More Irish than the Irish themselves

More Irish than the Irish themselves

"More Irish than the Irish themselves" (Irish: Níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil iad féin, Latin: Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis) is a phrase used in Irish historiography to describe a phenomenon of cultural assimilation in late medieval Norman Ireland.

The descendants Hiberno-Norman lords who had settled in Ireland in the 12th century had been significantly Gaelicized by the end of the Middle Ages, forming septs and clans after the indigenous Gaelic pattern, and became known as the "Old English" (contrasting with the "New English" arriving with the Tudor conquest of Ireland).[1]

The phrase was coined in the late 18th century by Irish nationalist historians who wished to assert the dominance of a single Irish (i.e. Gaelic) culture. Connolly has written, "The descendents of the English conquerors, it was confidently proclaimed, had become 'more Irish than the Irish themselves'. Today it is recognized that the supposedly contemporary phrase dates only from the late eighteenth century, the Latin form (Hiberniores ipsis Hibernis) sometimes used to give it an authentic medieval ring from later still."[2]

The phrase remains in common use, both colloquially and in the media, in reference to recent immigration and assimilation in Ireland, and to some degree about some of the Irish diaspora (for example in The Irish Times,[3] Sen. Jim Walsh,[4] Dr. Liam Twomey TD,[5] or Irish Emigrant[6]) or in conversation discussing the relationship between the cultural heritage of the Irish diaspora and the Irish in Ireland.[7] While still echoing its original meaning, contemporary usage of the phrase usually takes a more open interpretation of assimilation or, in the case of the diaspora, the maintenance of Irish heritage.

Debates of the Oireachtas demonstrate the age and range of contemporary applications of the phrase. Either when discussing the diaspora:

I do not think this country will afford sufficient allurements to the citizens of other States ... The children of Irish parents born abroad are sometimes more Irish than the Irish themselves, and they would come with added experience and knowledge to our country....

—Sen. Patrick Kenny, 1924 [8]

Or, more light-heartedly, on assimilation:

... [As] in olden times the attractiveness of Irish life made the Norman invaders ... ‘Hiberniores Hibernicis ipsis’, ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’, so the charms of Galway, experienced through 25 happy years, have made a woman, born in one of the severed counties, feel entitled to describe herself as ‘Galviensior Galviensibus ipsis’ – ‘more Galwegian than the Galwegians themselves’.

Helena Concannon TD, 1937 [9]


  1. ^ MacLysaght, Edward. More Irish Families. Irish Academic Press. ISBN 0-7165-0126-0. Retrieved 2006-11-20. "Some became completely integrated, giving rise to the well known phrase 'Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis' (more Irish than the Irish themselves). These formed septs on the Gaelic-Irish pattern, headed by a chief." 
  2. ^ Connolly, S. J. (2009). Contested Island: Ireland 1460-1630 (1st ed.). London: Oxford University Press. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-0-19-956371. 
  3. ^ LookWest. "More Irish Than the Irish Themselves?". Archived from the original on 2006-07-15. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  4. ^ "Dáil Éireann". Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  5. ^ "Dáil Éireann". Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  6. ^ MacConnell, Cormac. "The Pull of the City of the Tribes". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  7. ^ "have you heard of this". Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  8. ^ Kenny, Patrick. "Seanad Éireann – Volume 2 – 15 January 1924". Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  9. ^ Concannon, Helena. "Dáil Éireann – Volume 68 – 9 June 1937". Retrieved 2006-11-21. 

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