Irish immigration to Barbados

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Irish Barbadians are Barbadians of Irish descent. The first Irish immigrants came to the island in the seventeenth century as slaves and indentured servants of the English planters, with their descendants today forming part of the large Irish diaspora. Many Irish rebels, Catholics and stubborn landowners and tenants were sold as slaves in the English colonies in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and North America. The number of Irish slaves in Barbados is unknown but the figure is estimated at between 12,000 and 60,000 people.


The Irish, many of whom were prisoners of war or civilians, ethnically-cleansed from Ireland following the Cromwellian invasion, arrived in Barbados alongside African slaves. The English overlords had used forced emigration as a way of pacifying Ireland since the start of the century, but the Cromwellian invasion gave vent to a holocaust in Ireland. Between 1641 and 1652, over 550,000 Irish were killed by the English. 300,000 were sold as slaves, and the Irish population of Ireland fell from 1,466,000 to 616,000.[1] Between 1652 and 1659, another 50,000 Irish men, women and children were sent to the West Indies, Virginia and Bermuda.[2] So many were sent to Barbados that being subjected to this forced emigration was described as being "Barbadosed".[3][4]

The first 12,000 Irish prisoners sent to Barbados arrived in 1662.[5] Although often described as indentured servants, the Irish were exiled and sold against their will. Whereas an Englishman repaid the cost of his transport to New World colonies with a contractually agreed period of servitude (typically seven years), the Irish (and Africans) had no control over the number of years they had to serve.[4] They were less expensive than African slaves, and the slaveowners correspondingly often treated them more harshly. They were often beaten, and might be mortgaged or resold, or given away in payment of debts.[6]

In 1649, due to the harshness of the slavery to which they had been subjected, the Irish joined with the Africans in rebellion against the English colonists.[4] In response to the rebellion, many were hung, drawn-and-quartered and their heads deposited on pikes on high ground where the entire population of Bridgetown would see them as a warning against future rebellions.[5] Despite this, attacks by Spanish and French pirates, as well as the loss of crops due to climatic shocks, led to further black and Irish slave revolts against the English. Rebellions increased the fear felt by white slave owners of the Africans and Irish, whom they perceived as savages.[4]

In the 1660s, some 52,000 Irish slaves, mostly women and sturdy boys and girls, were delivered to Barbados and Virginia alone.[5]

However, although African slavery in Barbados remained until 1834, Irish slavery seems to have disappeared over time. The 1880 census identified no Barbadian as Irish.[4]


Currently, descendents of the Irish slaves (along, in lesser measure, with descendants of other white slaves) are called Red Legs. This community has been endogamous, and now numbers only about four hundred people. Most live in poverty and are prey to infections and diseases. Due to the poor diet and lack of dental care, most have bad teeth or simply lack teeth. Frequent illnesses and premature deaths are caused by hemophilia and diabetes, which have also caused blindness and falls resulting in injuries or amputations. Today, the Red Legs are characterized by these physical anomalies and illnesses. These health problems, inbreeding, large families, school absenteeism, and the lack of jobs make life difficult for many people, and have kept the community in poverty.[6] Additionally, many are addicted to crack and alcohol.[7] Only since the latter half of the twentieth century has the community begun to integrate and assimilate with the black people of Barbados.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [Irish Slavery, by James F. Cavanaugh]
  2. ^ [To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland . Sligo Heritage]
  3. ^ Definition of Barbadose. The Online Slang Dictionary (American, English, and Urban slang)
  4. ^ a b c d e Tangled Roots: "Barbadosed": Africans and Irish in Barbados
  5. ^ a b c Race and history. News views. Posted by Jim Cavanaugh, in 28, May 05, at 9:50 p.m.
  6. ^ a b c Sligo heritage. To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland. Retrieved April 30, 2013, to 22:45 pm.
  7. ^ History: THE REDLEGS OF BARBADOS. Posted by Turtle Bunbury.

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