Irish twins: the meaning and origin of the phrase explained

Irish twins is a term that most people are familiar with across the world, but many may not actually be aware of the meaning, origin, and history of the phrase.

Whether you are aware or not of what the term Irish twins actually means, you can rest assured that there are most likely plenty of them around you. Chances are, you probably even know an Irish twin yourself. 

If you want to know the true meaning and origin of the term “Irish twins” or “Irish twin” and the history behind it, then read on as this article is for you.  

In this article, we will be exploring and explaining everything you need to know about Irish twins. We will be discussing the phrase and explaining the exact meaning and origin behind the term.

What are Irish twins? – the basics

What are Irish twins?
Credit: / AdinaVoicu

Not to be confused with identical twins, Irish twins occur when two children are born within 12 months of each other.

When this happens, the children are referred to as such because while they aren’t technically twins, they are born so close together that they are almost as good as twins.

When three children are born to the same mother within three years, they are called “Irish triplets” although this is, of course, a lesser-used phrase.

Where did the term “Irish twin” come from? – the history

The history of the term.
Credit: / lindseyhopkinson

The origin of the slang terms dates back to the 19th-century, when it was used to refer to Irish people.

Irish twin was typically used to describe siblings from large and mostly poor immigrant Irish families who were living in Britain and the United States.

In the 19th-century, it was very common for Irish Catholic families to be big, which often meant that they had children born less than a year apart.

The fact that they had such large families and lots of kids was due to a combination of reasons. For example, the Catholic Church was known to be opposed to birth control and this often lead to large Catholic immigrant families and large Irish immigrant families.

Alongside the strict teaching of the church instructing followers not to use contraceptives and, there were also high infant mortality rates and limited access to birth control for pregnant women generally.

Is it a derogatory term? – should I be offended if someone calls me an Irish twin?

Is Irish twins a derogatory term?

Originally an American term, this was used as a derogatory remark and insult against the then despised Irish community. They were wrongly accused of having poor self-control and little education, which was not in fact the case.

During the 19th-century, the term Irish twins was used to disparage the Irish culture, Irish people, and community.

However, while the term is still used nowadays, it is used as a term of endearment rather than an insult. It is often used simply to classify siblings born close together and differentiate them from an actual twin.

They are not as common today – a rare occurrence to find an Irish twin

Two children born in one year.
Credit: / pgbsimon

For a person to have an Irish twin, they need to have two children born within 12 months of each other.

While giving birth to two babies in the span of 12 months has many challenges, it can also have some uniquely special benefits as you can raise the siblings who are close in age together.

Nowadays, having an Irish twin isn’t naturally as common as it used to be in the 19th-and-20th-centuries; this is due to several factors.

Some common reasons are economic factors, lower infant mortality rates, the fact that the catholic church has a lot less influence over people’s lives, and most of all, the fact that contraceptives are more readily available.

Jessica Simpson has Irish twins.
Credit: Instagram / @jessicasimpson

While having these types of twins is no longer as commonplace as it used to be it remains quite popular for people who wish to raise children who are close together in age and for people who want to have their families as quickly as possible.

While having two children within one year isn’t for everyone, it remains a valid and popular choice for many families.

Celebrities such as Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Heidi Klum, and Tori Spelling among many others have all given birth to these types of twins.

So, that concludes our article on the meaning and origin behind the famous term. Do you know any of these types of twins? Do you have any of your own, or are you even one yourself?

FAQs about Irish twins

Is there another term for Irish twins?

They are also sometimes called ‘Catholic twins’ or ‘Dutch twins’

Do you have to be Irish to be Irish twins?

No. The term just refers to someone who is born less than 12 months before or after their sibling. While the term originated from 19th-century Irish people and Irish immigrants in the United States, you do not have to be Irish today to be considered an Irish twin.

How far apart do you have to be to be considered Irish twins?

12 months (one year) or less.

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