Help me figure out my Irish ancestry ...
March 17, 2006 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Help me determine how much green blood runs through my veins.

My paternal great-grandmother was born to a man of 100% Scottish heritage and a woman of 100% Irish heritage, but she was born in County Down, Ireland.

Would she be considered 100% Irish, by virtue of her birthplace, or 50% Irish, by virtue of her genetics?

I'm trying to figure out if on this foine holiday, I'm an eighth Irish or a sixteenth Irish. (No Irish blood on any other branch of the family tree.)

[Rather appropriate of me to be posting this on "the green," don't you think?]
posted by WCityMike to Grab Bag (24 answers total)
 
Incidentally, the Scottsman was James Hewitt, making conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt a very distant relative. (Our politics ain't anywhere near being in sync, though.)
posted by WCityMike at 10:27 AM on March 17, 2006


I'd say base it on what she considered herself, if there's any way to find that out. Since she was born in Ireland and presumably raised there, she probably considered herself more Irish than Scottish-Irish.

On the other hand, if there's some sort of "one-drop rule" of Irishness or Scottishness, then the genetics would carry the vote. :)
posted by Gator at 10:31 AM on March 17, 2006


This is a really interesting question. I would consider her 50% Irish genetically or ethnically. Her nationality was Irish by being born there. I answer this as an American, though. I just met a guy who was born in Scotland, but both parents were from Ireland for hundreds of generations. He considered himself 100% Scottish.
So perhaps I answer as I do because here in America it seems we're always breaking down our ethnic percentages. I'll be interested to read what others think.
posted by jdl at 10:33 AM on March 17, 2006


I think its rarer than most people think to find someone who is 100% anything. Even one ancestor who is not that heritage will break it for all future generations. That is, its a highly unstable state. So, if the "100% Scottish" ancestor was really playing loose and was in fact 25% Irish himself then your calculation quickly becomes off.

I think for the purposes of St. Patricks day, claiming your paternal great-grandmother was Irish is fine.
posted by vacapinta at 10:44 AM on March 17, 2006


You were not born in Ireland therefore you are what is known as a "narrowback" in Irish circles. This is one of those difficult questions regarding nationality whereby I would be tempted to say "Were you or your parents born in Ireland? No? Then you are not Irish". In the same way - I am descended through my maternal Great Grandmother from Petit Alsace on the border of France and Germany. I consider myself English since my parents were born in England and so was I. To claim some sort of solidarity with either French or German people would probably cause them to erupt with mirth.

I do understand the temptation to identify with the Irish on this day but the obsession with tracing one's bloodline to identify with special groups or minorities to create some sort of cultural cachet is one that seems to be specific to Americans. Hence everyone being 1/16 Cherokee or some such rubbish. No offence meant I hope.
posted by longbaugh at 10:53 AM on March 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


My experience is different than that of longbaugh. My family is almost entirely Irish-American and we've always been taught how bad England is and how they need to leave N. Ireland. In my grandparents generation, when the family got together in a big group the women would sit in the kitchen, smoke, drink and play cards and the men would go into the parlor and drink and "talk troubles" which meant that they would talk about how England should be kicked out of Ireland.

I agree with longbaugh about the idea being specific to Americans however. But we are not a normal country in the sense that we are not based on a single ethnic group.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:13 AM on March 17, 2006


Americans do not share an ethnicity, so our ties to the old world (or Native roots) are quite meaningful to us. In addition, as Ironmouth points out, even a second- or third-generation identity carries cultural weight. I can recognize another scion of early 20th-century Irish immigrants through any number of cultural memes we share. It's not 'rubbish', although to someone from a culture that is older and more tied to ethnicity, it is probably hard to understand.
posted by Miko at 11:17 AM on March 17, 2006


County Down is in Northern Ireland (I live in County Down), so she wasn't born Irish, she was born British. However, she may consider herself Irish.
posted by speranza at 11:23 AM on March 17, 2006


the men would go into the parlor and drink and "talk troubles" which meant that they would talk about how England should be kicked out of Ireland.

What about the Scots though? We thought we'd got rid of them when Fergus Mór, Loarn and Óengus went off to Pictland to fart about causing trouble, and then their descendents came back a millenium later and just started making a ruckus!
posted by meehawl at 11:30 AM on March 17, 2006


County Down is in Northern Ireland (I live in County Down), so she wasn't born Irish, she was born British. However, she may consider herself Irish.

Most likely, there was no 'Northern Ireland' when his great-grandmother was alive. And while all of Ireland was under British rule then, the vast majority of people would not have considered themselves British. Check your history books.
posted by ascullion at 11:34 AM on March 17, 2006


the vast majority of people would not have considered themselves British. Check your history books.

Not a majority, no, but enough considered themselves British to keep the British there - they had the support of Anglo-Irish elites* and a large part of Ulster province*, after all. It's not quite cut and dry.

*People born and raised in Ireland, of Protestant English families who moved there between the seventeenth and ninteenth centuries - many may have considered themselves English, but were considered to be Irish by some English. Famous examples include Jonathan Swift and Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington.

*Where many Scotch-Irish protestants lived - again, forming an ethnic group not considered really Irish, but also not Scottish, but their own group. Most of the pre-nineteenth century Irish immigrants to the New World were Scotch-Irish.

posted by jb at 11:44 AM on March 17, 2006


My experience regarding nationality/ethnicity in America is more like Ironmouth's. A fair number of Irish-Americans still live in neighborhoods that are almost completely Irish Catholic, maintain ties with relatives back in Ireland, cook soda bread on weekends, send their kids to Irish dancing lessons [or fiddle or tin whistle lessons], visit Ireland and the family there, etc. Heck, in the neighborhood where I grew up, most of the families were [originally] from the same area in Ireland, and were related through blood and marriage. There isn't a national cultural heritage in the US the way there is in, say, European nations. Immigrants often end up associating primarily with other immigrants from the same place, and thus retaining parts of the culture and cultural identity of their homeland. These ethnic communities may last for quite a long time, depending. [The German-American community fragmented during and after the two World Wars, for example - no one wanted to be associated with Krauts and, later, Nazis, and so cultural organizations and German language newspapers fell apart.]

So sure, while someone from Europe might laugh at the hyphenated ethnic identity of an American, the cultural and ethnic background of a native European is different enough that I'm not entirely sure they can really judge.

[As for the original question, as everyone else has said, these things are subjective and hard to measure. Go back far enough and any '100% pure' person has ancestors from someplace else entirely. You could argue for either an eighth or a sixteenth, and people would agree with you.]
posted by ubersturm at 12:04 PM on March 17, 2006


Irish blood is not actually green; it has the same color as any other human blood. (Bright red when oxygenated; dark red when not oxygenated, but appearing blue when seen through the skin; and blood plasma is a straw or light yellow color.)

Furthermore, Irish blood type distribution is essentially similar to the English distribution and even closer to the Scottish; the Irish distribution is 52:35:10:3 (O:A:B:AB), the English is 47:42:9:3, and the Scottish 51:34:12:3. (None of these types, for any of the groups, is green.)

While blood type is inherited, ethnicity (or any other inherited traits) isn't actually passed by blood, so receiving a transfusion won't change your ethnicity.

While some cultures (Japanese in particular) ascribe personality traits to blood type, there is no scientific basis for this belief, and as noted above there is no particularly "Irish" type of blood.
posted by orthogonality at 12:27 PM on March 17, 2006


It's not quite cut and dry.

Well, no, obviously, hence the years of conflict
posted by ascullion at 12:28 PM on March 17, 2006


while someone from Europe might laugh at the hyphenated ethnic identity of an American

Someone from the U.S. might have, um, 'thoughts' about it, too. JFK had to affirm that his first allegiance was to the U.S., to counter allegations that he'd take orders from the Pope. And that was back when the country was supposed to be a "melting pot".
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:35 PM on March 17, 2006


To add a little bit further to my initial comment - "narrowback" is an insult sometimes used by native Irishmen for those who left for America - it meant that you didn't have a broad back i.e. you are not able to work the fields and so were for all intents and purposes not much use. On the whole I find the whole desire to identify as Irish on St Patrick's Day incredibly strange - it doesn't happen on any other Saint's Day (anyone run around in a kilt on the 30th of November?). I'd be interested if anyone had an inkling as to why this would be; wanting to identify with the underdog or something or is being Irish just "cool"?
posted by longbaugh at 1:07 PM on March 17, 2006


Popping in quickly before reading the whole thread:
I was born in the UK from parents both born in Eire.

I am English, with a UK passport. I do have 100% Irish blood.

Is my daughter 100% English, or 50% Irish?
posted by dash_slot- at 1:16 PM on March 17, 2006


Irish blood is not actually green; it has the same color as any other human blood. (Bright red when oxygenated; dark red when not oxygenated, but appearing blue when seen through the skin; and blood plasma is a straw or light yellow color.)

Furthermore, Irish blood type distribution is essentially similar to the English distribution and even closer to the Scottish; the Irish distribution is 52:35:10:3 (O:A:B:AB), the English is 47:42:9:3, and the Scottish 51:34:12:3. (None of these types, for any of the groups, is green.)

While blood type is inherited, ethnicity (or any other inherited traits) isn't actually passed by blood, so receiving a transfusion won't change your ethnicity.


I really wasn't under the misapprehension that an eighth of my blood was actually green, or that blood itself was the vehicle for ethnicity. Thanks, though.
posted by WCityMike at 1:40 PM on March 17, 2006


Is my daughter 100% English, or 50% Irish?

As she can have an Irish or a British passport, she is whatever she wants to be.
posted by ascullion at 1:42 PM on March 17, 2006


Think about it this way. Your "Irish" ancestors might be 100% from Ireland for millennia, or they might be descended from Danes or Saxons or Normans or anyone else who may have intermarried at some point in history. (And the Normans were originally Scandinavian, for that matter.) And if you trace your Y-dna or MT-dna you might find yet another potential source.

I had my MT-dna done and it showed an origin, on the maternal line, in Syria or Iraq about 10,000 years ago, then most likely up through Eastern Europe, into Scandinavia, to Norway... to the US. The ancestor in question called herself Norwegian, then American. But along the way the family line picked up a lot of other stuff. Did that make my great-great grandmother less Norwegian?

(My other side is English/Scottish/Irish/Welsh, but American for 200+ years.)

Anyway, the point is that "blood" ancestry is sort of artificial. The "English" are made up of Irish/Welsh/Scottish/Danish/Norse/Saxon/French and a lot of other stuff -- but each of those groups were probably mutts in their own way too. The Irish are probably no exception. So I think it's the cultural heritage that matters. If your great-grandmother grew up in Ireland and identified as Irish, call her 100% Irish for St. Patrick's Day bragging purposes. :)
posted by litlnemo at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2006


I had my MT-dna done and it showed an origin, on the maternal line, in Syria or Iraq about 10,000 years ago, then most likely up through Eastern Europe, into Scandinavia, to Norway.

10KYears ago you had around 2^450 direct living ancestors. Or somewhere around 3E135. I think it's safe to say that if you go far back enough, we are all related, and we all have some ancestors from Mesopotamia. This was discussed in Slate just a few days ago.

The real scandal, of course, is that Saint Patrick, if he existed, wasn't even Irish at all but was Romano-British.
posted by meehawl at 7:18 PM on March 17, 2006


If you're born anywhere on the island of Eire you can get an Irish passport. Ditto if one or the other of your parents or any of your grandparents were. (Or you used to be able to before the EU cracked down and changed the rules and all that.)

Some people say these rules were motivated less by idealism and more by the desire to make better soccer players elibgible for the national team but those types are a disgrace to their nation and should be ashamed of themselves for making such unfounded allegations. They are probably out on the weekends agitating for Croagh Park to be opened to that English sport and all. Shocking.

OK, if you understood any of that, you're in for today at least :)
posted by fshgrl at 8:20 PM on March 17, 2006


"10KYears ago you had around 2^450 direct living ancestors. Or somewhere around 3E135. I think it's safe to say that if you go far back enough, we are all related, and we all have some ancestors from Mesopotamia. This was discussed in Slate just a few days ago."

What I was referring to is the Seven Daughters of Eve theory, in which most of Europe can trace ancestry back to one of seven women. (There's more to it than that, though.) And all of those women go back to Africa, so, yes, we are all related and likely had ancestors pass through Mesopotamia, too. (I was specifically referring to haplogroup J in my post.) Anyway, that's sort of off-topic, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by litlnemo at 1:54 AM on March 18, 2006


If you're born anywhere on the island of Eire you can get an Irish passport.

That's not been true since 2004. Ireland now has one of the more restrictive set of citizenship requirements within the EU.
posted by meehawl at 4:56 AM on March 18, 2006


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