Mixed race Irish families in Britain, 1700- 2000

Although the portraits are captioned ‘Brighton’, Jane and Sake Deen Mahomed lived in Cork in the late eighteenth century.

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending the virtual launch of a new exhibition entitled ‘Mixed Race Irish Families in Britain, 1700 – 2000’ by the Mixed Museum and The Association of Mixed Race Irish (AMRI). Researched by my Irish Lib Dem colleague, Conrad Bryan, the exhibition explores the social reactions to mixed-race Irish families in Britain over the course of three centuries.

The Irish Community in Britain has traditionally been looked upon through the prism of negative stereotypes. There is also an assumption that we all are white with freckles and red hair. A truth that even Irish society has struggled to get a grip on is that Irish people come in different skin colours and this exhibition highlights how far back in history mixed race relations in Ireland have existed: It is not something that has just appeared with Phil Lynott or the 1990s Irish soccer team.

At the launch, Conrad explained that the challenge would be finding records and information going back further into the 18th century. The period 1700 to 2000 is a long period, but if we are to fully understand the social history of the mixed race Irish people in Britain, we need to go back to the colonial and slave trade periods to examine the migration of African and Irish and other people into Britain who formed these mixed race relationships.

He also hadn’t expected to discover that mixed race families formed in Ireland, then moved to Britain. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 Africans lived in Ireland in the 18th century. This aspect of Irish history is very under-researched. Were they British soldiers, servants in Anglo-Irish “big houses”, traders who came off the boat in Cork, enslaved Africans who escaped from ships?

British attitude towards ethnic minorities changed with the influx of a huge number of Irish immigrants during the Irish Famine of the 19th century. White British people began to view themselves as superior to other white nationalities and even more superior than black immigrants. Racism in Britain intensified at the turn of the 20th century, particularly for mixed-race families.

Through a wealth of newspaper reports, the exhibition highlights how many of the white women to marry black men were Irish or of Irish descent and how British media painted them as “white women of the lower classes.

A new wave of mixed-race Irish families arrived after the Second World War. Black American soldiers fathered children with British and Irish women while stationed in Britain during the war and the children would grow up in an incredibly hostile environment, facing multiple prejudices.  A fresh influx of Irish immigrants in the 1950s precipitated further anti-Irish sentiment as “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” signs began to appear in shop windows. For a mixed-race Irish child, it was a double whammy.

Do take the time and explore the exhibition HERE.

* Audrey Eager, Founder of Liberal Irish, the Irish Liberal Democrat Society. If you’d like to join our mailing list, contact us on [email protected]

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3 Comments

  • The Irish had a large presence in the Raj. No doubt there were some mixed marriages there. Leo Varadkar is a more recent example of someone of mixed Indian-Irish descent.

  • Gerald Stewart 29th Oct '20 - 8:35pm

    Phil Lynott fantastic singer, Thin Lizzy fantastic band, Phil didn’t do too badly in his role as the preacher on the War Of The World’s album, which is in my humble opinion a fairly awesome piece of music. Happy days…and nights.🙂

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