The term “Irish twins” is used to describe two children born to the same mother within 12 months of each other or born in the same calendar year. Given that it is a somewhat derogatory term, it is generally not used in print or in polite society. As is the case with many terms with derogatory origins, some people use it without thinking about the implications of the deeper meaning. Learning about the roots of these terms and the meaning behind them can help people to decide whether or not they are appropriate for common use.
The roots of the idea behind the term are actually quite old, although no one knows when, exactly, people first began to talk about Irish twins. In both England and the United States, a massive influx of Irish immigration in the 1800s led to a negative connotation with Irish people and society. This often happens when a large immigrant group begins to settle in mass numbers in a new country. The Irish were accused of being backward and uncultured, and it was assumed that they were uneducated, dirty, and a general pox on society. As a result, the use of the word “Irish” began to be pejorative.
A number of derogatory terms incorporating stereotypes about the Irish began to emerge, including “Irish confetti” for thrown bricks and “Irish kiss” for a slap. Irish twins fits into this vernacular, and is actually insulting on multiple levels.
Firstly, the term pokes fun at the stereotypical fertility of Irish Catholic families, which traditionally do not use birth control. In addition, it implies that the Irish lack the ability to plan ahead or control themselves, having children in quick succession rather than responsibly spacing them. Finally, it suggests that the Irish do not understand the medical definition of twins, which involves two children conceived and born together.
A variation on the term is “Irish triplets,” which means three children born within three years. Parents who have Irish twins or triplets often struggle with a variety of issues, since having two or three very young children to manage can be very stressful. As the children grow up, the parents may encounter other difficulties as well, such as the simultaneous payment of astronomical college tuition fees. However, Irish twins often end up being very close and affectionate with each other, since the space between them is so small, and it intensifies the sibling bond.