Why do the Irish have Red Hair?

If you’re planning on visiting us here on the Emerald Isle anytime soon, you might catch sight of more “red heads” or “gingers” than usual…

But is it a lazy stereotype? Or are there actually more Irish red heads than you’d expect to find elsewhere?

Well, according to World Population Review, approximately 10% of our population on this island has red hair! And to put that in context, the national average elsewhere is around the 2% mark.

So, why do so many Irish people have red hair?

Why do the Irish have Red Hair?

Red hair is thought to have come to prominence in Ireland because of two sets of people; the Celts and the Vikings. 

The Celts were tribes of people who lived across Europe during the Iron Age and spoke using Celtic languages. They were great fighters and farmers and lived in smaller clans which formed the bigger tribes. Many also had red hair and as they were settled in Ireland this is one of the reasons that red hair is so common in the country today.  

The other set of people thought to be responsible for bringing red hair to Ireland was the Vikings.

The Vikings were known for travelling by longboat and carrying out raids on countries, which included Britain and Ireland.

Irish history is closely interlinked with Vikings, and many town names and street names feature those connections right up to the present day! When they eventually settled in Ireland it’s thought they also brought the red hair gene with them which is still so prominent in Ireland to this very day. 

So, as you can see from this brief look back through history, a combination of both of these sets of people living in Ireland is one of the main reasons that approximately 10% of Irish people have red hair today. 

Are there any other reasons why there are so many people with red hair in Ireland?

As well as the theory of the Celts and Vikings causing red hair to become so prominent in Ireland, there are also other reasons why this could have happened. 

  • Location of the country: Redheads are more common in northern Europe and simply because of Ireland’s geographical positioning this could be why there are more redheads in this part of the world.
  • Climate: As Ireland has a cooler climate this is more favourable for red-haired people so this could be another reason why you see more redheads. 

Is Ireland the European Country with the Most Redheads?

This is a tough one to answer, but it is thought that our neighbours in Scotland have a higher percentage of red-haired people than Ireland with a figure of around 13% of the total population. 

Reasons for this are very similar to why you see many redheads in Ireland, but as Scotland is even further north than Ireland their climate is potentially even more favourable to red-haired people. 

The science on this is sketchy, so it may simply be one of the mysteries of the world.

The Irish Redhead Convention

However, despite not holding the overall crown, nobody celebrates red hair like the Irish and every year at the Irish Redhead Convention they celebrate the rarest hair colour in the world, in style. 

Taking place in Crosshaven, County Cork, the festival celebrates everything about having red hair and also raises money for charity at the same time. It’s a fantastic spectacle to see such a large gathering of red-haired people. 

Famous Red-Haired Irish 

Whether they come from Ireland or not, there are plenty of red-haired celebrities with serious talents that are prominent in the public eye. Let’s take a look at a few famous redheads who flaunt that fabulous red-haired gene.

  • Maureen O’Hara: The famous actress, from the Golden Age of Hollywood, featured in arguably the most famous Irish movie ever, The Quiet Man.
  • Ed Sheeran: Are there many people on the planet who haven’t heard of Ed Sheeran? Although not from Ireland himself, his grandparents are Irish and it’s easy to see that he has the strong red hair gene. 
  • Michael Fassbender: This Irish actor has an Irish mother and a German father, but thankfully his red hair Irish genes are on show for everyone to see. 
  • Brendan Gleeson: One of the best actors to ever come out of Ireland. Born in Dublin and starred in major films such as Harry Potter and Braveheart, this red-haired actor shows off the gene to the whole world. 
  • Domhnall Gleeson: Brendan’s son Domhnall is similarly red up top and has featured in incredible movies including The Revenant, Brooklyn and Star Wars, to name but a few.

Medical Reasons for the Prominence of Red Hair in Ireland

Now we’ve covered all the possible reasons why red hair is dominant in Ireland, we’d like to finally throw a bit of science at you before we go!

The overall responsibility as to why Irish people have red hair is because of a genetic mutation known as the MC1R gene which directly affects the production of melanin. 

The red hair gene can be hidden by other hair colours but as it’s recessive, no matter how well it’s hidden under hair dye it will still be passed onto future generations, meaning that Ireland will always have a strong red-haired population. Pretty cool!

Next time you’re in Ireland you’ll now understand the reason for seeing so many people with red hair.