Questions of nationality can be tricky, especially in the case of geographical proximity. In the case of Irish people and the British … it’s about as complicated as it can get.
The question that confuses many: Are Irish people British? The Irish, who live in the Republic of Ireland, have their own descent that has nothing to do with the British. People who live in the Republic of Ireland are Irish people. However, those who live in Northern Ireland (the UK part of the island) might say they are the Irish, but ALSO British.
Why is this so complicated? Well, that’s because the people of Ireland base their nationality on three aspects: citizenship, geopolitical status, and their personal feelings.
Irish People With British Citizenship
Let’s start with a short lesson in geography. The island of Ireland is located in northwestern Europe. It is part of the British Isles, a group that also includes the island of Great Britain, the island of Man, and thousands of other smaller islands.
The island of Ireland consists of two geopolitical entities: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland is an independent, sovereign state, whose citizens are called the Irish. In addition, everyone who has the citizenship of the Republic of Ireland, and lives outside its borders, is also Irish.
Northern Ireland (also called Ulster) is one of four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. In addition to Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom also includes Scotland, England, and Wales. Residents of Northern Ireland, like all other residents of the United Kingdom, have British citizenship. Therefore we can say that those in the North are British.
However, Northern Ireland is still located on the island of Ireland. The inhabitants of the island are called the Irish. There is no mistake in calling those in Northern Ireland Irish as well as British.
Northern Ireland was proclaimed in 1921, after the partition of Ireland by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. During that time the majority of the population of Northern Ireland were unionists and wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom. But the rest of Ireland wanted their independence, so the Irish Free State was proclaimed in 1922. A new constitution was adopted in 1937 when the state was finally named “Ireland”. These historical events led to the formation of geopolitical borders as we know them today.
Now let’s look at the sense of national identity. In 2011 a census conducted by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) examined the sense of national identity. According to NISRA, “two-fifths (40 percent) of usual residents had a British Only national identity, a quarter (25 percent) had Irish Only national identity, and just over a fifth (21 percent) had Northern Irish Only national identity”.
As we can see from the study, whether someone is Irish or British depends on their personal sense of national identity. So, it’s not surprising that on the official portal of Northern Ireland Government Services, in Key Facts by “nationality and citizenship” you can find: British, Irish or both.
The Origin Of Irish People
The biggest influence on national identity is drawn from their descent.
The Irish are a Celtic nation. They are ethnic group native to the island of Ireland. Irish people have their own customs, culture, language, and identity. Although Irish (Gaelic) was their native language in the past, today majority of Irish people speak English as their first language.
There are many notable Irish people in literature, science, culture, and sports. The most famous scientist, also known as the “father of chemistry”, was Robert Boyle. Famous Irish writers include Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and James Joyce to name a few. The most famous Irish singers/musicians today are U2, Sinead O’Connor and Hozier. Some of the most notable Irish actors include Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Cillian Murphy, and Colin Farrell.
How To Know Whether Someone Feels More “Irish” Or “British”?
You’ll never know for sure.
There are some patterns in relation to religion, but they are not guidelines to follow in many cases. For example, the majority of Protestants in Northern Ireland would consider themselves British. On the other hand, most of the people of Catholic background would consider themselves Irish.
However, this is not reliable data. This is just an assumption based on the cross-section of data obtained from the questionnaire of the 2011 census.
If you hear that someone is originally from Northern Ireland, the safest way not to offend them is to openly ask whether they are Irish or British. Keep in mind that the sense of nationality is always a sensitive topic.
Do The Irish Get Angry When You Call Them British By Mistake?
Well, it seems they get most angry when the British claim Irish notable people as their own. I found a number of articles online citing controversy over Sinead O’Connor. For example, some British media representatives dare to say that she is a British singer. In these cases, Irish people get quite offended. I believe that everyone can understand that frustration.
For some of the Irish, an internal feeling of oppression by the British is still felt to this day. Over time the feeling has subsided but it’s still unpleasant for the Irish to recall the time when the Britts took their land and imposed their language. Now they try and take their celebrities! When you go to Ireland you might notice that the Irish take a number of jabs at the British … after all of the oppression in the past they try and look at the British with a certain dose of sarcasm today.
They are especially sarcastic when talking about the monarchy. They say it is “medieval funny” and joke about the British people paying taxes for royal weddings and luxury dog groomers.
Will the Irish be offended if you don’t know anything about their history or culture? I don’t believe so. Irish people are known for being happy, peaceful, and friendly. If you have a question just ask … the Irish people know how to have a conversation.
Irish People All Over The World
Irish people live in many countries all over the world. They have their own communities, preserving their cultural heritage. In addition to those living in the Republic of Ireland and the UK, many Irish people have settled in Canada, the USA, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
There are many famous figures who have claimed their Irish descent some include: John F Kennedy, Ernesto Che Guevara, Walt Disney, Barack Obama, and Muhammad Ali
The Irish are famous for certain spirits, dance, cuisine, culture. You must have heard of Guinness beer or Irish whiskey of world quality. Furthermore, there’s popular Irish stepdance like Riverdancing, Gaellic football, and St. Patrick’s Day – things that represent the positive culture of Ireland.
How do British people see the Irish?
Maybe this will surprise you, but they either make mistakes, thinking that all of Ireland is a part of the UK, or they say they have nothing against Irish people.
Of course, there was a lot of discrimination after the proclamation of the Republic of Ireland. As you know, every breakup is painful. However, a Briton once told to me: “I have nothing against Irish people; I actually like them very much. I’m just jealous of their sceneries.”
Do the Irish feel British?
According to statistics, there are many people in Northern Ireland with Irish descent who say they are British. Many of them feel both Irish and British.
Of course, most Irish people with Irish descent and ancestors are aware of their nationality, and will always say that they are Irish and nothing else.
Why does Ireland speak English and not Irish?
According to the Irish Constitution, Gaelic is the national language. However, English is a dominant language spoken by the majority of Irish people. How did this happen? For centuries of Irish history, the English ruled Ireland. The decline of the Irish language began after 1600 when the last Gaelic was defeated. For many on the island, Gaelic was forbidden under British rule.
People tried their best to secretly practice the language and teach the younger generations. English can be heard on Irish TV and radio stations, from the Irish politicians, in public institutions, everywhere. You can use Irish wherever you want – it really is the official language, yet English is far more frequently spoken.