The Irish-Italian Connection

Someone recently recited to me the famous line, "Una faccia, una razza" (One face, one race).

No doubt Mediterranean history and civilization involving Greece and Italy is intimately intertwined. It's a matter of historical fact that the nations (Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Lebanon, Israel to name a few) of the Mediterranean (including Arabs who introduced a form of pasta in Sicily) all share similar social and cultural traits.

However, speaking strictly from a North American perspective, Italians also share a tight common bond with the Irish. In fact, I wonder if the Irish-Italian axis is tighter than the Greek-Italian one. A voice with more authority would be needed here.

Despite a history that hasn't always been friendly, they do share many similar traits - religion, fighting spirit, artistic flair and general flamboyance. It's a connection I've observed. I could be wrong. Of course, it probably runs deeper than I'm treating it here.

I've made the same observations with the Jewish community. Which explains the phenomena of Jews playing Italians in pop culture. With Henry Winkler being one of the most famous as The Fonz.

Seriously, is there a more endearing rebel in television pop culture history than Fonzie?



  1. Interesting this Irish-Italian axis, and also this Jewish-Italian axis, in North America.

    If the latter has probably to do with a common Mediterranean origin (it is amazing how Henry Winkler looks Italian), the former can be due, as far as I can tell, to the common Catholic religion and to the fact that the Italian and the Irish were initially very poor and also at first not much considered or respected by the English-origined folks.

    I need here a voice with authority more than you do. But I am fascinated by all these Europeans transplanted into the New World and their interactions. It is one of the myths of modern times.

  2. I knew you'd like this one.

    Well, Jews and Italians have a certain, shall we say, impoliteness to them. They share similar outlooks on various things.

    You're on the right track with the Irish-Italians vis-vis the English but they were generally more adversaries. I'm not sure when they became more united (inter-marriages etc.) but this is more of an American thing. In Canada, French-Canadian-Italian is the equivalent.

    It's an interesting thing indeed but I don't want to over state it either. After all, we should be American and Canadian. Clinging on to nationality should be a personal thing in my opinion.

    At this point, the Irish and Italians are pretty much North American.

  3. As for the poverty of the Irish/Italians. As you know, the vast majority of Italians here come from the South of Italy.

    Very little come from the North - which of course is wealthier.

  4. Interesting stuff. As far as I know many Italian Canadians came from the North-eastern regions of Italy, too (mostly from Veneto and Friuli). North-eastern Italians seemed to prefer Canada, Argentina, and Brasil to the US.

  5. Yes, there are from this region but not in great numbers as far as I know. My neighbour, incidentally, is from Friulli - beautiful dialect.

    The largest are from Sicily, Molise, Calabria and Campania.

  6. It's an interesting thing indeed but I don't want to over state it either. After all, we should be American and Canadian.

    Well, of course, but I find also interesting how these ex-Europeans were transformed into Americans, Canadians, Argentinians etc. The ones of Italian origin I know, for example, provide me loads of information (more than any book) on New World stuff and what can be left of Italianità in them. Amazing topic.

    Btw, less feeling among Greeks and Italians in America and Canada?

  7. PS
    I knew of this Italian and Irish sort of initial war. Well, the Irish are sort of Hyperboreans to the Italians (and Italians are aliens to them: they come from the extreme ends of Europe, after all).

    The way the Irish live their Catholic religion, for example, seems much stricter etc. and I think being raised by Irish nuns like a nightmare lol.

    One Italian-American once told me: "They are not free people as we are".

    Just shot these things.

    I knew you'd like this one
    I liked also other things, but lacked time :-)

  8. PPS

    Am i becoming predictable? (I stole this one too from my Hindu reader Ashish). He is a gifted young man (19) who has erased (or lost) a blog of his that was a jewel of humour and wit.

    Here is his new blog:


    Trying to eradicate his insane passion for metal music (with negligible success)

  9. They definitely come from a stricter Catholic background - just like in Europe I believe. Irish parochial schools run by nuns are legendary.

    I have to look for a speech By Bono and Bruce Springsteen referring to the Italian-Irish thing and post it here.

    The Greek/Italian thing here is a little more complicated. In general, there are no problems but I don't think there's a "kindred" feeling despite the history that unites them in Europe. I could be wrong. I wonder if religion plays a part in this. After all, the Great Schism did take place.

    My instincts say they're closer to Jews and Irish and French. Greeks are intensely nationalist when it comes to their heritage - more so than any of the aforementioned.

    But I want to stop here and think about this further lest I do a disservice to all.

  10. Interesting what you have said, anyway. Thanks

  11. I live in Ireland, and I havn't got a clue what you or Bono or Bruce Springsteen are on about. I study history, and as far as i'm aware Ireland and Italy have had very little contact historically. And we are pale skinned, women not as attractive as Italian girls. We are shy and reserved, only changed in the pub when we become more relaxed- Italians are naturally gregarious and passionate about all things- including driving, football, street festivals etc. Plus we have shite weather, which gives the land the glowing colours- Italians have impeccable weather and vineyards, including beautiful beaches and aqua-turquoise coloured seas. The Italians are lucy- they are also beside other Europeans and continentals- unlike us stuck on this bloody island- its worse than England, cause there only one island of the continent, where two off.

    So to wrap it up its just that I found this argument very unusual, I would have thought of Ireland/Irish people been something simliar to the Welsh people and Wales, not a Meditterean country like Italy.

  12. Thanks David. It's nice to hear a voice from "over there."

    And therein lies the oddity of the relationship in these parts. As we discussed in the post, Italians-French-Irish tended to inter-marry quite a bit. The Italian/Irish neighborhoods are legendary.

    I guess you have to be here to know what "we're going on about."

    But you aptly described the nations(though not sure if the Irish who have become quite nationalistic it seems around these parts would be happy!) and you're right: contact between the two in a continental European setting was scant.

  13. But don't you feel there's a certain "spirit" to Irish literature and music that connects to Italians?

  14. Hi The Commentator, thanks for responding to my comments. Whatever about Ireland having little connection with Italy historically (laughably according to legend, the Roman legions we're chased by Irish women back into their ships!! The old saying if the women we're like that, imagine what the men we're like! lol)- despite this, we have very strong links historically with Spain and France. Something like 75% of the Irish population (up to 90% in parts of the West of Ireland) are related to the people of Northern Spain, and Southern France. Also when you consider that the Normans, and later Spanish traders and armada naval soldiers landed here, there was also a mix. For instance for thousands of years people in Ireland spoke of the "Mils la Espana. So Americans with Irish descendents probably also have Iberian and French lineage!! (John FITZGERALD Kennedy, means Son of Gerald in French- and he married a French-American!), and the Irish have always felt this connection. Here are some links

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_eDpVKt6n4&feature=related (PAT FLANNERY- IRISH HISTORIAN)



    Also, there are dozens of other links similiar to this. Try wikipedia and google for stuff like "Irish,basque", "Irish, Spanish", "Irish, Norman", "Spanish, Galway" etc etc. Also don't know why but somebody in Barcelona started speaking Spanish to me, lol- hmm an odd coicidence if there was ever one.
    What are some of ye on about "the Irish strict catholics"????!! PLEASE ARE YOU TAKING THE PISS. While we've devout and jansenistic in our mass sermons, LET ME TELL YOU for the other 6 days we're the worst, a-la-carte catholics ever!! We always have been, Irish people hate rules so they do lol- and when we get out for the few drinks, or want to something, us Irish (whether 17 or 70 years old, in the 21st, 19th, 16th centuries or whenever) where never goin to some feckers tell us how to do things. TRUST ME you no very little of us Irish- we're a clever bunch of loveable rogues and rascals!! lol (Del boy has nothin on us!). Yer man who said that obviously has never lived here. But ye do have a point, like other catholics, deep down we love our church- its given us so much (culture, one of the best education systems in world, and free, and opening our country to other countries and cultures for centuries and millenia)

  15. Also our Spanish and French brothers we're always there for us, whether the armada or the year of the French. As they knew, you take Ireland, you have England and your mercy. Ironic really

  16. Pardon me but the connection for the video doesn't work. Google this


    Go to the youtube channel for caemgen51 and somewhere you should find the videos about Spain and Ireland. Tis a good old blog for looking up irish history

  17. Thanks David. Will get to the links first chance I get.

    Irish relations with the French continued here in Quebec too. Again, I'm speaking more about what's going on in urban settings here in North America.

    In a European context, I completely understand what you speak of.

    Don't under estimate our knowledge of Irish ruffian cleverness. ;<)

  18. Hello commentator, have always been interested in the Quebec case- do the French and Irish get along? Btw if you've been drinkin Irish, you kiss like a shark, not like an Italian!! We've not very good romantics you know. Its ironic here in grand ould Dublin there are 1.5 million Irish people, in America, Britain and Australia there seems to be millions. Have you ever been to Dublin? You'll like the Georgian and Victorian brick terraces

  19. I've never been to Ireland but one of my goals is to get my sorry ass to Ireland and the UK one day.

    Yes, the Irish population in North America is huge - in the tens of millions claim an Irish background. A remarkable thing. The Irish and Italians were the largest emigrants in the post-war era. The Irish (along with Germans and Scandinavians) arrival preceded Italians by 50 years. The Irish began large arrivals in the 1840s and Italians 1890s.

    Franco-Quebec-Irish relations is a complex but interesting one. I can't speak to what they (that reminds me I need to call my Irish buddy Matt soon) think about French-Canadians as a whole but from a neutral observer, it's an intricate relationship.

    Like Italians, inter marriage between the two was made easy due to the Catholic backgrounds.

    Many Quebecois have Irish family names because of Irish immigrants orphaned after a cholera breakout at Grosse Ile - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grosse_Ile,_Quebec

    They faced prejudice (like all immigrants) in their new land and they certainly fought for their rights. They built great churches and schools - again, not unlike Italians or Jews for that matter.

    Loyola College and St. Patrick's are two great Montreal institutions (education and church) built by the Irish. Irish-Scots and Wlesh Canadians in general built great institutions.

    Once hostilities (the Shiners, St. Leonard Riots with Italians etc.) slowed down, Irish-French relations moderated. In any event, I would guess the Irish had more of hatred for the English than French-Canadians. Today, all communities share a common ground and respect.

    But there's a clinker to all this. If there are hostilities it's with regards to politics and not culture. Some French-Canadians (nationalists) want to separate from Canada. Ethnic minorities do not share this position Irish and Italians included. They form a formidable power base along with the Cree in the North, Greeks, Portuguese, Jews and Chinese in their opposition to breaking Canada up.

    This is a scattered synopsis, so forgive its structure.

  20. FYI and pleasure (FYIAP): Springsteen's speech inducted U2 in the R&R Hall of Fame:

    "We met afterwards and they were nice young men. They were Irish. Irish! Now, this would play an enormous part in their success in the States. For what the English occasionally have the refined sensibilities to overcome, we Irish and Italians have no such problem. We come through the door fists and hearts first. U2, with the dark, chiming sound of heaven at their command -- which, of course, is the sound of unrequited love and longing, their greatest theme -- their search for God intact. This was a band that wanted to lay claim to not only this world but had their eyes on the next one, too."

    Read the whole transcript here:


  21. In Dublin's fair city,
    where the girls are so pretty,
    I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
    As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
    Through streets broad and narrow,
    Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

    "Alive, alive, oh,
    Alive, alive, oh",
    Crying "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh".

    She was a fishmonger,
    And sure 'twas no wonder,
    For so were her father and mother before,
    And they each wheeled their barrow,
    Through streets broad and narrow,
    Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"


    She died of a fever[N 1],
    And no one could save her,
    And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
    Now her ghost wheels her barrow,
    Through streets broad and narrow,
    Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

    There you go, not even Rome or Paris or London has an anthem like that!! You'll like Dublin me friend, its much different from the Continental cities, in as most buildings are brick, we drive on the left and have the lowest car ownership (45%) rate in the European Union, so thers not as much traffic. Plus theres a million double decker buses which you should like. Also heres a link to put you in the mood- its lovely when they play them on the tour buses, going around the beautiful squares of Dublin.
    An interestng article put up about U2 and yer man Bruce Spingsteen. Its good to know ye French Canadians get along good with the Irish- the French in France certainly get along with us, as usual their not too enamoured by "perfidious albion" so to speak
    You have to love France, beautiful country- and the prettiest wimmin in the world!!

  22. Here you go- Dublin's anthem so to speak


  23. This one is always a runner up to Molly Malone, try the link for Spanish lady. Pity you can't enjoy a cup of lyons or bewleys though! Poor North Americans feckers! Ah no


  24. On a returning note, I would like whoever said that Italians have more freedom than us Irish, retract that statement. The first evidence against your claim is the inquistion which existed in latin Europe for centuries, and not on this green island. Let me tell you your forefathers had someway of desposing of heretics- all I can add is that at least Jack the Ripper was humane in comparison. Italian catholics have no match for the Irish value of Individual liberties, how dare ye dribble such vile doublespeak and slander

  25. WOW, WOW, WOW. I didn't know of this great development of the discussion. I have swine flu now :-(

    But I'll come back!

    Dave, so pleased to meet you!!

    Commish, I guess we know each other already ;-)

  26. we r good to look at and we love life .i am irish.i go to italy my best friends are italian and i love every thing italian. when i am in italy i say i am irish i am treated like an italian.

  27. I'm Italian-Irish, from NJ. It's really kind of interesting, I'm trying to do some research on it, because 'Italian-American' is a popular object of cultural studies, but the Italian Irish are an even more nuanced version. I speak fluent Italian and identify very much with my Italian heritage, but I never quite fit in with the 'Italian Americans.' For whatever reason, 3rd and 4th generation immigrants tend to want to be really exclusive about their 'ethnicity' and not let anyone in, so growing up if you weren't 100% Italian (or Irish) you were out, or just American. That was always ironic to me since my grandparents were from southern Italy, I speak Italian and know more about Italian culture than Italian Americans here, but it's kind of true, the Italian Irish, as much as the Italian Jewish mix, are their own people.
    I never could relate to other Italian kids as much as the ones with the Irish background. To me, Italian (Americans) were so dramatic and the Irish brought this tragic realism to the table. To the Irish everything is so heavy and real and I really appreciate having inherited some of that mentality as opposed to a tendency towards fantasy and loud drama (which is also unique). But for whatever reason, Italian-Irish intermarriages in US immigrant society was really common. Somehow they attracted each other. I think this should be explored.

  28. I agree, ennagagliano!

    David, two years later, I think you're referring to the Spanish inquisition.

  29. David, I think the quote about the "Irish not being free" refers to the Irish in the USA. There was a difference in the forms of Catholicism practiced by various ethnic groups in the US. Polish, German and Italian Catholics saw Irish Catholicism as being very strict and puritanical. The quote refers to the amount of guilt the Irish in America carried with them wherever they went (or so it seemed to other types of people).

    Of course, culture has changed in the USA and certainly in Ireland. It's an old quote that's gone out of date.

  30. I'm Irish living in Ireland but I have also been lucky enough to live in the USA. I've got to say there are differences between the Irish in North America and the Irish in Ireland. For example as David has said the Irish in Ireland can be shy and quite but I find this to be more related to certain topics such as politics and the economy (it can be a very touchy subject here!!!) so its always best to know who you are talking to before making a comment on the matter (similar to how Sicilians are so maybe a bonding point here). However we can be very loud and talkative when it comes to just starting up conversations with random people whether on the bus or train or with noticeable tourists.

    Irish in The USA however tend to be a lot more vocal about their feelings on nearly every topic regardless of how sensitive the issue may be (I think this is to do with growing up in America). In general nearly all Irish and Italians show a love for music, food and going out with friends to have the laugh and drink.

    As David has said above a lot of Irish from the west have dark features (black hair, dark brown hair, brown eyes, tan skin) this has been put down to a link with Northern Spain, Portugal. I would put myself into that category but my grandmother is actually Spanish so I don't really count here lol.

  31. Thanks for the continued comments!

  32. Grew up in an Irish/ Italian neighborhood in Queens NYC and I have always loved the Italians! I'm 100% Irish, both parents from the Emerald isle and as a kid I remember the big Italian family that lived down the street because they threw the best parties for us kids on the block. We grew up together in New York, the Irish and the Italians and we have alot in common in an opposite kind of way we are alot alike if that makes any sense. In the family of Europe I think the Irish and the Italians are the expressive/type A personality kids! There are still nieghborhoods with a pub and a pizzeria on every other corner. Also both islands were invaded alot in history and both countries embraced Christianity.

  33. Thank you for that net story, Margaret. Love it. They are indeed blessed with a deep personality trait. I remember reading years ago someone saying that Switzerland without the Italians is like a garden without flowers.

    On a side note, while I mentioned the Mediterranean character of Italy in the original post, I'm guilty of under playing the Germanic influence-connection in the North which is profound as well.

  34. From personal experience the irish werent as pretty as the italians or the greeks. They seem to be so bitter when receiving services from the catholic church or other outreach resources. I dont know were that narcistic view of life comes in at because so many of them are poor. Ththerapy seems to be laughed at while their spouses are locked up in houses and treated like prisoners. The crime would have been having children. The jewish culture is more sensative. Less barbaric . And oh god the irish are like way to filty. I mean like to were rats want to breed. And i never understood it. Why want that torture...on purpose. Fuckin l id rather trust the french. A canadian. The british. I could go on and on


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