The Irish Were Slaves Too. Why Does It Not Get Discussed Much?

UntitledThis is a very interesting blog post from the blog Exploring My Culture, Exploring Myself. The piece makes some great points to consider and is worth discussing. Here is an excerpt:

Why do some people think that acknowledging the suffering of others somehow diminishes their own?  That in order to validate their suffering, they must deny the suffering of others?

Was the African slave trade a blight on the face of humanity?  Was the African slave trade a horror that none of us can truly comprehend?   Is there anyone at all who will argue that the answer is anything but a most emphatic yes?

Since that is so, why isn’t the Irish slave trade similarly acknowledged as even existing, let alone acknowledged as that same blight, that same horror?  Why are the white slaves taken in Africa not likewise acknowledged as existing?

Why is acknowledging European slavery in Africa a threat to the memory of black slavery?

I’m not talking about racism, discrimination, civil rights issues.  I’m not talking about comparing the suffering as if one can be found to be more worthy of notice.

I’m talking about slavery.  Real slavery.

When the population of Ireland was cut by nearly two thirds within a single decade (1641 to 1652), with an estimated 300,000 Irish slaves shipped to the New World to work for English masters and another 500,000 killed outright, that is a reality of history.   They were every bit as much slaves as the Africans brought to the Americas.

During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.

And don’t kid yourself.  These were not indentured servants who labored for some years and then were set free.  They were slaves.  Every bit as much as the Africans were slaves.  They were slaves who were sent to the Americas to labor and die by the master’s hand, to be seen as property and chattel, not people.

In time, the English thought of a better way to use these [Irish] women (in many cases, girls as young as 12) to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new “mulatto” slaves brought a higher price than Irish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves.

To read the full piece click here.

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9 thoughts on “The Irish Were Slaves Too. Why Does It Not Get Discussed Much?

  1. I wonder if in the 1650’s the children were “taken” or bought. Today impoverished parents still sell their “extra” children to work for other families who have more money to take care of them.

    There were differences between US Irish slaves and US African slaves. African slaves where not allowed to carry guns. Also Irish slaves could work their way out of slavery. Irish slaves (in the US) to my knowledge were always indentured servants (temporary slaves).

    • Earnest Harris says:

      Yeah I had heard about that as relates to the Irish in the U.S. But I didn’t realize the extent of the use of Irish slaves in those other places. Very interesting indeed. I never understood why the Irish were particularly singled out amongst European whites.

      • Because they were singled out *by* the English, and those two islands seem to have always had troubled relations, whether it was the Irish raiding the Anglo, Saxon, Pict, Jute etc, or the united English raiding and subjugating the Irish.

        Interestingly, however, the English word “slave” is actually derived from the historical enslavement of the Slavic peoples. The real difference is when and where the slaves were sent. Irish slaves have a direct relevance to US history, whereas the Slavs do not, generally.

      • Earnest Harris says:

        Great information. A know a number of people who were very enlightened by your post and retweeted the link to it from my Twitter. Thanks for the different perspective. I do think it is important that people realize we all have much in common.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve known for a while that Irish (and other people considered white) were also slaves in America and other countries. Native Americans were also slaves, but Native and white slavery doesn’t seem to be discussed much, if at all.

  3. Willard says:

    We should all acknowledge all of our history, even though some of us have to struggle to learn it more than others. My problem is this: why must we only teach black children about slavery in the U.S. and not about the culture they left as well? I was very insecure learning this in school and I thought this meant black people were born slaves in America, but slavery is a process and people are not really “born slaves” and Africans were not actual slaves until their were purchased from Africa and survived brutal trips across oceans that killed over 6 million if not more Africans (something that should be viewed as genocide if not for the likelihood that the ship masters weren’t trying to kill the imprisoned men he just bought on purpose) to be conditioned into slavery. But that condition can be changed and broken through the right education. I think telling black children about the slavery part is good but it must be done within the context that shows that all people were slaves once and although your ancestors were slaves here, you have just as many priests and scholars from your ancestral country as you do in your native American country today.

    I also hope people will realize that while the Irish were slaves, they and many other groups like Italians and Germans who were once considered ethnic have now been assimilated into this ‘whiteness’ that has always been an ambiguous term for the racial status quo. You can’t deny how each of these groups do have privileges anymore than you can deny that the Irish were slaves.

  4. Rowen Murphy says:

    We’re all more mixed than we realize, and if we did know how much we all have in common maybe we could come together. This isnt a contest. Our histories need to be acknowledged as well, and why the history of Irish slavery, as well as all other forms of slavery are not taught in school, and what about deliberate ethnic cleansing? People were enslaving their own before being brought to America. People seem to think it all started with America. Its been going on since the beginning of time, and is going on now, just not in the same way- so lets start now.
    Anyone whos be able to research their own ancestry will find surprises. I prefer to be called Irish American, or European American , not just be defined as a color that erases all traces of who I am, and where I came from, why I am what I am.. We still have traces of our ethnic backrounds in us. My grandmother and her sister came over from Belfast in the 1920s, tired of the fighting and raids they delt with their entire lives. I lived in the UK with my wife who is Scottish, and got a different view, I feel very fortunate to live in America. Most Americans are searching for who they are, and alot of us are tired of just being clumped together as one thing.

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