Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Irish ethnicity is common in the world, as many people are descended from Ireland or share an Irish heritage.
In the Republic of Ireland most people consider themselves to be descended from a mixture of three broad groups; the prehistoric indigenous people of the isles, the successive waves of Gaels from continental Europe who began arriving here as far back as 5,000 BC ; and several subsequent ones (Vikings, Normans, English and Lowland Scots) who either invaded or settled from the Middle Ages onwards.
- See also: Irish surnames
It is common for some Irish surnames to be anglicized, meaning that they were changed to sound more English. This usually occurred with Irish immigrants arriving in the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It is also very common for people of Gaelic origin to have surnames beginning with "O" or "Mc" (less frequently "Mac" and occasionally shortened to just "Ma" at the beginning of the name). However, many names starting with "Ma" and assumed to be Irish, are actually Welsh. "O" comes from Ui (or hUa or Ua) which means "grandson of". For example, the descendants of High King of Ireland Brian Boru were known as the O'Brien clan. "Mc", as with Scottish prefix of "Mac" (the Irish and Highland Scots sharing a similar Gaelic heritage), meant "son of"; many names also begin with this. Some common surnames that begin with O are: O'Niell, O'Brien, O'Leary, O'Shaugnessy, O'Donnell, O'Toole, O'Meara, O'Malley, O'Hara, and O'Bradaigh. Some names that begin with Mc are: McGonigle, McGroyn, McGuinty, McStiofain, McDonagh, McDonald, McGuinness, McGonigle, McGuire and many others.
"Fitz" is an Irish version of the old Norman word "fils" meaning son. A few names that begin with Fitz are: FitzGerald, FitzSimmons, FitzGibbons, FitzPatrick and FitzHenry. Certain names that begin with the Norman Fitz were originally like Irish, but were then Normanized through intermarriages and alliances. For example, FitzSimmons comes from MacSioman; Mac Giolla Padhraig became FitzPatrick.
Irish people with Normanized Irish names are also of Gaelic descent, in the late 12th and 13th centuries Norman Barons invaded Ireland and took over parts of the country. However after a short while, their allegiance to England ended, they intermarried with ruling Irish clans, adopted Irish culture and the Irish language and as the English put it "became as Irish as the Irish themselves". Aside from the Anglo-Irish upper class, the Normans became heavily assimilated into Irish culture and today the "Norman"-Irish really do not have many ethnic differences.
After Ireland became subdued by England in 1603 the English - under James I of England (reigned 1603 - 1625), Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (term 1653 - 1658) , William III of England (reigned 1689 - 1702) and their successors - began the settling of Protestant English and later Scottish colonists into the northern province of Ulster. However they did not intermarry heavily or integrate upon arrival with the native Irish like the Normans did centuries earlier.
It is predominately religion, history and political differences (Irish nationalism vs. British unionism) that divide the two communities, as most of the Scotch-Irish settlers are of Gaelic origin themselves and therefore related to their Irish Catholic neighbours.
In 1921, with Irish independence, 6 counties in Ulster which all had a small protestant majority were separated from the rest of the country to create the Northern Ireland. That is why Northern Ireland is almost split in half between Catholics and Protestants, while the Republic of Ireland is almost 96% Roman Catholic.
"Ulster-Irish" surnames tend to differ based on which community families originate from. Ulster Protestants tend to have either English or Scottish surnames while Irish Catholics tend to have Irish surnames.
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