Black Irish Celebration

Couple Eon and Miriam Nyhan Grey, Jordan Carey, and NYU professor Mike Gomez. (Photos James Higgins)

By Irish America Staff
March / April 2020

An extraordinary gathering of Irish and African-American leaders took place at the Irish Consulate in New York on Wednesday night, February 26, 2020 to celebrate Black History Month. Irish Consul General Ciarán Madden called together leaders in the Irish and African-American communities who shared Irish heritage to create new links and forge a new organization.

Pamela Miller and Ciaran Madden.

In his remarks, Madden referred to the fact that it is contended that one-third of African-Americans have Irish ancestry, and while there are some dark aspects to how that Irish link came about during slavery, it is also clear that there was collaboration, cooperation, and intermarriage that are worthy of attention and celebration. Dennis Brownlee, a successful media entrepreneur who has traced his own part-Irish heritage back to Niall of the Nine Hostages, heads the African American Irish Diaspora Network. Brownlee became interested in the Irish part of his heritage through his friendship with Stella O’Leary, head of Irish American Democrats.

African-American cultural expert Lenwood Sloan said there
is a history of intermarriage between the two communities in places such as New Orleans that dates back to a time when both were dying by the thousands due to the harsh labor of draining swamps.

At the bottom of the ladder, many Irish men lost their lives as they were placed first in the swamps, ahead of the slaves. “If a slave dies, you lose the price of property. If an Irishman dies, you can get another one,” was the general consensus.

The network was also launched by an emotional speech by Miriam Nyhan Grey, the associate director of Irish and Irish-American Studies at NYU university, whose husband is of Jamaican heritage. Back in 2015, Nyhan Grey had been instrumental in creating a seminar about the Black and Irish experience and influence on each other, and the evening was the culmination of her efforts to increase awareness of the history and culture of Black Irish Americans and the relevance of a Black History month gathering in an Irish space. 

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