Wednesday, March 14, 2007


With the week that's in it there's a predictable surge in Irish ancestry blogging. If we were to identify one fact that this subject area needs to keep in mind, it's that the number 2 raised to even a relatively small power gets to be a big number pretty fast. As we've noted before.

But anyway, Megan McArdle is guest blogging for Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds this week and links to a Tim Worstall post that deals with the question of Barack O'Bama's black and/or Irish ancestry (thanks to reader LR for the hint on how to spell O'Bama), and Tim notes --

Obama is also, from his mother's side, descended from an Irish immigrant, one who came over to flee the potato famine ... Which leads me, at least in the argot of this particular Anglo-Irish family, to be able to prove that Barack Obama is indeed black. For, you see, he is a Protestant, and that makes him Black Irish.

To which Megan adds --

my family ... We say we're Black Irish because we have dark hair and light eyes ... Mr Worstall, being a Limey, uses it incorrectly to mean an Irish person who is also a Protestant, when the correct term for that is "[Censored] Orange bastard".

To which we say that it's curate's eggs all round. The term "Black Irish" is surrounded by much mythology, the version we've heard most often relating to alleged descent from Spanish sailors stranded in southern Ireland when the Armada was blown astray by one of those "Protestant winds." Now of course while many people can be descended from one person a long time ago (see our opening observation), it's less clear that those few people's DNA among many could explain the continued prevalence of the physical features that the term "Black Irish" seeks to explain (the features correctly identified by McArdle). And since we're all Basque anyway, the presence of what are now considered Spanish features in the population is not much of a surprise.

So where does that leave us with the terminology? Well, we are familiar with the term "Black Protestant" but that's used a stand-alone damnation, not as a substitute for "Black Irish". And there are plenty of other historically laden terms for Irish protestant such as "left footer". Incidentally, Tim also claims (via the Instapundit post) to be a dual UK-Republic of Ireland citizen, in apparent response to being tagged as a Limey. It's all so confusing.

UPDATE: Some followup discussion with Tim leads to this observation.

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