (Irish: Muintir na hÉireann or Na hÉireannaigh) are a Celtic[14][15] nation and ethnic group native to the island of Ireland, who share a common Irish ancestry, identity and culture. Ireland has been inhabited for about 12,500 years according to archaeological studies (see Prehistoric Ireland). For most of Ireland's recorded history, the Irish have been primarily a Gaelic people (see Gaelic Ireland). Anglo-Normans conquered parts of Ireland in the 12th century, while England's 16th/17th-century (re)conquest and colonisation of Ireland brought a large number of English and Lowland Scots people to parts of the island, especially the north. Today, Ireland is made up of the Republic of Ireland (an independent state) and the smaller Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom). The people of Northern Ireland hold various national identities including British, Irish, Northern Irish or some combination thereof.

The Irish have their own customs, language, music, dance, sports, cuisine and mythology. Although Irish (Gaelic/Gaeilge) was their main language in the past, today most Irish people speak English as their first language. Historically, the Irish nation was made up of kin groups or clans, and the Irish also had their own religion, law code, alphabet and style of dress.

There have been many notable Irish people throughout history. After Ireland's conversion to Christianity, Irish missionaries and scholars exerted great influence on Western Europe, and the Irish came to be seen as a nation of "saints and scholars". The 6th-century Irish monk and missionary Columbanus is regarded as one of the "fathers of Europe",[16] followed by saints Cillian and Fergal. The scientist Robert Boyle is considered the "father of chemistry", and Robert Mallet one of the "fathers of seismology". Famous Irish writers include Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, C.S. Lewis and Seamus Heaney. Notable Irish explorers include Brendan the Navigator, Sir Robert McClure, Sir Alexander Armstrong, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean. By some accounts, the first European child born in North America had Irish descent on both sides.[17] Many presidents of the United States have had some Irish ancestry.

The population of Ireland is about 6.3 million, but it is estimated that 50 to 80 million people around the world have Irish forebears, making the Irish diaspora one of the largest of any nation. Historically, emigration from Ireland has been the result of conflict, famine and economic issues. People of Irish descent are found mainly in English-speaking countries, especially Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia. There are also significant numbers in Argentina, Mexico and New Zealand. The United States has the most people of Irish descent, while in Australia those of Irish descent are a higher percentage of the population than in any other country outside Ireland.[18] Many Icelanders have Irish and Scottish Gaelic forebears.[19]

Origins and antecedents

Prehistoric and legendary ancestors

Carrowmore tomb, c. 3000 BC

During the past 12,500 years of inhabitation, Ireland has witnessed some 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 the 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, Fódla, Ériu by the islanders, Iouerne and Hiverne to the Greeks, and Hibernia to the Romans.

Scotland takes its name from Scota, who in Irish mythology, Scottish mythology, and pseudohistory, is the name given to two different mythological daughters of two different Egyptian Pharaohs to whom the Gaels traced their ancestry, allegedly explaining the name Scoti, applied by the Romans to Irish raiders, and later to the Irish invaders of Argyll and Caledonia which became known as Scotland. Other Latin names for people from Ireland in Classic and Mediaeval sources include Attacotti and Gael. This last word, derived from the Welsh gwyddel "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.

The terms Irish and Ireland are probably derived from the goddess Ériu.[20] 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 practice is paralleled 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 as 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 Míl Espáine, whose sons supposedly conquered Ireland around 1000 BC or later.[21] The character is almost certainly a mere personification of a supposed migration by a group or groups from Iberia to Ireland. It is from this that the Irish were, as late as the 1800s, popularly known as "Milesian".[22] Medieval Irish historians, over the course of several centuries, created the genealogical dogma that all Irish were descendants of Míl, ignoring 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 Eochaidh Ua Floinn (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); Giolla Íosa Mór Mac Fir Bhisigh (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).


Genetic research shows a strong similarity between the Y chromosome haplotypes of Irish men with Gaelic surnames and males from the area of Spain and Portugal, especially Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria (and perhaps former Basque country).[23] The incidence of the R1b haplogroup is 70% or more in Celtic regions – Cumbria and Cornwall in England, the Celtic Northern region in Portugal (Douro Litoral, Minho and Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro), northern Spain (Celtic Galicia, Asturias, León, Cantabria and Basque Country), western France (Béarn, Gascony, Guyenne, Saintonge, Angoumois, Aunis, Poitou, Touraine, Anjou and the Celtic Brittany), and Celtic Countries – Wales and Scotland in Britain. 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 in the Low Countries, and is common in southern Scandinavia and in northern and central Italy. This led writers, such as Stephen Oppenheimer and Bryan Sykes, to conclude that the majority of Irish people primarily descend from an "Iberian refugium" population bottleneck dating back to the last ice age.[24][25]

However, this haplogroup is now believed by some to have originated over 12,000 years more recently than previously thought.[26] It thus follows that Irish and many other R1b subclades would be considerably younger than the maximum age of 18,000 years. The previous estimates, based on inaccurate dating methods (30,000+ years BP), made R1b and its subclades seem to be more useful indicators of the paleolithic era populations of western Europe than they actually are. According to recent 2009 studies by Bramanti et al. and Malmström et al. on mtDNA,[27][28] related western European populations appear to be largely from the neolithic and not paleolithic era, as previously thought. There was discontinuity between mesolithic central Europe and modern European populations mainly due to an extremely high frequency of haplogroup U (particularly U5) types in mesolithic central European sites.

The existence of an especially strong genetic association between the Irish and the Basques, one even closer than the relationship between other west Europeans, was first challenged in 2005,[29] and in 2007 scientists began looking at the possibility of a more recent Mesolithic- or even Neolithic-era entrance of R1b into Europe.[30] A new study published in 2010 by Balaresque et al. implies either a Mesolithic- or Neolithic- (not Paleolithic-) era entrance of R1b into Europe.[31] However, all these genetic studies agree that the Irish and Basque (along with the Welsh) share the highest percentage of R1b populations. A recent whole genome analysis of 1 neolithic and 3 Bronze Age skeletal remains in Ireland suggested that the original farming population was mostly similar to present-day Sardinians, and the 3 Bronze Age remains had a Steppe component to their genetics showing links with Eastern Europe. Most modern Irish share more DNA with the 3 Bronze Age men from Rathlin than with the earlier Ballynahatty neolithic woman.[32][33]

A recent genetic study done on the Irish show that they have two main ancestral sources: a French component (mostly northwestern French) and West Norwegian from the Viking era. [34][35]

Black Irish

Black Irish is an ambiguous term sometimes used (mainly outside Ireland) as a reference to a dark-haired phenotype appearing in people of Irish origin.[36] However, dark hair in people of Irish descent is common, although darker skin complexions appear less frequently.[37] One popular speculation suggests the Black Irish are descendants of survivors of the Spanish Armada, despite research discrediting such claims.[38] Filmmaker Bob Quinn, in the documentary series Atlantean, hypothesises the existence of an ancient sea-trading route linking North Africa and Iberia to regions such as Connemara. With this hypothesis, Quinn explains phenotypical similarities between the "Atlantean Irish" and the populations of Iberia and the Berbers.[39] Quinn's Atlantean thesis has not been accepted by the Irish academic establishment, who have criticised it is as non-scholarly and lacking hard evidence to back his theories.[40]

Afro-Caribbean people descended from Irish settlers in the Caribbean, especially those on Barbados and Montserrat,[41] are referred to as "Black Irish". The people concerned often have Irish surnames, speak a form of Caribbean English influenced by the Irish vernacular and, in some cases, sing Irish songs.[42]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Iere
العربية: إيرلنديون
aragonés: Irlandeses
asturianu: Pueblu irlandés
azərbaycanca: İrlandlar
تۆرکجه: ایرلند‌لر
беларуская: Ірландцы
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Ірляндцы
български: Ирландци
català: Irlandesos
Чӑвашла: Айришсем
čeština: Irové
Cymraeg: Gwyddelod
Deutsch: Iren
eesti: Iirlased
эрзянь: Ирландт
Esperanto: Irlandanoj
euskara: Irlandar
хальмг: Эйринмуд
한국어: 아일랜드인
հայերեն: Իռլանդացիներ
हिन्दी: आयरिश लोग
hrvatski: Irci
Bahasa Indonesia: Bangsa Irlandia
italiano: Irlandesi
עברית: אירים
қазақша: Ирландықтар
Кыргызча: Ирланддар
latviešu: Īri
lietuvių: Airiai
magyar: Írek
македонски: Ирци
მარგალური: ირლანდიარეფი
Bahasa Melayu: Bangsa Ireland
Nederlands: Ieren
Nedersaksies: Iern
нохчийн: Ирландхой
norsk: Irer
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Irlandlar
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਆਇਰਿਸ਼ ਲੋਕ
پنجابی: آئیری لوک
polski: Irlandczycy
português: Irlandeses
română: Irlandezi
русский: Ирландцы
саха тыла: Ирлааннар
Scots: Erse fowk
Simple English: Irish people
slovenčina: Íri
slovenščina: Irci
српски / srpski: Ирци
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Irci
svenska: Irländare
Türkçe: İrlandalılar
українська: Ірландці
اردو: آئرش لوگ
Tiếng Việt: Người Ireland
中文: 爱尔兰人