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Bid to gather the most number of natural redheads falls short

Roughly 100 redheads gathered for a “team photo’’ last week in Canton.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Roughly 100 redheads gathered for a “team photo’’ last week in Canton.

CANTON — Karen Taylor of Whitman does not believe that red-haired people like herself have hot tempers and fiery personalities. Still, there is one thing that makes them see red.

“The only time we get fiery is when people tell us we get fiery,” said the 24-year-old, who describes her hair hue as “a very coppery red.”

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Men and women with natural red hair gathered in the bleachers of the Gaelic Athletic Association field last Saturday in a bid to set a world record for the most redheads gathered in one place. Auburn, orange, red, extreme red, and ginger were all well represented. There was even an auburn-haired man who came all the way from New Zealand.

But the hangover from a rainstorm Friday that caused the first night of the Boston Irish Festival at the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton to be canceled probably also kept the number of redheads gathering on the second day of the festival to only about 100 — well short of the 300 who came last year and certainly far from the record.

There was also a bevy of redheaded belles engaged in an Irish step-dancing feis, or competition, happening at the same time Saturday, which did not help the endeavor.

The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the largest gathering of people with natural red hair as 890, at an event organized by a photographer named Anne Lindsay and photographed at Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., on July 17, 2010.

Another group called the World Record Academy (worldrecordacademy.com) recognizes what it says were the 1,255 natural redheads who gathered in the city of Breda, Netherlands, on Sept. 7, 2012.

But the Canton event was nevertheless a festive gathering of people who are often pigeonholed and stereotyped because of their hair color. The official “team photo” of the event even included a half-dozen Irish setters and their owners.

Brianna Flaherty,13, of Roslindale took part in the assembly of redheads.

Wendy Maeda/Globe staff

Brianna Flaherty,13, of Roslindale took part in the assembly of redheads.

Brianna Flaherty, 13, of Roslindale smiled mischievously when she was asked whether she can be hot-tempered and fiery. “She can be,” her mother, Eileen Flaherty, responded for her.

The person who came the farthest for the effort was a genial auburn-haired fellow named Anthony May, 30, of New Zealand, who said redheads are common down under among both Kiwis and Aussies.

“New Zealand is both very British and Irish,” he said, as is Australia.

Devon Peters, 15, of Middleborough was probably the “reddest of the red,” with hair in shades of strawberry and orange. He could easily be picked out of the crowd of 100.

His sister, Carly Peters, 11, leans to the auburn side. Personality-wise, both brother and sister were described by a family member as “talkative.”

Walking away with the trophy for the curliest red hair was 3-year-old Eva Rae Donnelly-Hardisty of Windham, Conn.

“My hair used to be like that,” her mother, Erin, said wistfully.

Auburn-haired mother Siobhan O’Brien, 29, of Everett had her hands full with gaily dressed redheaded daughters Alanna, 6, and Loralei, 1.

“We definitely have some Irish tempers going here,” she said, wearily. “Wait till the head-butting starts.”

Kristin Knehans, 39, of West Roxbury is on the strawberry-blond side.

“I got all the freckles, too,” she said, smiling. “I probably also have a bit of a temper.”

Gianna Buck, 7, of West Boylston, who answers to the nickname “Ginger,” described her hair as “red and orange,” and is proud of her flock of freckles and being a member of an exclusive club.

Geneticist Barry Starr of Stanford University said that redheaded people make up between 2 and 5 percent of the US population.

“The only time we get fiery is when people tell us we get fiery,” said 24-year-old Karen Taylor, who describes her hair hue as “a very coppery red.”

Wendy Maeda/Globe staff

“The only time we get fiery is when people tell us we get fiery,” said 24-year-old Karen Taylor, who describes her hair hue as “a very coppery red.”

Although red hair can occur in any ethnicity, Scotland checks in first worldwide at 13 percent, with Ireland second at 10 percent, according to research done by the Scotland DNA Project.

The number of redheads worldwide may be decreasing due to the recessive nature of the gene that produces it. That gene, the melanocortin 1 receptor, or MC1R, was discovered on the 16th of the 23 human chromosome pairs in 1995 by Jonathan Rees, a professor at the University of Edinburgh.

When there were plenty of people carrying the gene, their children were quite likely to get two copies of the mutated MC1R. Both parents must have the recessive gene for the child to be redheaded. But now that people move around more, carriers of MC1R are more likely to intermarry with non-carriers.

That’s good for genetic diversity, but perhaps not so good for those lovers of actors Nicole Kidman, Julianne Phillips, and Jessica Chastain, to name just three well-known redheads.

But although the number of redheads may be decreasing over time, the number of people who appear to be redheads is much higher. According to the Lifestyle section of the website Infobarrel.com, about 60 percent of women who dye their hair do so at home, and of those about 30 percent choose red.

Rich Fahey can be reached at fahey.rich2@gmail.com.
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