This article traces the development of academic writing on Ireland’s role in the Black Atlantic. In the nineteen thirties, publications appeared focusing on an Irish presence in the plantation complex. The nineteen seventies produced a study of the island’s antislavery movement. Both discoveries were the work of lone pioneers. Meanwhile political developments after the Second World War produced American historians determined to understand this tenacious and resonant transatlantic institution. Thus the millennium proved to be a boom time for slavery studies, spreading out into investigation of the part played by the Irish. Historians were now joined by literary scholars. Historians, focused on the Importation, exploitation and emancipation of Africans, discussing whether or not Ireland’s situation as Britain’s first colony, shaped their attitude towards slavery in the New World. Literary scholars were increasingly drawn to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, finding parallels between Irish and Caribbean poets and novelists. The aim of this paper is to describe both approaches, leaving the reader to decide whether they illuminate or confound one another.