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What Are Irish Twins? Unraveling the Myths & Realities of the Term

What are Irish twins?

Twins that come from Ireland are indeed Irish twins, but there is another meaning to this term.

It is commonly used to refer to children born to the same mother less than twelve months apart. 

There are some more layers to this term that need to be explained if you are to use the term correctly. 

You need to know when the phrase can be used and whether the term “Irish Twins” is offensive.

Perhaps you are an Irish twin and want to know more about this special sibling bond.

Or you might be interested in Irish culture and the traditional structure of Irish families. 

Large families were quite common not only in Ireland, but with many Irish immigrants living abroad. 

In fact, my own great grandmother gave birth to 16 children a little more than 100 years ago. Yes, 16 children. Can you imagine that?!

In this article, we will unravel the origin and history behind Irish twins. 

We will also delve into the cultural context of Irish twins and how this differs in Ireland and the United States.

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Irish Twins Definition

Newborn baby wearing a leprechaun hat.
Newborn baby wearing a leprechaun hat. (Photo: gorchichko via Depositphotos)

Two babies born within a year of each other to the same mother can be referred to by the term “Irish Twins”. 

There are no set rules regarding the Irish twin definition. 

Some people refer to children with a slightly larger age gap of 13 or 14 months also as Irish twins. 

If you need some inspiration for a newborn baby greeting message, check out our article Baby Blessings from the Emerald Isle for some great ideas!

Irish Twins Meaning

Irish twins demonstrate a unique sibling friendship and family dynamic that are used to describe siblings born within a year of each other.

It is important to note that Irish twins are not twins in the typical sense. 

Irish twins are the result of two separate pregnancies. 

They are conceived at different times, one shortly after the birth of the first child. 

The birthdays of Irish twins are several months apart. 

Fraternal twins (aka non-identical twins) or monozygotic twins (aka identical twins) are conceived at the same time as part of a single pregnancy. 

These types of twins are typically born on the same day. For example, there were 1013 sets of twins born in Ireland in 2020.

Related post: Irish Birthday blessings and greetings

(Or if you want to try some birthday greetings in the Irish language, read our other birthday article.)

What is the Shortest Possible Gap Between Siblings?

Very cute, colorful baby socks!
Very cute colorful baby socks! (Photo: Lidia_Efimova via Shutterstock)

After giving birth, a woman must start ovulating to become fertile in order to have a chance of becoming pregnant. 

How quickly the woman regains her fertility after giving birth and also the duration of the second pregnancy determine how short the interval can be. 

The gap between siblings can be roughly 10 months if a woman becomes pregnant during her first cycle after giving birth. 

When the gestational period of the second pregnancy is shorter than usual, the period of time between the births can be less than 10 months. 

Apparently the shortest interval for two successful live births is 208 days. This was set in New Zealand. The babies were born on September 3 1999 and March 30 2000. 

Origin and History of Irish Twins 

Here’s where things start to get interesting. The origin of the term Irish Twin didn’t come in Ireland, which may surprise you.

Where did the term Irish twins come from?

The term Irish twins actually originated in the United States.

During the 19th century, Irish Catholic immigrant families in the States were known for having many children. 

These children were often very close in age. When all the siblings lined up in a row of descending age they looked like “steps of stairs”. 

The Catholic Church actively discouraged birth control in the 19th century, which is one of the reasons why these families were so large.

Many of these Irish Catholic families were poor and sometimes uneducated. The term Irish twin was then often used in connection with negative stereotypes for the Irish community.

This is why the term is still thought of as offensive by some people, particularly those in the States. 

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Irish Twins

A pregnant woman with a wreath of flowers.
A pregnant woman with a wreath of flowers. (Photo: alekuwka via Shutterstock)

How common are Irish twins?

Irish twins are not as rare as you might think, but they do not happen very often either. Statistics about their occurrence are very difficult to come across. 

However, every year, “Irish twins” are born to families around the world. 

Irish twins are also occasionally called “Catholic twins” or even “Dutch twins”. 

Health advice typically encourages a time interval of greater than a year between pregnancies. Birth spacing has recognised benefits for both the mother and the children. 

Benefits of Having Irish Twins

Irish twins often reach major life events and milestones at the same time, which can make their bond stronger.

Due to their close ages, Irish twins can form a unique and close relationship that can span their entire lives. 

These siblings can be the best of friends (or squabble a lot until they reach a certain age!)

With kids so close in age, it is easy to pass down clothes and toys. 

This only works if the second child is not bigger than the first. Otherwise then they might need the same clothes at around the same time! 

Challenges of Having Irish Twins

Of course there are also challenges to having Irish twins. 

These include the financial strain of having two babies in a household within a year and the likely impact of reduced income because of this. 

Some parents find it difficult to give both babies the time and attention they need. 

Looking after one child can be exhausting. Parenting Irish twins can be even more strenuous! 

When the eldest child is close to a year (and starting to walk), it can be a difficult time to add a new little tiny baby to the household.

And then of course you must also try to decide on baby names. This task alone can take some parents several months!

Two pregnancies very close after one another may also bring some health concerns both for the mother and the babies. These need to be discussed with medical professionals. 

Is the term Irish twins offensive?

Newborn feet in the hands of a parent.
Caring for little ones can be quite a challenge. (Photo: hayatikayhan via Depositphotos)

Some people find the term “Irish twins” derogatory due to its original use as an unlikable stereotype for Irish families. 

The term was first used in a negative context in the 19th century to humiliate poorer Irish Catholics who did not use birth control. It was often used to imply a lack of self restraint. 

Due to its origins, some people still have very strong feelings about this term and may take offence with its usage. 

However, there is still debate as to whether the term is offensive or not. 

In Ireland, the term Irish twin is not usually deemed offensive or insulting. 

It is generally used as a way to describe siblings that were born with a short time interval between them. 

Several of my friends are Irish twins and this is seen as something positive. 

They generally have good relationships with their closely aged siblings and enjoy shared interests and hobbies.

It is worth remembering that there are still varying degrees of acceptance regarding this term, so please be respectful with its usage.

Who uses the term Irish Twins?

The term “Irish twins” is now widely used by people from all walks of life. 

People do not need to have a connection with Ireland to use the term.

It has become a term for the special relationship between siblings born within a year of each other.

My Personal Story of Irish Twins in my Family

My Grandmother was part of a very large family consisting of 9 sons and 7 daughters. 

Families of this size were not atypical in Ireland around the turn of the 20th century. 

Some of these children in this family were very close in age and born less than a year apart making them true Irish twins. 

Because my Great Grandmother had so many pregnancies, there was a considerable age gap between the early born and later born children.

My grandmother happened to be one of the youngest siblings. 

One story that I remember her telling me was about the first time that she met one of her older brothers. 

This brother had already moved out of the house by the time my grandmother was born. 

One day my grandmother came home from school to find an unknown man at the dinner table. He was introduced to her as her older brother she had never met. 

This story always amazed me as a child! 

Mother with young child at the beach.
Quality time with one child can be scarce if you have Irish twins. (Photo: altanaka via Shutterstock)

FAQs Irish Twins

What are Irish twins?

Irish twins are siblings born to the same mother within 12 months of each other. 

Sometimes the term is also used to describe siblings with a slightly larger age gap of up to about 14 months.

Is the term Irish twins an insult?

People might find the term offensive because it comes from negative ideas about Irish immigrants from the 1800s. 

But people have different ideas about it, and many people just use it to talk about siblings who are close in age.

Is it safe to have Irish twins?

Every woman is different as is every pregnancy.

It is important for a medical professional to assess your individual situation before getting pregnant. 

Having children very close together can take its toll on a woman’s body.  She may not have fully recovered from the previous pregnancy and birth. 

Complications associated with low birth weights, placenta problems or premature births may result from having pregnancies very close together.

There is evidence to suggest that waiting 18 to 24 months between pregnancies can reduce some health complications. 

Other factors such as the woman’s age may also need to be factored into considerations.

Should I have Irish twins?

This is a very personal decision and one that needs to be carefully considered as there are many implications. 

Sometimes there are also factors, such as the return of a woman’s fertility that can also impact when a woman can become pregnant again.

This is especially the case if she is breastfeeding and may mean that there is a longer natural gap between the children.

Raising Irish twins is not necessarily an easy task. 

It is important to think about all of the factors, like the risks to your health, how it will affect your finances, and how it will affect your family before embarking on this decision.

What are the benefits of having Irish twins?

There may be benefits, such as a strong bond between siblings, shared milestones, and it being easy to pass down clothes and toys. But each family will have a different experience.

Do Irish twins look alike? 

Irish twins might or might not look alike. 

This is because their looks depend on the genes they get from their parents. 

Irish twins that share the same father are just as likely to resemble each other as siblings born with a bigger time span in between.

Do Irish twins have a special connection? 

Many people argue that yes, Irish twins often have a special bond because they are so close in age. However, each twin’s experience can be different.

What are Irish triplets?

Celebtrating Irish triplets with three green balloons!
Celebtrating Irish triplets with three green balloons! (Photo: Mihail Pustovit via Shutterstock)

You may have heard of Irish twins, but have you ever heard of Irish triplets? 

Three children born within three years of each other are called Irish triplets. 

How many months apart are Irish twins?

Irish twins are usually born between 10 and 12 months apart. If the second child is born early, this amount of time can be even less.

Are you an Irish twin?

Do you have an Irish twin? 

If you were born less than a year apart from your sibling, then yes, you are an Irish twin. 

You are part of a special group with a unique bond. 

Have you recently given birth and are expecting again? Then check the due date calculator to see if your children can be called Irish twins.

Feel free to drop us a line to share your experience of being an Irish twin or expecting Irish twins!

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