Photo Credit: David Levingstone
Black Irish People: The History of Black Presence in Ireland Stretches Further Back Than You Might Think
From the earliest African arrivals on Irish shores, Black people have played an important role in shaping Irish society. Although there aren’t very many Black people living in Ireland today, they still manage to make an impact.
Despite facing discrimination and marginalization, Black Irish men and women have made significant contributions to the country’s cultural, political, and economic landscape.
Black People Have Been in Ireland for Years
The Irish Times referenced a documentary about some of Ireland’s earliest inhabitants. They weren’t white—quite the opposite in fact. According to the documentary, “Prehistoric Irish people had dark skin and blue eyes. They inhabited the island for 4,000 years.”
Elizabeth Stack, the executive director of the Irish American Heritage Museum, told the Daily Gazette that Ireland isn’t quite as monolithic as most might think.
“The fact is there were Black people in Ireland from quite early on in the 1700s because the British landlords … would have had both servants and slaves,” she said.
In 1845, Frederick Douglass traveled to Ireland to decry slavery and found allies there. His visit coincided with the start of The Great Famine, which killed approximately 1 million Irish people. Britain ruled Ireland at the time, and its poor handling of the crisis furthered the death toll.
Douglass condemned the cruelty shown to the Irish people and Black slaves. However, Baltimore Magazine noted, “He made the careful distinction . . . that Britain’s subjugation of the Irish and the Southern plantation owners’ enslavement of Black Americans were not on par as evils.”
Racism Exists in Ireland
Tamilore Awonusi shared his experience as a Black Irish man in an insightful article for The Irish Times. He said Black Irish people are all too familiar with the phrases, “Where are you really from?” and said, “You don’t look like you’re from around here.”
These kinds of questions and statements may seem innocuous on the surface. But in actuality, they aren’t.
Awonusi wrote that these phrases “set a benchmark for casual racism.”
He pushed himself to the breaking point in school, believing that this was the way to gain acceptance from his non-Black peers. “At some point,” he said, “you start to lose your own identity working so hard to create one for other people.”
The article highlighted other Black people who encountered racism in Ireland. Some were born there, while others emigrated or sought asylum.
Irish Black History Month and the First Black Miss Ireland
In The United States, Black History Month has been observed every February since 1976. Ireland followed suit many years later, and designated October as their Black History Month.
As reported by Travel Noire, “Irish Black History Month first began in Cork in 2010, although it wasn’t until 2014 that it was consolidated as a nationwide event. It was facilitated by a network of groups who worked together through Africa Irish Development Initiatives (AIDI) to host a series of events in celebration of the African-Irish community. “
In 2021, Pamela Uba became the first Black woman to win the Miss Ireland beauty pageant title.
She told The Irish Times, “It means so much to me. I am so grateful I can show girls that color is not something that holds you back and it doesn’t matter where you come from. The world is your oyster.”