Black people in Ireland

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Black people in Ireland
Daoine gorma in Éirinn
Total population
Republic of Ireland
64,639, 1.38% (2016 Census)
Northern Ireland
3,616, 0.2% (2011 Census)[1][failed verification]
Hiberno-English, African languages

Black Irish or African Irish (daoine goirme) have lived in Ireland in small numbers since the 18th century. Increases in immigration have led to the growth of the community across Ireland. They are mainly concentrated in the major cities and towns, especially in the Limerick, Cork and Dublin areas.


During the 18th century, many worked as servants of wealthy families. Formerly enslaved people who visited or toured Ireland included Olaudah Equiano[2] and Frederick Douglass.

Lord Edward FitzGerald, who was seriously wounded in the American Revolutionary War, was saved in 1781 by Tony Small, who had been enslaved, after the Battle of Eutaw Springs in the Carolinas. Small returned with Lord FitzGerald to Ireland, and in 1786 his portrait was painted by John Roberts.[3]

Enslavement of black people was rare in Ireland during the 18th century, although the legal position remained unclear until a judgement in England in 1772, the Somersett's Case. Others were tradesmen, soldiers, travelling artists or musicians. They were never very numerous, and most were assimilated into the larger population by the second third of the 19th century. They include the rebel Mulatto Jack in the Antigua Slave Rebellion (1736),[4] the singer Rachael Baptist (fl. 1750–1775), who were both Irish. Other such as Osmond Tisani (fl. 1905–1914) were born abroad but settled in Ireland.

Since Partition[edit]

Republic of Ireland[edit]


In the 1960s, the Irish government ran schemes aimed at attracting students from African nations, with the aim of providing them with skills that would be useful in the growth of newly-independent countries. In 1962, there were 1,100 African students in Ireland, comprising roughly a tenth of the student population. Many of these schemes were facilitated using links between Irish missionary organizations. This also included military training, with a military college taking on a delegation of Zambian cadets in 1967, citing Ireland's lack of a history of imperialism.[5]

Celtic Tiger Era[edit]

The increase of Ireland's non-white population started with the Irish boom of 1997 to 2009 is due in part to the laws which had governed Irish citizenship since the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1937. These laws, which granted citizenship jus soli, were, for a period, interpreted by the Department of Justice as allowing parents who were not Irish citizens to remain in the state based on the rights of their Irish-born citizen children. This automatic granting of residency ceased in 2007, following a decision of the Supreme Court.[6] Due to the fact that Ireland is Anglophone, and the large amount of immigration between the United Kingdom and the Republic, the vast majority of Black people in Ireland are immigrants (or descended from) Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa.[citation needed] The Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland changed the qualifications for Irish citizenship in 2004.[citation needed]

The 2006 Irish census recorded 40,525 people of Black African ethnicity and 3,793 people of any other Black background resident in the Republic out of a total population of 4,172,013, meaning that 1.06 percent of the population self-identified as Black.[7] The preliminary results of the 2011 census recorded 58,697 people of Black African ethnicity and 6,381 people of any other Black background resident in the Republic out of a total population of 4,525,281, meaning that 1.42 per cent of the population self-identified as Black.[8]

The Celtic Tiger boom of 1992–2007 also increased immigration into Ireland from all parts of the world, including Africa, and this led to delays in processing applications at the Garda National Immigration Bureau.[citation needed] For non-EU persons, this led to restrictive laws and hundreds of deportations annually of those not qualifying for asylum or admission.[citation needed] Some failed asylum cases received considerable media attention, such as that of Pamela Izevbekhai, who claimed that her daughters were likely to be subjected to female genital mutilation following deportation, and that another daughter had died from the same procedure in 1994. Despite presenting her case to the Seanad in 2008 and as far as the Supreme Court of Ireland and European Court of Human Rights, the court found in 2011 that her use of forged documents was "inadequate".[9]

Individual areas have been noted as having high populations of Black Irish and African descendent individuals. The town of Gort, Co. Limerick, is home to a large Brazilian population, with black and mixed individuals.[10]

2010s and Present[edit]

More recently[when?], following the European migrant crisis, refugees from conflict zones in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, the Congo, and Burundi have settled in Ireland.[11]

There are a number of challenges noted by Black Irish people, including casual racism, persistence of stereotypes, and inequal treatment in education.[12] There has also been a noted uptick in racist abuse by those associated with far-right political groups. In October 2019, an interracial couple who featured in a Lidl ad left the country after receiving targeted racial abuse by followers of far-right journalist Gemma O'Doherty.

Many refugees from African countries reside in Ireland's Direct Provision system, an intake system for asylum seekers that has been frequently condemned for its drawn-out processing timelines and poor quality of life.

Northern Ireland[edit]

African American soldiers in Northern Ireland in 1942.

World War II[edit]

A number of African American soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland as part of American involvement in World War II. The reaction of those in Northern Ireland was 'largely color-blind', with acceptance generally offered from both Catholic and Protestant communities, who viewed the visiting soldiers primarily as American. The Stormont government refused to enact segregation laws at the behest of the American military, though there were instances of unofficial segregation and racism, largely drawn from ignorance. It is suggested that there was, however, differing treatment of white American and black American troops by the Northern Irish population, especially in the later years of the war. The lack of a color bar, by and large, in treatment in Northern Ireland led to feelings that equality was attainable at home as it was abroad. Many women who involved themselves in relationships with American soldiers, black or white, risked ostracism by their community. Much media coverage of black American troops relied heavily on stereotypes, even when coverage was largely positive. Despite the Stormont Government not keeping records of the births of mixed-race children, official and unofficial sources note the birth of several. The equal treatment between white and black soldiers was also noted as causing significant anger among the white soldiers. [13]

The Troubles[edit]

A number of black people from mainland Britain were stationed in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, as part of British Army deployments. A small number of the 3,000 victims of violence during The Troubles were black, both British Army soldiers and civilians.[14]

Post-Good Friday Agreement[edit]

At the time of the 2001 UK Census, of the total population of Northern Ireland (1,685,267), 255 people described their ethnicity as Black Caribbean, 494 as Black African and 387 as Other Black, meaning that the total Black population was 1,136. These figures do not include individuals who described themselves as being of mixed-race.[15] The UK census of 2011 recorded 3,616 Black people in Northern Ireland (0.2% of the total population).[citation needed] The next census will be in 2021.

As well as help from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the EU-funded Afro-Community Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI) was formed in 2003 to represent the views of black people. ACSONI prepared a report in 2011 on other residents' perceptions and general knowledge of Africa and Africans.[16]

Mother and Baby Homes[edit]

It was noted that approximately 275 mixed-race children were born and held in Mother and Baby Homes between 1922 and 1998. Pregnancies between White Irish and black couples rarely resulted in marriage, with resulting children often taken into these institutions, leaving them with incomplete records of family history.[17] Mixed-race children were subject to discrimination in these institutions, with fewer being offered for adoption at the same rate as White Irish babies. Many were sent to 'reject wards' for children deemed 'unadoptable' on the basis of their skin color.[18] A much-criticized report into the Mother and Baby Homes denied there was racial discrimination within these institutions.[19]

Black Irish in politics[edit]

Ireland has never elected a TD or Senator from a black Irish background. Likewise, there has never been any black cabinet member, or leader of a major government institution. Black Irish people are noted as being significantly underrepresented in politics. A number of reasons are suggested for this lack of representation, including the lower-average age of much of the Black Irish population, the PR-STV voting system failing to facilitate representation of minorities not clustered in a single geographic area, as well as the highly personalised nature of Irish politics being difficult for immigrants to make vital political connections.[20][21]

In 2007, Nigerian refugee and politician Rotimi Adebari was elected as mayor of Portlaoise, the first black mayor in Ireland. In 2011, Darren Scully resigned as mayor of Naas after stating he would refuse to represent "black Africans" because of their "aggressiveness and bad manners".[22]

In 2018, artist Kevin Sharkey unsuccessfully sought nomination to contest the Presidential Election, failing to be nominated by either councils or the Oireachtas.[23]

As of 2021, there are only two black councillors out of 949 - Cllr. Uruemu Adejinmi, who represents Fianna Fáil on Longford County Council, and Cllr. Yemi Adenuga, a former Gogglebox Ireland star who represents Fine Gael on Meath County Council. Adenuga was the first black female councillor elected in Ireland.[24] In 2021, Adejinmi unsuccessfully sought the Fianna Fáil nomination for the 2021 Seanad By-Election. Former asylum seeker Ellie Kisyombe, originally from Malawi, ran for Dublin's North Inner City constituency with the Social Democrats during the 2019 Local Elections, becoming the first former asylum seeker to seek election in the Republic of Ireland. She failed to get elected, after discrepancies in her timeline for application for asylum emerged.[25]

In June 2021, Lilian Seenoi-Barr was co-opted by the SDLP to the Derry and Strabane District Council, becoming Northern Ireland's first black councillor.

Impacts on Irish Culture and Integration[edit]


Immigration from Africa has been noted as increasing the numbers of Protestant adherants in Ireland, contributing to the reversal in the decline of numbers. [26] A number of Catholic priests are also noted as immigrating to Ireland from African nations, owing to the declining amount of priests in Irish parishes.[27]

Poetry and Written Work[edit]

The poem 'For Our Mothers', by Nigerian-Irish poet Felicia Olusanya (FeliSpeaks) is featured on the 2023 Leaving Certificate curriculum. [28] Author Emma Dabiri is one of a number of black Irish authors.

Irish language[edit]

A number of Black Irish people are noted as being Gaeilgóirs, and contributing to the evolution of the language.[29]


A number of players on Ireland's football team are of African descent.

In Media[edit]

Notable people[edit]

Black people in Ireland[edit]

Black Irish emigrants[edit]

Emigrants to France[edit]

  • Kwame Ampadu, Irish former footballer (Ghanaian father)
  • Simon Zebo, Irish rugby union player (French-Martiniquais father)

Emigrants to Great Britain[edit]

Emigrants to United States[edit]

Born, raised and resident in Britain[edit]


  1. ^ "Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service". Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  2. ^ Walvin, James (1998). An African's Life: The Life and Times of Olaudah Equiano, 1745–1797. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 165. ISBN 9781441120304.
  3. ^ Tony Small by John Roberts
  4. ^ Hogan, Liam (1 February 2020). "An Irish slave in Antigua". Medium. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Parents of an Irish Child" (PDF). Immigrant Council of Ireland. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 June 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  7. ^ "This is Ireland – Highlights from Census 2011, Part 1" (PDF). Dublin: Stationery Office. July 2007. p. 11. Retrieved 4 July 2007.
  8. ^ This is Ireland – Highlights from Census 2011, Part 1 (PDF). Stationery Office, Dublin, Ireland. 2012. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-4064-2650-2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 February 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  9. ^ Nigerian mum to be deported after EU court ruling Irish Independent, 28 June 2011.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Refugee reunification scheme opens to bring family members to Ireland". The Irish Times. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Topping, Simon (2013). ""The Dusky Doughboys": Interaction between African American Soldiers and the Population of Northern Ireland during the Second World War". Journal of American Studies. 47 (4): 1131–1154. doi:10.1017/S0021875812001764. JSTOR 24485878. S2CID 145077924.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Table KS06: Ethnic group (numbers)". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Archived from the original on 14 December 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  16. ^ ACSONI report online, May 2011; seen on 24-11-2011 Archived 27 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
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  22. ^ "Darren Scully resigns as Mayor of Naas". RTÉ.ie. 22 November 2011. Archived from the original on 23 November 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
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External links[edit]