Being Black and Irish: the Irish Diaspora

A group of busts of men's heads

As an Irish national of African descent, I frequently get asked questions about where I lived in Ireland , about my accent, and how I could be black and Irish at the same time.

I spoke to four black Irish people, Nicky, Dennis, Serah and Ola, on what its like to be black, Irish and moving from Ireland to either Europe or the States. Here’s what they had to say.

Nicky

Nicky Twamsi (photo interviewee’s own)

What was it like being black, Irish and moving abroad?
At first it was extremely difficult, trying to adapt to the hot climate and training 6,700 ft above sea level (which takes time to get use to), but the education side is lot easier. Being a collegiate athlete is a lot harder because you have to perform on the pitch while maintaining a high GPA to keep your scholarship.

Dennis said: Being black and moving to the UK was exciting for me because I felt more at home here than I did back in Ireland because there are a lot more black people here so you don’t feel like a foreigner.

Ola said: It was kind of fun and at the same time interesting. Fun because to a lot of people the idea of a black Irish was a new concept and they always had a lot of questions and interesting to find out what they actually knew already about the country and its residents.

Ola

Ola

What are the differences between living in America/England/Spain and Ireland?
For Nicky the obvious one is that you have to be over 21 to go out clubbing. He added that the food is a lot different because of the variety, the weather and the fact that you have to tip every time you’re in a restaurant otherwise the servers get angry.

Serah said: One thing is being black. Another thing is being black and Irish. However people seemed to question my Black-Irish nationality a lot more when I moved to Spain. I definitely felt a difference between my Irish housemates and myself when our landlord-to-be couldn’t believe that I was from Ireland. He asked my other four housemates where they were from to which they replied Ireland and then turned to me to ask me separately to which I replied Ireland too.

He then told me no, and asked me the question again and I once again replied, “Ireland”. My other four housemates who are all white didn’t get asked twice even though being white does not necessarily mean they are all from the same country but he believed them the first time. That was when I noticed that I was indeed different and not because I saw myself as being different but because it was pointed out to me.

Serah

Serah

Do people treat you differently when they find out you are Irish?
Nicky said: Not really as people want to be around me to hear my accent so I like it. They are surprised that there’s black people living in Ireland.

Dennis said : At first people tend to treat me differently when I tell them that I’m Irish because they find it fascinating for black people to live in Ireland, I always have to explain to them that we actually have a big community back in Ireland. But when they get to know me more, I’m treated as a typical Londoner.

Ola said: Not differently but they tend to ask a lot of questions. They pretty much treat you the same as being Irish is not a new concept to them. They get over the black part of black and Irish pretty quickly.

Dennis

Dennis

What are people’s initial response when you tell them this?
It’s like anywhere else really, the minute I open my mouth people are curious where my accent comes from so it attracts a lot of attention. They find it very hard to believe that I’m a black Irish guy.

Do people find it hard to understand you at times? if so name an incident

Nicky said: Yes, all the time they find it extremely difficult to understand me when I’m speaking to them. I have to talk a lot slowly and try pronounce every word carefully. (Whenever I want to order pizza I have to get my American buddies to do it for me because they don’t understand what I’m saying over the phone) which I find hilarious I must say.

Meanwhile Ola said: No not really as my accent is very clear. I was fortunate enough not to develop an Irish accent that people preconceive.

Images interviewees’ own.

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