“Irish twins” is a slang description of two children born to the same mother within twelve months. Some consider it a highly offensive term.
The origin isn’t certain, but its suspected roots date back to the 1800’s Potato Famine era, when approximately one million Irish came to North America. They often arrived penniless and were considered uncultured, uneducated and dirty—a pox on good society—living in slums like bees in a hive. Unskilled workers who made as little as eight cents a day back in Ireland could earn a dollar a day in America. This caused resentment from American workers fearful of losing jobs and being undercut by the Irish. In Eastern cities such as New York and Boston, signs reading “Irish Need Not Apply” sprung up in store windows. Several derogatory terms followed. For example, “Irish confetti” for thrown bricks and “Irish kiss” for a slap. Irish twins fits into this vernacular.
The term Irish Twins mocks the fertility of Irish Catholic families and their disdain for practicing birth control methods, while failing to plan ahead or control themselves sexually. It also may suggest that the Irish didn’t understand the true medical definition of twins, or two children conceived and born together.
Like the parents of twins or other multiples, parents who have Irish twins face the challenges of having two young children at one time. As the children grow up, parents encounter the difficulties of medical and extracurricular activity expenses, and the simultaneous payment of college tuition fees. On the positive side, since the space between Irish twins is so small, it intensifies the sibling bond, and Irish twins often end up being very close and affectionate with one other. Or not.