This paper seeks to map out a general theory of race and whiteness in education in Ireland. Despite the growing use of the terms `race¿, `ethnicity¿ and `nationality¿ to describe identities in education settings, the contested, overlapping and unique aspects of each of these terms has been little discussed. It is argued that Irish education research could offer particularly strong insights to transnational thinking on the relationship between `being Irish¿ and becoming racialised. In this paper, I specifically focus on contemporary and historical relationships between `being Irish¿, being a European immigrant, and becoming socially `white¿ through education processes and contexts. Historical narratives of Irishness, whiteness, colonisation and emigration are juxtaposed with contemporary education policy analyses and ethnographic research on `white¿ immigrant students in one school setting. The discussion demonstrates how the designation of `white¿ tacitly and overtly applies to white bodies and ethno-national groups, using the concepts of racial interpellation and the discursive fields of race. Rather than dismissing the experiences of black and minority ethnic groups not racialised as white, this paper reveals how global patterns of racial domination become naturalised and sometimes contested at national policy and local school levels, via hetero-gendered and classed politics of immigration and post-coloniality. The paper argues that anti-racist thinking in schools requires a clear grasp of contemporary ideas about `race¿, emigration, immigration and colonisation in order to move beyond individualistic approaches which often counterproductively lead to a closing down of critical `race talk¿.