Irish Twins

I came across the phrase “Irish Twins” for the first time today, used on one of the genealogical Facebook groups I’m a member of. I’d never heard it before.

“Irish Twins” is used to refer to siblings born in the same year. For example, one in January and one in December of the same calendar year. It is also sometimes used simply to refer to siblings born within a 12 month period, even if not within one calendar year.

It’s origins come from around the time of large numbers of Irish immigrants to the United States, and it started as a derogatory term implying that the Roman Catholic Irish, who didn’t use contraception, were unable to plan to have their babies more spaced out.

These days it just appears to be used as term to refer to babies born close together, and in fact many couples are deliberately choosing to have their children as close together as possible.

Two teddy bears with phrase: My house isn't messy, it's custom designed by Irish Twins

If I look through my Unst Family Tree there are many families where the babies are born close together, and where the term “Irish Twins” could be applied, but I suspect the term wasn’t known or used in Shetland in the 1800s and that it was quite normal to have children as nature took its course. In fact, when you see a family with gaps between children, or a gap after marriage before the first child was born, you are more inclined to wonder whether there were some problems with the pregnancies that undoubtedly happened in those gaps.


5 thoughts on “Irish Twins

  1. Hi Morag! Yes, I would think the same thing when there are long period of time in which no children were born. There is another custom among some immigrant groups of naming a child after an ancestor. If that child died within a year or two after birth, the next baby would get that name if they were of the same sex as the child who died.

    Personally speaking I’d be uncomfortable using the term “Irish Twins” today. It’s one thing if you’re of that ancestry and want to make the comment but to an outsider it’s best to refrain. Same goes for any other ethnic or racial group.

    • During the research I did for this post, I initially didn’t know the origins, just that it was for siblings born close together. When I found the origins, I wondered whether I should write the post at all. Then I found lots of pages where mums are celebrating their Irish Twins, lots of help pages for mums to cope with two babies so close together, and generally people using the phrase in a non-derogatory way. It seemed that despite it’s origins, modern day mums were celebrating their Irish Twins, and so I decided to post after all.

  2. We had in our family Irish Triplets with children born in 1975, 1976, and 1977. We lived in a large Irish neighborhood and we all used the term Irish Twins. No one seemed bothered with it being politically correct. We were too busy raising our family’s, going to work, church on Sundays, and having great fun. How often I think of those good times.

    • As EmilyAnn says in her comment, if an Irish person uses it, that’s fair enough. I do think from what I’ve read, that most don’t consider it derogatory anymore.

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