Black '47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory, by Cormac Ó'Gráda, 1999
Black Rot potato
 The Hungry Stream: Essays on Famine and Emigration, edited by Margaret Crawford 1997
Readers: i am growing tired of persons who pretend to have read the following essay then attack me with name-calling and threats for getting The TRUE Explanation of their "Black Irish" WRONG.
the latest two attacks have asserted that (1) the original Irish were Black Africans, based on the descriptions of the Firbolg as black and a single reference in an 18th-century english text; and (2) that "the Danes were the heavy armed, chainmailed clad 'black' invaders [of Ireland in the 9th century]. [thus] the black Irish are persons that can count in their heritage, Danish ancestry."  
(note that neither theory accounts for the term's exclusive usage in the USA in the past century, with no source whatsoever found in Eire itself.)

At no time in the essay do i claim to know the origin of the term "Black Irish".
this essay is about what the "Black Irish" are -NOT-, ie, the Black Irish are NOT of spanish descent from Armada survivors, and the reasons why the Black Irish are not of spanish descent from Armada survivors.

However, given recent readings and investigations, i will now hazard a theory on the origin of the term "Black Irish":
that its origin lies in borrowing the color of the reason for the flood of Irish immigrants into the USA in the 19th-century - flight from the Black Blight - the Potato Famine of Black '47, a memory seared into the consciousness of the expatriate Irish who survived in America.

More later, when the time comes.

16 november 2001

the myth of

the Black Irish:
Spanish syntagonism
and prethetical salvation

by tpkunesh

Qui Angliam vincere vellet
ab Ybernia incipere debet.

Who would England win
In Ireland must begin.

StudyWeb Award of Excellence   The idea of this study struck me six years ago after the first mention of the Black Irish as told to me in variant four of the myth. The question of its origin, meaning, and purpose has haunted me ever since, primarily due to my own Irish heritage (my mother's family name is Kelly) and extended residence in Spain. [My grandfather, Theodore Primeau Kelly, registered Standing Rock Sioux (Lakota) Indian (mixed-blood), also used the term to describe himself, but that was his disguise to pass himself off as white in White society.]

It should be kept in mind that this is a myth whose background is the twentieth century, to date. Due to the lack of variants prior to the XXth century I feel some trepidation in asserting belief in any one cause of origin.

This lack of literature and fieldwork regarding the hispanic Black Irish actually leaves us with more questions than I can attempt to answer. This, then, is only one attempt at an explanation of the myth, a simple stab in the dark. Hopefully the introduction of this topic will result in a more fruitful discussion and study of the myth. 12 march 1984
St. Paul, Minnesota
(kunesh currently teaches Spanish and Native American studies
at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.)

Irish Migration Resource Center

IRISH Migration
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How the Irish became White by Noel Ignatiev 1996 Readers' comments on this essay and related links.
Please read this section, and the following, before commenting.

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev (Routledge 1996)

interview with the author at

Q: You point out that at one point the Irish were known as "white Negroes" and black people were referred to as "smoked Irish." What did those terms reflect?
A: They reflected the scorn and disdain with which both were regarded by the better situated, by the leading elements of American society. There was speculation that there would be some "amalgamation," that is, that Irish and black would blend into each other and become one common people. That didn't happen; in fact, the opposite happened.

book review at
more commentary at

It is necessary, first, to discard the idea that "myth" refers to a fixed, inviolable content upon which all members of a community agree. The text is not the context. Second, it is necessary to discard the idea that there is a particular authoritative or autocratic social group that can impose an unquestioned interpretation on a particular experience. Instead, the content is variable and individual. Third, it is important to recognize that both the content and the interpretation are part of a semiotic interaction of verbal and nonverbal expressions. Simply put, mythic discourse refers to a complex process of ongoing interactions and not to a specific type of content. The "text" in this case is not simply a written document but the narrative context in all its complex relatedness to the entire field of religious action and behavior. The structures of mythic discourse are found in fluid patterns of communication and are transformed over time throught individual and collective experience.
- Lee Irwin, the Dream Seekers: Native American Visionary Traditions of the Great Plains
(University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1994) p 188

The color black appears often in the descriptive language of the physical and cultural features of Ireland. It is also used to specify certain groups found within the broader spectrum of Hibernian society. One such employment of the word 'black' in a racial sense is the reference to the "Black Irish" of the British West Indies (1), the mixed-blood offspring of 17th century Irish emigrants and African slaves who live on the island Montserrat, known also as the "Emerald Isle of the Caribbean."(2) The term "Black Irish" is also currently used with a deprecatory meaning by the Catholic Irish to describe the Protestants of Ireland who have historically supported the British rule of Ulster. "Black" in this sense connotes the "religious and political bigotry"(3) felt by the Catholics towards the "Prods." The third usage of the expression "Black Irish" is far rarer and has yet to be found per se in print. In this sense "Black "refers to the dark (hence "Black") hair, eyes, and skin that supposedly marks a person of Irish blood as having descended from the conjugal relationship of a Spanish survivor of the Armada (male) with an Irish woman.

According to rumors and legends, these Black Irish are the descendants of a few surviving ill-fated Spanish sailors who sailed with the Felícima Armada from Spain to invade England but were ultimately shipwrecked on the northern and western coasts of Ireland in the autumn of 1588. A very small number of the more than seven hundred Spanish men who made it alive to the Irish coast survived, and a few of those who did allegedly became intimate with enough Irish women so as to engender a new inter-racial (Hibernian-Iberian) strain of progeny whose "dark hair and eyes and soft brown Southern skin testifies to its remote Spanish ancestry."(4)

This story has been retold by a number of Irish and Irish-Americans of this decade by way of explaining their own "dark hair and eyes" -- although from personal experience these facial characteristics have never been matched by a "brown Southern skin." No folk or scholastic literature (to the best of my knowledge) exists to verify this Hispanic ancestry and, indeed, it is doubted whether there is any proof at all to the claims of Spanish blood in Irish veins. Without written historical authentication of these beliefs, the story has been relegated to a strictly oral tradition, bar the few variants that are cited below.

The four following variants are the sum total of referents found regarding connubial Spanish-Irish relations in reference to the Armada's descent of 1588. It should be noted that all four come from 20th century sources.

Variant one: Anyone who goes along the coast of Ireland and along the Devonshire (SW England) coast will in one locality after another find that the inhabitants of this or that village are asserted to be descendants of the men from the Armada wrecked upon their coast; that the dark complexion of the population is owing to the fact that a number of men of the Armada settled and married in that part of the district.
-- Major Martin Hume, The Geographical Journal, XXVII: 5 (London, may 1906) p 448

Variant two: A few others [i.e., Spanish survivors of the shipwrecked Armada] escaped. There were other Irish girls who pitied them and took them home and forgot that they were enemies; so that even now on that coast a child is occasionally born whose dark hair and eyes and soft brown Southern skin testifies to its remote Spanish ancestry.
-- Lorna Rea, The Spanish Armada (New York 1933) p 160

Variant three: The belief that men of Spanish appearance in County Galway [W Ireland] may be descendants of men who came ashore from the ships of the Armada and inter-married with the Irish...
-- T.P. Kilfeather, Ireland: graveyard of the Spanish Armada (Dublin 1967) p 63

Variant four: When she discovered that I was living in Spain, she -- an Irish-American -- remarked that she herself had Spanish blood in her veins. Asked to explain further, she replied that her family had always said that she was "Black Irish" to explain her dark brown hair, eyes, and personal like of Spain, and that these features were inherited from a Spanish forebear who had sailed with the Armada, been shipwrecked, and later married into her ancestral Irish family.
-- personal account of a conversation with Mary Jean Goodman,
an Irish-American born in Minnesota (St. Paul 1978)

The truth of these statements is challenged within by the authors of variants one and three, both natives of the British Isles:

Variant one's challenge:
There is very small foundation for this, either with regard to Ireland or the West of England. In the end of the year 1588, Fitz William reported that, with the exception of a few score wandering Spaniards, the whole of the rest had been either killed or had escaped to Scotland. In 1596 there was a letter written ... by six men who had escaped and remained in O'Donnel's country, appealing to the King [Philip II] to let them come back to Spain. They said they alone remained of all who landed. These were six men, and this was only eight years after the Armada was defeated. Even supposing these men were wrong and there were a dozen or two more in various parts, there were never enough men to influence in the slightest degree the complexion or the ethnological peculiarities of the inhabitants of the Irish coast.
-- Major Martin Hume, comments made in The Geographical Journal, XXVII:5 (London, may 1906) p 449; see note 18

Variant three's challenge:
The belief that men of Spanish appearance ... inter-married with the Irish cannot stand the test of historical examination.
-- T. P. Kilfeather, Ireland: graveyard of the Spanish Armada (Dublin, 1967) p 63 (5)

In research to date there is no other written source to be found that mentions a dark-skinned, dark-eyed, dark-haired Irish phenotype created by the infusion of Spanish blood. Given the lack of supporting evidence, such as birth and death records, genealogies, surviving Spanish surnames, much less anything more than an oral tradition in times of well-documented 'history,' the opposing argument -- that the darker Irish phenotype is falsely ascribed to the genes of the Armada's sailors -- stands. As a story which purports to be true and is widely and seriously believed, both in time and space, but devoid of any data with which to support its claim, it enters the realm of myth. As myth it is open to investigation as to the reasons for its existence: how it came to be told, why, and with what effects.

The former question -- the 'how' of myth -- is best described as the historical background surrounding the mythic characters which, in this instance, are the sailors of Spain and the women of Eire. These characters could (and will) be refined further, but Ireland's own mythic history speaks of just such a meeting. Gaelic legend, recorded and revised in the Lebor Gabala Erenn or Book of the Invasions of Ireland (whose earliest source is dated in the eighth century ce)(6), writes of a series of five invasions, the last, the greatest, and the most recent of which is responsible for the current population of Ireland. This was the sea invasion of the Sons of Mil Espane (aka the Milesians) who "after many wanderings in Scythia and Egypt eventually reached Spain,"(7) and subsequently conquered Ireland. Variations of the eponym's name exist, such as "Mile" and "Milesius" (the Latin form), but all agree that the source of medieval Irish kingship descended from Spain. The theory that the IXth "Spanish" Legion of the Roman Empire (which served in Scotland and disappeared from historical mention in the first century ce) is the "sole ground of the story of the colonisation of Ireland from Spain by Milesius" (8) also supports the conclusions of the Book of Invasions. The natives of Eire whom the Sons of Mil defeated were the Tuatha De Danann, 'the Peoples of the Goddess Danann,' Danann who is "Mother of the gods."(9) Although the "Peoples" of the goddess Danann referred to are always male, more paramount is the fact that the men are defined by a Woman (the goddess Danann) and that the island of Eire itself has been and always is referred to in the feminine form as "she" and "her" [people].(10) The primordial intentional Spanish invasion is uncannily similar to the modern accidental Spanish landing of 1588:

The Tuatha De Danann raised a furious storm by means of their magical arts and the Milesian fleet was scattered. Donn and three other sons of Mile perished. A broken remnant of the fleet, after beating for a long time about the coasts of Ireland, succeeded in again landing... (11) The result of the landing also resembles the legend of the Black Irish: "One early text says the Tuatha De provided the sons of Mil with wives." (12)

These striking similarities beg for the myth of the Black Irish to be understood as an historical repetition of the act of creation of Gaelic nation. All of the correspondences fit:

past (primeval) present (1588)
Spanish males: the Sons of Mil sailors of the Armada
Irish females: Danann, "wives" "Irish girls"
Spain-sea: Milesian fleet the Armada
Eire-land: Tuatha De Danann descendants of Mil Espane

Both landings also entailed initial Irish resistance to the foreign españoles and subsequent inter-marriage of the native Irish women with the dominant militaristic Spanish men. In this manner the tale of the Black Irish is invested with an unknown quantity of sociogonic meaning for those Irish familiar with knowledge of the Book of Invasions, and the XVIth century Spaniards become the second Mil Espane.(13) The Black Irish legend can also be seen as a type of social charter which reaffirms the traditional bond between the Irish and the Spanish by the inter-marriage of the two parties. This international bonding, however, seems to imply the equality of the two nations while, in fact, there actually existed a great disparity -- in Spain's favor. The Spanish Sons of Mil were regarded as the victors and vanquishers of superior status, whereas "the other peoples of Ireland are sharply distinguished from them and implicitly relegated to an inferior status."(14) Likewise within the story of the Black Irish is the implicit understanding (probably due to the forthright acknowledgement of being Black Irish) that the taint of Spanish heritage carries with it some superior merit. In this case the myth benefits the Black Irish alone who by its telling are themselves associated with a mythically powerful people -- the Spanish. The legend of the Black Irish thus charters: 1) a social bond between the nations of Eire and Spain, and 2) the superior status of the Black Irish within the larger society.

Moving from the founding of the Milesian-Irish nation towards the fatal year of the Armada we find that a constant religious(15) and commercial(16) relationship existed between the two nations since the sixth century ce. This bond was further strengthened by Henry VIII's rejection of Roman papal authority and the adoption of Protestantism which was forced on the Emerald Isle. Before the Armada's arrival, Irish-Spanish relations had changed from good to intimate as Spain's King, Philip II, supported the Irish Catholic Church and the various Irish earls intent on breaking the yoke of English domination forced upon Eire.

Knowledge of the historical background of the close socio-religious ties between Ireland and Spain sets the stage for a benevolent interpretation of the Black Irish myth. The title and story deal explicitly with the Irish as the affected group and the Spanish as the main actors. What is usually not drawn out in the legend is the implicit English background and English action necessary for the events to occur. Without the English, all impetus and motive for the Armada's existence -- much less its culminating material and human destruction -- would be missing: England serves as the catalyst for the confrontation between Eire and España (a factor missing from the myth's interpretation as historical repetition) and the myth becomes an implicit, subtle polemic for the autonomy of Eire from England. This confrontation between two superpowers -- thesis and antithesis -- is an inherent factor in the dialectical process. Long before the crippled Armada saw Ireland's shores it was the English nation versus Spain, island queen against continental king, "Protestant and Catholic -- persecutor and persecuted." (17)

After the disastrous encounter of the Armada with hurricane winds, the ships were strewn, shattered wrecks, all over the coasts of England and Ireland. In the latter country, the crews were treated very differently, according as they happened to cast upon the shores of districts amenable to English authority or influences, or the reverse. In the former instances they were treated barbarously -- slain as queen's enemies or given up to the queen's forces. In the latter, they were sheltered and succoured, treated as friends, and afforded the means of safe return to their native Spain. ... this hospitality to the shipwrecked Spaniards is too much for English flesh and blood to bear.

This 'positive' attitude towards the Spanish on part of the Irish is continued on past the debacle of the Armada. References to the great "aid from Spain"(18) are numerous in the literature dealing with post-Armada relations between Ireland and Spain.

The Armada's failure (1588), the subsequent Spanish attempt at forming a beach-head for Irish resistance and an invasion of England at Kinsale (1601) for another Reconquista of Catholic land from the heretical Protestant English, the Flight of the Earls from Eire to Spanish Flanders (1607), and the continuing supply of Irish 'Wild Geese' given to the Spanish military (1580-1700) all indicate the support (albeit futile) that Spain gave to and received from its Irish Catholic compatriots. Although Spain ultimately failed in its attempts to save Ireland (much less England and the rest of northern Europe) from the imposition of a Protestant theology, Spain did provide a society receptive to the self-exiled Irish upper-class and military in which to live. The University of Salamanca's Colegio mayor de los nobles irlandeses, the Irish seminary in Valladolid, the re-settlement of Irish exiles in Cataluña,(19) the sherry bodegas of Jeréz, the Spanish army,(20) and the Spanish nobility(21) -- all areas of Spanish society provided open accommodations to the foreign Irish.

Taking these stories of historical design together, one forms the picture of a fruitful and enduring relationship between Spain and Ireland since primordial times. It can be surmised that the creation of the legend of the Black Irish was a manipulation of facts and events by the Irish to form a 'myth of renewal'(22) wherein the arrival of the Sons of Mil Espane in Eire is re-enacted by the arrival of the Spanish Armada in Ireland -- the return of the mythic eponymous ancestor. The intermingling of the new Spanish 'black' blood with the common native Irish blood serves to fuse again the link with the sacred past and to ennoble the thinned blood of the progeny who issued from the union. As the genealogy of the Sons of Mil was artificially enlarged by "synthetic historians"(23) so as to include families which were originally absent from the noble Milesian hereditary line, the artifice of myth-creation so, too, was used by Irish coastal peasants to capitalize on an inopportune landing of Spanish through whom the quality and quantity of the First Men's blood is increased in their own veins. This historic repetition of the mythic past by re-interpreting and re-enacting the creation of the Irish nation through the landing and intermingling of native with foreign (Spanish) blood presupposes a positive attitude towards the Spanish in the social milieu of the common Irish in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries.

One could also interpret the seeding of Spanish blood anew into the veins of the Irish as the passage of political and moral power from one tired contestant (the Spanish) to another fresher (the Irish) who is more able and better adapted to the new challenge. Such may be the case when one takes into account the significance of the Armada's failure as marking the final defeat of Spanish naval supremacy in Europe. This failure, coupled with the successive failure of the Spanish to establish a military post in Kinsale (to precede a full-scale invasion of both Ireland and England)(24) and Spain's losses in Flanders, could but only herald the upcoming economic and military downfall of the Hispanic Hapsburg empire. With Spain's power and influence ebbing it would have been the proper time for the Irish to take up the fading torch and -- with whatever support that could be eked out of their religious and political ally to the South -- throw off the Protestant yoke and push the English into the sea.

But such was not the case. Because of the continuous drain of Irish men to fight in the Spanish wars in the Netherlands ("the Flight of the Wild Geese") and because of the allied involvement of the Irish nobility with the Spanish cause against England which caused the Flight of the Earls, Ireland -- within one generation of the Armada's loss -- was left powerless and leaderless. Without Spanish aid the common Irish were left stranded to contend with the might of the English military and political system. Without the guidance of the Irish upper-class, the peasants remained impotent for centuries under the rule of a hostile foreign crown.

It would thus seem improper to lend to the myth of the Black Irish such a positive air if the transfer of Spanish blood to Irish peasants is to be seen as symbolically marking the Irish as the heirs to the defeated Catholic champions of Europe (the Spanish), for it was the Spanish themselves who gave the 'kiss of death' to Ireland as it simultaneously lost to their common English enemy and drained the country of its political leaders, its military defenders, and its guiding intelligentsia. Spanish blood, coupled with Irish blood, would be better seen as a corrupting liquid that should be bled from the body politic and denied rather than cherished, remembered, and mythologized.

Yet it seems that the legend of the Hispanic Irish, told by the 'Blacks' and white Irish alike, transmits with it an inherent quality that the alleged descendants are proud to mention. The myth -- however long it may have existed prior to the XXth century -- is told as a manner of associating oneself and one's Irish family with a glorious past. This benevolent attitude and association of the Irish to the Spanish may be the myth's purpose, the 'why' of its existence. But given the fact that mythic hermeneutics change given different time-space coordinates, further investigation of the time of its alleged conception (both figurative and literal) renders a different intent of the myth's creators, namely, to disavow discomfiting chapter in Irish history and to mask the "Black Chapter."

There exists no corroborating evidence to support the story of shipwrecked Spanish sailor's relations with Irish women and their resultant progeny. There does exist, however, a quantity of written testimony describing instances in which members of the Spanish Armada's shipwrecked crew were stripped naked, robbed and delivered over to English authorities or summarily murdered by the Catholic Irish peasants themselves.

In all accounts of the relations between the Spanish and Irish, severe distinctions between power, class, and socio-economic status are quite obvious but have, as a rule, been overlooked. Spain in XVth -- XVIIth century Europe was considered one of the premier first-world powers, given the Iberian (i.e., Spain and Portugal) military and commercial domination of the seas and Spain's continuously replenishable economic source of gold and silver shipped back from its Latin American colonies. The King of Spain in the latter XVIth century, Philip II (Felipe II, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V [Carlos V]), was the single most powerful monarch in all of Europe with colonies dispersed around the world. He also had plans of acquiring the British throne, first legally via his 1554 marriage to Catholic Queen Mary [Tudor] I of England (died 1558, succeeded by Protestant Elizabeth Tudor), but later via his role as Defender and Champion of the Catholic Faith against the heretical ergo seditious English.

In Ireland, Spain was seen as the Catholic foster-parent who would rescue and protect Eire from the invading and marauding Protestant English who were set on destroying the socio-religious tradition of the Irish. Beyond sharing a common religious doctrine and an intense distrust and disdain of the English (one based on power rivalry, the other on opposition to colonialization), the Hibernian and Iberian societies were also similarly stratified into two basic social classes: the upper nobility and the lower peasants. This social dichotomy played an important role in the historical events testified to by witnesses. Notice that no distinctions between the status of the Spanish males and the Irish females are made in any of the variants. This leads one to presume an egalitarian context for the interplay between the Irish and Spanish mythic characters when, in reality, none existed.

The Spanish Armada was in no sense a fleet of the middle-class military sent as an invasionary force to attack and overwhelm Ireland; rather it was made up of a great number of Spanish nobles intent on landing in England with enough treasure to establish themselves in a hostile country, whose ships and selves were heavily loaded with a great quantity of gold, silver and jewels. When these ships and nobles were wrecked on the colonial coast of English-controlled Ireland it was into the immediate hands of the "mere" (i.e., peasant) coastal Irish that they fell. The admiral of the Spanish fleet, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, had forewarned all ships to "take great heed lest you fall upon the island of Ireland, for fear of the harm that may happen unto you upon that coast"(25) due to the 'enemy' English in Ireland. But as it turned out, the 'allied' Irish peasantry was as much the enemy of the Armada as the English overlords. A survivor of the shipwrecked fleet, Captain Francisco de Cuellar, wrote of his experiences at the hands of the Irish. In his account he referred to the Irish who met the sick and half-drowned Spanish on the beaches as:

savages [salvajes] who turned [the landing boat] up for the purpose of extracting nails or pieces of iron; and, breaking through the deck, they drew out the dead men...[whom] they stripped and took away the jewels and money which they had... The land and the shore were full of enemies who went about jumping and dancing with delight at our misfortunes; and when any one of our people reached the beach, two hundred savages and other enemies fell upon him and stripped him of what he had on until he was left in his naked skin. Such they maltreated and wounded without pity ...(26)

Other groups of Spaniards were murdered by the Irish peasants or delivered by them into the hands of the English after first having stripped the foreigners of all valuables and clothing:

Three [ships] were forced into Galway Bay. Here, it must be recorded, is a black chapter, for not only is it said in tradition that Irishmen brought about the shipwreck of a Spanish vessel, but that they cravenly gave up those Spaniards who had escaped death by drowning to the agents of Queen Elizabeth. ... Greed for Spanish gold, silver, silks and wines may have been [the] unholy motive.(27)

Although the records indicate that the greatest number of Spanish survivors were hung or summarily beheaded by the English, and that a number of shipwrecked Spaniards survived exclusively by the care shown by Irish chieftains and peasants, it must be kept in mind that a fair amount of the Spaniards who arrived alive on the shores of Eire were subsequently stripped and murdered by their supposed allies -- the 'mere' Irish. Yet even more interesting is that it is precisely in a county where the legend of the Black Irish still survives (i.e., County Galway; v. variant three above) that the Black Chapter of Irish collusion with the English against the Spanish is written.

That the Irish acted ignobly towards their Spanish Catholic brethren is the subject of much dispute: "There exists little evidence in support of the common belief that the shipwrecked Spaniards were slaughtered in large numbers by the Irish, except in the case of the Ovendens;" (28) "there is no way of estimating accurately the number of Spaniards drowned or dispatched; just as there is no evidence at all for the exaggerated belief that the [Irish] people murdered them by the thousand;"(29) and the contrary opinion is submitted: "[the Spanish] were sheltered and succoured, treated as friends, and afforded means of safe return to their native Spain;" (30) "... on several occasions the Irish looted Spaniards of all they had, down to their clothes. But they rarely killed them, and they must have had a hand in assisting the 400 or more who, according to Fitzwilliam, escaped to Scotland."(31)

In regards to the social attitudes of the Irish in the following XVIIth century, foreign travellers stated that: "The Irish are fond of strangers; they love Spaniards, French and other foreigners, but the English and Scots are their irreconcilable enemies;"(32) "The native Irish are a very loving people to each other though constantly false to strangers, the Spaniards only excepted."(33)

An accounting of the Armada by number of ships, men, and losses even describes the "total [Spaniards] definitely lost in Ireland" (5,250) as either "drowned or killed by shipwreck" (3,750) or "executed by English forces" (1,500) with only 750 shipwreck survivors. (34)

But the records show otherwise. The Ovenden (aka Hovenden / Ovington) brothers mentioned above were Irishmen who "butchered with lance and bullet" some 310 Spaniards.(35) Their action was supposedly justified, though, for " if therefore the action of the Ovendens appears savage, it was no worse than that of the English."(36) Boethius Clanchy, an Irish chieftain, is said to have been compelled to "have slain his share of Spaniards in a horrible orgasm of sheer terror before the Unknown."(37) Another local chieftain, O'Malley, is held responsible for his "kerns" who "fell on the poor [Spanish] wretches limping ashore exhausted, battering them down on the rocks or slashing their blood into the sandy shorewater, they were all as much maniacs as murderers."(38) These are the alleged three solitary instances (the Ovenden brothers "being the sole example" -- bar two) of Irishmen who "slaughtered the shipwrecked Spaniards in large numbers."(39) Besides wholesale killing of the Spanish by 'savage' Irish groups, the robbery and denuding of their 'allies' is yet another -- albeit lesser -- offense to be accounted for. Captain Cuellar, in his Account, (40) recounted his personal experience at the hands of the Irish and what he saw done to others: that he and others were beaten, robbed, and stripped repeatedly by the Irish coastal peasants.(41) Relief for the Spanish survivors came only when they chanced to meet the lone Irish man, woman, or local chieftain who offered them food and/or shelter.

This juxtaposition of two distinct Irish attitudes towards the Spanish survivors of the Armada is taken directly from the literature that describes the events. It is not my intent to argue either side of the issue, suffice it to say that I do not believe the murder and loot of rich, weakened, shipwrecked foreigners by an impoverished, politically-oppressed peasantry needs any justification here. The suspension of any and every social ethic in light of economic disparity is an all too common historical occurrence to try to apply a moral judgement in this small case. History, whether read as myth or literature, will survive to say that the shipwrecked Spaniards suffered pain and death in the English-occupied land of their allies, Eire, and that the Irish themselves were responsible for possibly half of the misery inflicted upon the Spanish, in conjunction with their mutual English enemies.

Having reviewed the controversial ethical disparity shown by the actions of the Irish towards the Spanish (i.e., the murder of allies) in the historical accounts, we can now examine the acknowledged economic disparity between the two groups:

"As Cuellar describes it, Irish society was primitive in the extreme and in general singularly unattractive,"(42) " It must not be forgotten that de Cuellar, a Spaniard of the 'upper' class, is describing the Irish as he found them. His impressions and attitudes were necessarily coloured by his memories of, and customs in his own country -- one of the most ancient and civilized in Europe, then at the height of her power, with vast territories in three continents."(43)

The manner in which the Spaniards and their possessions are described is a good measure also of the dichotomy of material wealth present in the stories:

"[He was] dressed in 'black raised velvet with broad gold lace' [and] died in the gray Irish waters wearing a doublet and breeches of white satin, with russet silk stockings,"(44) "there came striding out of the waves sixteen persons 'alive' with their chains of gold." (45)

The stereotype of the rich, foreign Spaniard is reinforced by another (religious) myth called 'The Spanish Sailor'(46) which is/was told along the northwest coast of Ireland, coincidentally an area of numerous Armada wrecks. In the story, a Spaniard becomes a sailor and promises his mother to remain true to the Catholic faith. As the years pass he accumulates a "lot of money" and when he feels his death approaching, asks to be set ashore on the shores of NW Ireland. Becoming very weak and moaning, a priest and his clerk happened upon him and, in accordance with his mother's wish, the priest administers the Last Rites to the dying man. The Spaniard dies, but not before donating his money-belt to the priest and requesting the construction of a church with it. This myth is told to explain the origin of two churches, built by the priest, but it also bears a striking similarity to the oppositions present in the myth of the Black Irish:

Spain :: Ireland
dead :: alive
rich :: (poor)
foreign :: domestic
sea :: land
secular :: religious
single :: plural

These opposing qualities are mediated by the unifying factor of Catholicism. In both myths the Spanish die and the "mere" meek Irish "inherit the earth;" they, the true survivors of Spanish defeat, who end up with a greater quantity of the foreigners' material and spiritual wealth.

Both the ethical and economic disparities in some fashion challenge or belittle the native Irish culture for either their impotent or hostile reactions to the landing of Spanish allies or for the implicit Irish lack of financial capital. But no myth lives in which all of the characters are objectively neutral or in which the foreign element has no negative connotation either. Just-so in the myth of the Black Irish, the Spanish are responsible in their own way for the resultant military and political disparities that widened after the Armada's demise -- to the disadvantage of both nations.

Based on King Philip II's own inner convictions, the "efforts of successive English governments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to cope with the Irish problem by the expropriation of Irish lands, the plantation of English colonies, the repression of the Roman Catholic religion, and, occasionally, by the deliberate extermination of the native population"(47) had to be arrested with military power "since both the honour of Spain and his own devotion to religion demanded it."(48) Ireland itself was not without its political and military leaders, especially in view of the efforts that Hugh O'Neill, along with other Irish earls, put into the effort of reconquering Eire from the occupying English. It was actually O'Neill himself who "sought with every argument at his command to secure at last a Spanish invasion of Ireland."(49) The struggle of the Irish nobility to secure the independence of their country in the midst of greater English power was heroic but doomed without the aid of an ally equal or superior to their enemy. Pope Gregory's plan for a holy war in Ireland against the Protestant English failed earlier due to the lack of either French or Spanish support. In 1580, the Spanish landed a force at Dun an Oir in County Kerry which was subsequently massacred by the English. The Armada's failure to invade England and to return home unharmed left Europe is a puzzle, but the defeat and surrender of the Spanish landing force at Kinsale in 1602 confirmed the view that Spain's military power had fallen. Philip II's honour in Ireland meant nothing to him now and it was even said that "king and people were weary of the importunities of the many Irish refugees in their midst and spoke of them as Irish beggars." (50) Although it is said that "Spain had lost nothing in Ireland,"(51) the remark is not quite true: Spain had lost its credence as a Catholic power allied to the Irish cause. Its attempts in Ireland had failed and its honor remained besmirched.

What is more evident and more damning aún is that Ireland had lost everything in Spain:

In Ireland, the gigantic wave which the Spaniards had raised on the surface of English rule subsided in the aftermath of their departure; in a few weeks it was as if nothing had ever happened, that the vision of great ships looming like awesome birds of ill omen along the coastline was a mere dream. The old Gaelic chiefs, their chance gone, returned to their internecine squabbling ... Spanish help would be no more.(52)

Every Spanish loss in Ireland meant a loss of Ireland as the rebel Irish were forced by treaty or threat of death to leave their country. Immediately following the first loss of the Spanish in Ireland at Dun an Oir (1500) began the Flight of the Wild Geese (53) which continued on throughout the XVIIth century. This Flight was forced on many Irishmen who had taken part in the 1580 rebellion and was "offered" later by Spanish army recruiters who needed Irish blood to maintain Spain's grip on the Netherlands. The loss at Kinsale in 1602 and the subsequent failure of Spain to honor its pledges to the Irish nobles who had sought Spanish aid in order to augment their fight for self-defense resulted in "an era characterized by bitter frustration over the failure of Ireland to achieve political and religious identity."(54)

The Kinsale loss also resulted in the Flight of the Earls which, coupled with the slower and steadier Flight of the Wild Geese, resulted in the veritable emasculation of the patriarchal Irish culture and society. This was the hejira of the Irish nobility -- the earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel, along with a hundred northern chieftains -- to the mainland of Europe, taking up military service under the Spanish as did the Wild Geese or settling down to live the life-in-exile, mainly in Cataluña of NE Spain. The net effect of the Flight of Earls dealt a devastating blow to the Irish:

To the Ireland of the time, the depression and emigration of the leading families meant more than the destruction of an aristocracy would have meant to any other country in western Europe. The whole social system depended on the great families: it was they who supported the scholars, musicians, poets, law officers. The disappearance of a historic family left a blank in the countryside.(55)

Politically and militarily, XVIth and XVIIth century Spain was power-ful while Ireland of the same time was power-less. The special diplomatic bond formed between the two nations was born solely on the merits of their shared religion and their antagonism towards the common English enemy. Their relationship as allies was to benefit both parties, resulting in Irish independence and Spanish religio-political hegemony. The lapse of conviction and power on the part of Spain was a betrayal of the Irish trust and hope in salvation which would befit a portrayal of Spain -- in Irish eyes -- as an impotent, castrating, blood-sucking nation of bad Faith. So why would a romantic myth of Spanish-Irish love survive this epoch? Historical hindsight may indicate the ultimate Spanish betrayal of Irish interests, but the hope of salvation is a greater factor to be reckoned myth.

As we have pointed out above, four disparities or oppositions exist in the social milieu of the myth of the Black Irish: 1) ethical -- Irish degradation of Spanish ally; 2) economic -- the Spanish rich confront the Irish poor; 3) political -- the empirical Spanish lose to/betray the colonized Irish; and 4) military-power-ful Spain succumbs to power-less Ireland. The unifying and mediating factors within the myth's context are two: 1) Spain and Ireland's opposition to English political and cultural hegemony, and 2) Spain and Ireland's common Faith in the Roman Catholic religion. It is the unifying factors themselves that presume a socio-religious equality existing between the allies but historical analysis that uncovers the ethnic disparities between the Iberians and Hibernians. The following diagram lists the various mythic and historic components found within the legend:

two realities:

ideal (self-definition) definition by ally definition by its enemy
Eire Irlanda Ireland
España Espane Spain
England -- Sarana/Inglaterra

England is the only victor, remaining as Spain and Ireland's nemesis. The legend plays down to a stalemate between the two defeated allies: the historical disparities and oppositions are drawn out, the mythic components are quantified, and the myth's meaning remains unresolved. But one method of analysis is left: the analysis of its dialectical structure.

The similarities between the native Tuatha De Danann's opposition to the Sons of Mil Espane and their later adoption of the foreign invaders as a positive socio-political element, and the Irish "resistance" to the Armada's landing but subsequent creation of the Black Irish myth, are too obvious to go unremarked. Using a dialectical framework to chart the history, the Tuatha De is the initial thesis, the landing of the Sons of Mil -- the antithesis, and medieval Eire becomes the synthesis. This was the last mythic combat between the native Irish Celts and a foreign invader whose merging resulted in the historical Eire. As the synthesis (Eire) moves from the new to the established order to become the thesis, it is met by the antithesis -- the English. When King Henry VIII of England divorced Catherine of Aragon (of Spain) in 1535 and separated England from the Roman Church, the split between the Catholic Church and the English State created a whole new world of opposition/s. Protestantism remained the antithesis as the Catholic Tudor queen Mary I became sovereign (1553) and was then eliminated (1559). Elizabeth I, England's first Protestant queen (1559-1605), secured the Protestant antithesis in Europe and -- by her hated Irish policies -- secured the English antithesis in Eire which, removed from the Gaelic tongue, became "Ireland" -- the English antithesis of Eire.

English Ireland's contemporary (s. XVI-XVII) antithesis (which never realized its full potential) was Spain, and had any of its attempts to land and wrestle control of Ireland from its English lords been successful, the Emerald Isle would probably have become a protectorate of Spain which, for our purposes here, would be renamed "Irlanda" -- the Spanish synthesis of Ireland. But England's nemesis failed and remained simply a potential that ultimately signed a treaty of peace with London in 1604, thus putting an end to the overt hostilities between the two countries and implicitly surrendering Eire/Ireland to the English. Nonetheless, this opposition of the thesis (English Ireland) with the antithetical empirical aspirations of XVIth century Spain, which given more military and economic support, may well have resulted in the synthesis of "investing Ireland in a king ... of Philip's [III] choice,"(56) was not the dialectical process that the Gaels had envisioned or hoped for. What the Irish sought now was salvation from their oppressor and a return to the primal state of pre-English Ireland, Eire, through Spanish mediation. Even though historical process was not to be denied, the mythical process of returning to one's origin -- to Eire, free from all outside control -- was the higher goal. Empirical Spain sufficed as the means to the end of English oppression but the historical redemption process would have also involved becoming the Spanish protectorate 'Irlanda,' not returning to independent Eire.

What was needed and found was a turn outside of the dialectic's historical process: the opposition of the prethesis to the thesis in the form of Ireland's mythical eponymous ancestor -- España. The prethesis acts as the alternative factor in the dialectical process of opposition to the status quo's thesis: the antithesis progresses temporally into the future whereas the prethesis regresses into the "pragmatic" past of "reflective history"(57) -- myth. The hypothetical historical resolution of the opposition between the colonial English and the empirical Spanish in Ireland's favor would merely have resulted in a Hispanic 'Irlanda,' whereas the positive resolution of the conflict between English Ireland and the mythic Espane/España would have succeeded in creating a dialectical (p)re-synthesis of Eire, free of both Spanish and English hegemony, re-turned to original pre-English independence.

Self-less methodical dialectical pro-gress in time is history; self-ish dialectical re-gress in time is myth. The purpose of the prethesis is to supply an ideological mental milieu which is anti-historical and reactionary; a myth whose projection into the past will offer the political substrata needed to recoup the distant ethnical glory. In the myth of the Black Irish, the Eirish Gaels are the obvious protagonists, but not-so-obvious and only implicitly understood is the antagonistic role of the Irish English. The intermarriage of the Espanish with the Eirish does not serve to set the stage for a historical dialectic which will place Spain as victor over an Irlanda but rather functions as a method of mythic reduction whereby both national groups are reduced to a common ancestry (the Celtic Mil Espane) in which the regenerated foreigners -- the XVIth century Espane/Españoles -- become syn-tagonists: a people who play a major dramatic role in support of the protagonist, selflessly, against the antagonist.

syntagonist protagonist antagonist
España Eire England

The structuralization of the myth of the Black Irish well serves the purpose of laying out the inherent oppositions and disparities in the two Celtic cultures -- insular and pen-insular. Dialectical analysis illustrates the broader picture of oppositions and resolutions within a context of national and international conflict. Myth reduces contention and joins the two distinct contemporary cultures together into the mythic union that was the past.

This is the legend of the Black Irish, the self-imposed identification of Eireland with the mythic -- not the true -- España, whose power would have brought the riddance of the colonial English and the re-establishment of pre-Anglo Eire. The myth is still told today to maintain Eire's historical identification and religio-cultural union with the past, between island and peninsula, in which the struggle for Roman Catholic self-determination still survives.

- ya -

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  1. John C. Messenger, "The Black Irish of Montserrat," Eire-Ireland, II-1 (St. Paul, Minnesota: spring 1967) back

  2. Don Riley, "Untainted Montserrat boggles eye and mind," St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul MN 26 february 1984), 3D back

  3. personal conversation with James Gearity, Irish-American
    (Minneapolis MN 1 march 1984); and
    conversation with Mrs. Jean Giles (neé Kelly), (St. Paul MN 27 february 1984) back
    The Royal Black Perceptory (Imperial Royal Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth) was established in 1797, in the aftermath of the 1795 Battle of the Diamond. It was founded "for the preservation of the Protestant religion, and to serve as a bulwark against insidious attempts of the opponents of liberty". (Sir Knight Norman Stronge, Bart., former Sovereign Grand Master of the Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth, cited in Gardiner 1993). See "Royal Black Institution" at
    Thanks to John McCann, County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

  4. Lorna Rea, The Spanish Armada (New York 1933) p 160 back

  5. On p 67: "In the tales of the seanachies of Galway, one may still hear of how only two men and a boy escaped death of all those who had been shipwrecked in the Falco Blanco, the Concepción, and those who came from the nameless ship. They were sheltered by the people of Galway -- at great risk to their own lives -- fed and clothed in many homes. Did they ever get back to Spain? Did they remain in Galway, learning to speak and to dress as Irishmen did? These are intriguing questions, but to them it is doubtful if there will ever be an answer." back

  6. F. J. Byrne, Irish kings and high-kings (New York 1973) p 9
    nb: The abbreviation "ce" stands for common era, a chronographical term used to acknowledge the cultural and religious diversity in the Western hemisphere, in contrast to the commonly used abbreviations bc (before Christ) and ad (Anno Domini/Year of Our Lord) that reflect time only in the Christian cultural context. back

  7. ibidem, p 199 back

  8. Robert C. MacLagan, Scottish myths: notes on Scottish history and tradition (Edinburgh 1882) p 64
    nb: The eponym 'Mil Espane' or Milesius has two possible sources: 'Mil' being derived from the Latin 'miles,' or soldier, or the Latin 'mille' meaning thousand. 'Espaine' undeniably comes from 'Hispania'/España/Spain. Thus 'Mil Espane' would mean either the Thousand or the Soldiers from Spain. back

  9. Alwyn and Brinley Rees, Celtic heritage (New York 1961) p 26,30 back

  10. Kevin P. Reilly, "Irish literary biography: the goddesses that poets dream of," Eire-Ireland, XVI:3 (St. Paul MN: fall 1981) p 64-70 back

  11. Joseph M. Flood, Ireland: its myths and legends (New York 1916/1970) p 21 back

  12. Rees, op. cit.; p 39. The Irish version of the Historia Britonum of Nennius, ed. and tr. J.H. Todd (Dublin: 1848) p 250 back

  13. or the third: see F.J. Byrne, op.cit., p 201 back

  14. Byrne, op.cit., p 9 back

  15. Paul R. Lonigan, "An unexplored question: Celtic church influence on Old French hagiography;" Eire-Ireland IX:1 (St. Paul MN: spring 1974) p 73 back

  16. Wm. Spotswood Green, "The wrecks of the Spanish Armada on the coast of Ireland," The Geographical Journal XXVII:5 (London: may 1906) p 430, 439; also anonymous, Advertisements for Ireland, 1623 (Dublin: 1923) back

  17. Padraic Colum, A treasury of Irish folklore, 2nd ed. (New York: 1967) p 169 back

  18. ibidem, p 172 back

  19. Dorothy Molley, "In search of the Wild Geese," Eire-Ireland, V:3 (St. Paul, Minnesota: autumn 1970) back

  20. R. Wall, "Irish officers in the Spanish service," Irish genealogist 1978:5 back

  21. Micheline Walsh, Spanish knights of Irish origin, 3 vol. (Dublin: 1960-1970) back

  22. Mircea Eliade, Myth and reality (New York 1963) back

  23. Byrne, op.cit., p 9 back

  24. John J. Silke, "Spain and the invasion of Ireland, 1601-02," Irish Historical Studies XIV:56 (Dublin: september 1965) back

  25. State Papers (Ireland), vol. 137:1; cited by Wm. Spotswood Green, op.cit., p 434 back

  26. Captain Cuellar's narrative of the Spanish Armada and his adventures in Ireland, trans. Robert Crawford (London 1897) p 49, 50back

  27. T.P. Kilfeather, op.cit., p 63-4 back

  28. Cyril Falls, Elizabeth's Irish wars (London 1950) p 166 back

  29. Sean O'Faolain, The great O'Neill - a biography of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, 1550-1616 (New York 1942) p 134 back

  30. Padraic Colum, op.cit., p 169 back

  31. Cyril Falls, op.cit., p 166 back

  32. Edward MacLysaght, Irish life in the seventeenth century: after Cromwell (London, 1939) p 18 back

  33. ibidem, from The memoirs of Ann, Lady Fanshawe (1907 edition) pp 56-63 back

  34. Niall Fallon, The Armada in Ireland (London 1978) p 215 back

  35. Cyril Falls, op.cit., p 165 back

  36. ibidem, p 166 back

  37. Sean O'Faolain, op.cit., p 135 back

  38. ibidem, p 135 back

  39. Evelyn Hardy, Survivors of the Armada (London 1966) p 116 [original reference not given] back

  40. Robert Crawford, trans., op.cit., p 51-8 back

  41. Evelyn Hardy, op.cit., p 120.
    nb: These personal accounts are taken by many historians to be culturally-biased reports not so much about the Irish but against them and arbitrarily dismissed as such. See also following op.cit., p 322 back

  42. John de Courcy Ireland, "Book review of Survivors of the Armada by Evelyn Hardy;" Irish Historical Society XV:59 (Dublin: march 1967) p 321 back

  43. Evelyn Hardy, op.cit., p 96 back

  44. Lorna Rea, op.cit., p 160-1 back

  45. Sean O'Faolain, op.cit., p 135 back

  46. Sean O'Sullivan, Legends from Ireland (New Jersey: 1978) p 101-02 back

  47. W.R. Jones, "'Giraldus Redivivus' -- English historians, Irish apologists, and the work of Gerald of Wales" Eire-Ireland IX:3 (St. Paul, Minnesota: autumn 1974) p 13 back

  48. John J. Silke, op.cit., p 299 back

  49. ibidem, p 298-9, of footnote 9 back

  50. Cyril Falls, op.cit., p 162 back

  51. John J. Silke, op.cit., p 312 back

  52. Niall Fallon, op.cit., p 208 back

  53. see Maurice Hennessy, The Wild Geese: the Irish soldier in exile (London, 1973); and Brendan Jennings, Wild Geese in Spanish Flanders, 1582-1700 (Dublin 1964) back

  54. W.R. Jones, op.cit., p 13 back

  55. ? back

  56. John J. Silke, op.cit., p 301 back

  57. Georg W.F. Hegel, Reason in history, trans. Robert S. Hartman (Germany 1837/Indiana 1953) p 7- 8 back

new text/s to consider:

Survivors of the Armada
by Evelyn Hardy (Constable: London 1966)


To our survivor and writer-in-chief, de Cuellar, the people seemed barbarous and savage. They were so to the English who with the patronage of a more powerful invading race were ignorant of, and uninterested in Ireland's glorious past, of her Gaelic customs, laws, legends, language and literature; her caste of Catholic thought in a religion which they had once shared; or her methods of intricate skilled warfare adapted to the difficult terrain -- never fully-mastered by any invading soldier, no matter how experienced he had become in continental warfare.

Tudor England with her growing population and increased vitality sought expansion to the west, at the same time attempting to ward off the thrust of a Spain enriched with the gold of Peru whose sovereign, in addition to his native country, ruled over the Netherlands, Southern Italy and Sicily, Sardinia, Milan, the Spanish colonies in the Americas and (after 1590) Portugal and all the Spanish colonies in the Indies. Ireland's involvement in her neighbour, England's, problems was inevitable, yet her position, not only geographically, was ambiguous. Close to English and continental shores she was yet remote and detached: small in size she was of great importance to a stronger power who could use her as a base or an ally against England. By 1588, misunderstood and mishandled by successive English sovereigns and governments, decimated by meaningless bitter wars, and rebellious under increasing religious tyranny, both oppressed and depressed, she had become wholly unfit to meet the impact of a new Renaissance world from whose influences she had remained virtually untouched, or to become involved in what Mattingly calls "the first great international crisis in modern history". In this state of mental bewilderment and despair she was increasingly drawn to Rome, or to Spain, for understanding and practical support. Since the three countries shared the same form of Christian faith this was natural, but the links with Spain were far more numerous and ancient, more subtly forged than those with Italy. They were, and are, geological, botanical, ethnological, archaeological, historical and commercial, even in one basic instance linguistic. Here we are concerncd only with the racial


and commercial, as they impinge on questions pertinent to the hurling of the Spaniards on Irish shores in the autumn of 1588.

There is a common supposition that large, undefined numbers of Irishmen and women are descended from survivors of the Armada, a theory that Mattingly succinctly disposes of in fourteen lines. Anyone who studies the State Papers and other contemporary accounts of events in that terrible year must come to the same conclusion -- that it is improbable that the few "ragges of men", as Lord Deputy Fitzwylliam described the starved, shipwrecked, emaciated, half-dying Spaniards who were washed up and remained alive, should beget numerous descendants. Either they died like flies on landing, or they were exterminated at once on strands, rocks and shoals, or later in bogs, woods and mountains in which they had taken refuge; in camps, prisons or market squares. We have an example of the first in the young soldier, who had fought at Terceira, who died beside the sleeping de Cuellar during the night.

The men of rank who were saved from the sword for ransom were kept close confined in castles in the west or north, until they could be conveyed to those in the east for easier transport to England. The common soldiers or sailors who survived and were sheltered by friendly chieftains got away through Irish or Scottish aid as quickly as they could, to Scotland or the continent, their overpowering instinct being to escape the English whom they observed slaughtering their companions, harrying the Irish and hounding themselves. An inconsequential number, as we shall see, remained in service in the north with that Prince of Elizabethan Irishmen, the Great O'Neill, but these were an exception. Any physical similarities. of the Irish to the Spanish may therefore more reasonably be attributed to their common Iberian blood and the intermingling of the two races throughout many centuries past, facilitated by trade and commerce.

The commercial links between Ireland and Spain, fostered by the prevailing south-westerly winds, appear to go back to Mesolithic times. Here archaeology confirms ethnology.

Eloy J. Gallegos, _the Melungeons: the pioneers of the interior Southeastern United States 1526-1997_, Villagra Press: Knoxville 1997

Part III: the Heritage -- Origins of the Iberians
The origins of the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula (Spanish/Portuguese) are many and varied. For this reason when one is asked what does a Melungeon look like, the answer can be as varied as the origins of the Iberains themselves. A family of Melungeons for example can have members vary, one member can be small, wiry, dark-complexioned; another light colored eyes (blue or hazel), fair skin and hair; ... In many of the Melungeon, Redbone, Lumbee etc. communities, when asked to explain their non-Anglo appearance, they call themselves, Black Dutch, Black Irish, Portuguese, and in more recent years Cherokee, not Indian but Cherokee. Only recently I visited with a long-time associate who at one time called himself Black Dutch. Since discovering that the Melungeons came from a very honorable and heroic past, he as many others of Melungeon heritage no longer hide behind the Black Dutch, Black Irish shield. Recently he acknowledged to me that "its no so bad being Spanish."
- p 69-70

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other interesting topics ...

the Cherokee-Blackfoot | the Melungeons