Red hair, especially pale red hair, is often regarded as the characteristic feature of the people of Ireland. Today, Irish red hair is one of the most popular and desirable hair color for women, though earlier people with red hair were often ridiculed.
"Ron was always my favorite character, because I feel like I relate to him, like we've both got red hair, we both like sweets, we've both got lots of brothers and sisters." ― Rupert Grint
Redhead is the common term used for people with red hair, which is often associated with the people of Irish origin.
Red hair can range from deep orange to bright copper-colored hair, though Irish red hair typically refers to pale red hair. Contrary to the popular belief that Irish people usually have red hair, only a small percentage of Irish people, about 10%, are found with red hair.
On the other hand, almost 13% population of Scotland have red hair. In spite of this fact, red hair is often associated with Irish people only, which, at one time, became a subject of discrimination and humiliation in England, due to the mistrust between the two nations (England and Ireland).
Many Hollywood movies have also shown Irish people with red hair and contributed to the belief that majority of the Irish people have red hair.
Why Do Irish People Have Red Hair?
Red hair associated with Irish people is actually caused by the presence of a high level of the pigment known as pheomelanin. The level of the dark pigment eumelanin is low among the individuals with red hair.
The concentration of both the types of melanin pigments is determined by genes. The genetics of red hair was first discovered in the year 1997. It has been discovered that the changes in the gene melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), found on chromosome 16 is responsible for producing this hair color.
The MC1R recessive variant gene, which gives red color to the hair is found to be more prevalent among the people of Ireland and Scotland.
It has also been observed to be accompanied by pale skin and freckles. Pale or fair skin is actually a result of low concentration of the pigment eumelanin, which has a special advantage for the people living in the equator regions.
These regions usually do not receive sufficient amount of sunlight, and so, light skin is necessary to produce adequate amount of vitamin D. On the other hand, this also has a disadvantage, as people with light skin are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer.
Myths Associated with Red Hair
The most commonly associated myth with it is about temperament. People with red hair are often considered as fiery tempered. In many literary works, red-headed characters were depicted with easily excitable hot temperament. For example, Achilles, central character of Homer's Iliad, known for his strength and temperament is also described as having red hair.
In England, this myth became an instrument for subjugating and humiliating the Irish population. According to historians, red hair may be disliked by the people of England, as it is associated with the Danes that invaded the country in the tenth century.
Another popular myth is that people with red hair have a high libido as compared to other people. During middle ages, vampires or witches were often described as having red hair and green eyes.
Red Hair in Modern Times
During the Elizabethan era, this mane was desirable for women. Queen Elizabeth I had red hair which became a fashion.
Gradually, beautiful women with red locks became a subject of many paintings, as painters developed a growing interest and fascination with red hair. Titian was a famous painter who used to portray women with red hair, due to which red hair is also referred as titian.
Many believe that rarity of red hair is mainly responsible for creating a wide popularity for this type of hair color. Today, celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Alyson Hannigan have further increased the popularity of red hair among the masses. Now, red dye is one of the most sought-after hair dyes by both men and women.
Irish red hair is no longer considered as the hair type associated with stigma and humiliation. Rather, it has become a fashion trend and desirable hair color for a great majority of the population including celebrities.
Other than Ireland, a large number of people with red hair are also found in the United States, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Albania.