The "Irish Slave Memes" Are A Historical Distortion

  • Ben Hayward
  • Mar 21, 2017 1:15PM

I had the misfortune of spending part of St. Patrick’s Day in a bar. Under normal circumstances, I am repelled by the reduction of a nation with incredible history and culture into a green beer swilling orgy of crap songs and vomitous stupidity. But, I am the highly suggestible sort and was coerced, with less than heroic resistance on my part, into going.

While there I was, initially, having a good time. The band was incredible, the establishment we were in did not go in for the whole green beer thing, and I almost forgot about why I hate St. Patrick’s Day in the first place. Then a ruddy-faced, non-accented man came up to me and told me he was Irish. Everyone seems to claim this on St. Patrick’s, my great-great-grandpappy or whatever. He told me Irish history was long and sad (I hadn’t asked) and that they were, among other things, slaves in North America right along with the blacks (his word). I told him I had never heard of that and edged away, but over the last few days it’s been nagging at me, this notion of Irish slavery.

Normally, this sort of non-standard history is something I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. But, I work for a website that has a tab labeled “conspiracy, ” and I was losing sleep, I had to do something.

 After consulting the internet, to mildly horrifying results, I have some conclusions, and they are as follows.

First, let me say that the idea of Irish slavery in the Americas is at best notional, at worst an outright falsehood. Though many thousands of Irish prisoners were forced into indentured colonial servitude, none were ever designated as slaves outright. What initially drew my attention to this narrative was the surprising proliferation of Irish slave memes on alt-right websites. Here are some examples:

The memes differ, but the principal argument seems to be that white Irish were brought over to America as slaves, they were valued less than African slaves and that for some reason constitutes an argument as to why racism in contemporary America is either invalid or inflated by the legacy of African slavery. Having consulted the relevant sources, this whole narrative is bunk. Here’s why.