Those stupid Irish and their inferior brains

I don’t know whether this article from 1971 is aggravating or hilarious. Hans Eysenck, one of those IQ guys, tried to argue that the Irish were less brainy than the English. (I’m immediately disavowing my sliver of Irish ancestry).

His source of information is Arthur Jensen, and he makes absurd claims like, Might not American Negroes be genetically inferior because their forebears were too stupid to escape from the slave raiders? and that ghetto inhabitants may have “selected” their own environment as a consequence of genetically determined low intelligence.

I’m going to have to point out that James Watson proudly claimed Scots/Irish ancestry.


  1. nomdeplume says

    There seems to be a common theme emerging among some scientists that all the ethnic groups they don’t belong to are genetically and intellectually inferior, for perfectly good scientific reasons, to the one they do belong to. Isn’t coincidence an amazing thing?

  2. robro says

    In 1979 I hitched a ride across Northumbria with a lory driver who went on at length about the stupid lazy Irish moving to England, getting on the dole, and having lots of babies to get more money. This was essentially what my dad said about black people. My dad was of his Irish ancestry, and while he never made a big deal about it, he was somewhat proud of the fact.

  3. says

    Dumb??? A distant ancestor of mine developed the Irish railway network.Several of his descendants and relatives migrated to Australia where many of them had a role in the development of the railway network in New South Wales. My Uncle who worked in the communication and signals branch was responsible for modernising the signalling network and introducing computer controlled signals. When he retired he became an author and was still writing in his 90’s. He was no outlier either. I come from a generation of high achievers with most having at minimum a uni degree. The Scots on the other hand? Well the Irish gave them the bagpipes as a joke and they still haven’t worked it out. then there is the legend of Finn McCool. This clearly demonstrates that Irish men get their brains from their women-folk who can be positively evil.

  4. microraptor says

    Well, my Irish ancestors were dumb.

    They moved to Virginia and supported the Confederacy.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    garydargan @3:

    the Irish gave them the bagpipes as a joke and they still haven’t worked it out

    A common misconception. The Irish are simply incapable of understanding Ceòl Mòr.

  6. says

    “Racial superiority has always been a delicate subject: today, more than ever, it’s an intellectual minefield.” If by some chance you’re still around, Bruce Page, Peter Pringle, and Stephan Fry, your sentence should have read “Racial superiority has always been a load of nonsense.” Bullshit would have been a better word than nonsense, but the Sunday Times probably wouldn’t have let you use it in the halcyon days of 1971.

  7. says

    Sorry, that should have been Stephen Fay. I don’t want to call out some Stephen Fry who was a newspaper writer in 1971, and would have liked to use bullshit to describe racial superiority.

  8. KG says

    I’m going to have to point out that James Watson proudly claimed Scots/Irish ancestry.

    I don’t know exactly what Watson claims, but “Scots-Irish” (with a hyphen) usually means descendants of those Scots colonists transplanted to Ireland in the 17th century to uphold British and Protestant rule. Although there must have been some mixing, they have remained a distinct community to this day – hence the “Troubles”.

  9. says

    I seem to remember reading somewhere (and long ago) that early ‘IQ’ tests on immigrants to the US showed that the ones who had been in the country longest scored highest: the obvious conclusion being that the smartest ones emigrated first and the dumbest just followed!
    Absolutely nothing to do with any possibility of cultural bias in the tests or the presumably ridiculous notion that the ones who had come first had had more time to acculturate.

  10. KG says


    Well, there was that obscure period sometimes referred to as the “Scottish Enlightenment”, but you’ve probably never heard of those involved – David Hume, Adam Smith, James Hutton… And there was a long period when Aberdeen alone had as many universities as England, but whatever…

    Hugh Trevor-Roper, in a book entitled The Invention of Tradition does point out that most of the current signifiers of Scottishness were either imported from Ireland (bagpipes, Gaelic), or invented by Englishmen (the kilt, the so-called “Clan tartans”); and moreover, would have been regarded with disdain by most Scots until recently, being associated only with the “backward” inhabitants of the Highlands.

  11. says

    Oh! and the Scots/Irish thing is unbelievably complicated with people bouncing back and forth at least from the time of the Dál Riata, not to mention that St Patrick (well, at least one of him) and some of the early Welsh kingdoms show that it’s pretty general all round the Irish Sea.
    And don’t get me started on bagpipes! They are found all over the place and all sorts of times. AND the Irish (forepost) harp was (mainly on iconic evidence) likely invented in Northumbria!!

  12. nomadiq says

    Wait wait. Can someone please define intelligence first? And devise a way to measure it across populations as well.

    My hunch is, if you could actually define it you’ll find the question of how to measure it across populations quite pointless.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @11: And of course the Scots language was imported from England, in pretty much the same sense as Gaelic was imported from Ireland.

    …the “backward” inhabitants of the Highlands

    According to John Prebble, Lowlanders referred to them as “the Gallows Herd”. Perhaps a bit more offensive than “teuchter”.

  14. jacksprocket says

    Eysenck therefore IQ. Gould did the reductio ad excrementum on him over 35 years ago, and he wasn’t the first.

    “the Scots language was imported from England”
    Not reely. The Anglo- Saxon language was imported from Anglosaxia to England and Scotland (southeast Scotland was part of Northumbria), somewhat modified by Scandiwegians and their big axes, and developed as separate but closely parallel dialects thereafter. As for bagpipes, @12 must have been reading too much Grattan-Flood. And it’s not at all certain that Gaelic was imported from Ireland, at least not on the usually accepted timescale.

    @3: “Several of his descendants and relatives migrated to Australia where many of them had a role in the development of the railway network in New South Wales.”
    Which is why it ended up 1600mm gauge instead of the standard 1435mm, much to everyone’s disgust.

  15. mailliw says

    Traditionally the English tell the same derogatory jokes about the Irish as the Canadians do about the Newfoundlanders and the Germans about the Austrians.

    I remember talking to an Irish colleague who informed me that in Ireland people tell the same jokes about the people from county Limerick (as far as I can remember, it was some time ago). The people in Limerick tell the same jokes about people from a particular town in the county. The people in that town tell jokes about the people from a particular neighbourhood. The people in the neighbourhood tell the jokes about the people in a particular street.

    So I asked who the people in that street told jokes about, to which he replied “well, the English obviously”. I should have seen that one coming!

  16. KG says

    And of course the Scots language was imported from England, in pretty much the same sense as Gaelic was imported from Ireland. – Rob Grigjanis@14

    That depends on what you mean by “the Scots language”. Actual Scots (sometimes called “broad Scots”) is pretty much unintelligible to me in spoken form, although I can understand it fairly easily when written; it’s best regarded as a sibling language to English, and the two developed around the same time (late first millennium) as a lingua franca all down the east coast of Britain. But English as most Scots now speak it has indeed been imported from England.

  17. KG says

    I see jacksprocket@15 made much the same point as me about Scots. As for the relationship between Scots and Irish, 1066 and All That clears the matter up definitively:

    The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @18: Rather OT, but I have to add one of my favourite passages from that lovely book;

    Julius Caesar was therefore compelled to invade Britain again the following year (54 B.C., not 56, owing to the peculiar Roman method of counting), and having defeated the Ancient Britons by unfair means, such as battering-rams, tortoises, hippocausts, centipedes, axes, and bundles, set the memorable Latin sentence, `Veni, Vidi, Vici’, which the Romans, who were all very well educated, construed correctly.

    The Britons, however, who of course still used the old pronunciation, understanding him to have called them `Weeny, Weedy, and Weaky’, lost heart and gave up the struggle, thinking that he had already divided them All into Three Parts.

    Culture among the Ancient Britons

    The Ancient Britons were by no means savages before the Conquest, and had already made great strides in civilization, e.g. they buried each other in long round wheelbarrows (agriculture) and burnt each other alive (religion) under the guidance of even older Britons called Druids or Eisteddfods, who worshipped the Middletoe in the famous Druidical churchyard at Stoke Penge.

    The Roman Conquest was, however, a Good Thing, since the Britons were only natives at that time.

  19. says

    KG and Rob: Totally OT, but you reminded me of the passage from that slim volume that I read at my wedding, it was titled The Boston Tea-party “One day when George III was insane ……. it prevented America from having any more History.”
    That was in Upstate New York—and I didn’t even get lynched!