Irish people in Jamaica

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Irish Jamaicans
Total population
(300,000–700,000 (estimated 25% of Jamaica's population))
Regions with significant populations
Jamaican English, Jamaican Patois, Irish (historical)
Related ethnic groups
Irish diaspora, White Jamaican

Irish Jamaicans are Jamaican citizens whose ancestors originated from Ireland. Irish people are the second-largest reported ethnic group in Jamaica, after Jamaicans of African ancestry. Population estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000, making Irish Jamaicans up to 25% of Jamaica's population. Most Jamaicans with Irish ancestry also have African ancestry.[citation needed]

Historical background[edit]

The first wave of Irish immigrants occurred in the early 17th century, Irish emigrant principally sailors, servants, and merchants. Many of the poorer emigrants were displaced Gaelic-Irish and Anglo-Irish Catholics, as well as convicts.

One of the first English colonies in the Caribbean was established on Barbados in 1626. The term "Barbadoed" came from this event, denoting Penal transportation (not slavery; see Irish indentured servants), with many English and Scots also suffering transportation.

Irish merchant families from towns like Galway, Kinsale and Waterford established their trading networks in the Caribbean.

First contact with Jamaica[edit]

Irish transportees were first brought to Jamaica in large numbers under the English republic of Oliver Cromwell following the capture of Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 by William Pen and Robert Venables as part of Cromwell's strategic plan to dominate the Caribbean: the "Western Design". The force that annexed the island undoubtedly contained large numbers of Irish troops, as they were encouraged to leave Barbados where the army assembled. Between three and four thousand additional troops were raised from volunteers among the indentured servants and freemen in the colonies of Barbados, Montserrat, Nevis and St Kitts, all islands known to have large Irish populations at this time.[1]

In 1656 Cromwell's Council of State voted that 1,000 Irish girls and 1,000 Irish young men be sent to Jamaica. it is not known if that shipment was carried out, but it makes clear what was envisaged for the populating of the island with labour by the British government of the time. Irish immigration to Jamaica occurred primarily through importation of Irish prisoners of war and indentured servants after the Irish rebellion of 1641 and also constituted the second-largest recorded ethnic influx into the country.

While indentured servitude is often conflated with chattel slavery, this is incorrect as chattel slavery (legally codified in the 1661 Barbados slave code) was based on black skin-colour. While thousands of Irish convicts military prisoners were sent in the 1650s, the majority both before and after this held indenture contracts - "Indentured servitude appeared in Virginia by 1620. Initially a device used to transport European workers to the New World, over time servitude dwindled as black slavery grew in importance in the British colonies" [1]. Citing as typical the case of Captain Thomas Anthony, forced in 1636 by his Irish passengers to change his course from Virginia to St. Christopher the West Indies, Akenson writes:

"Irish labourers were well informed about comparatives wage rates and knew they would be better paid in the West Indies than in Virginia. So Captain Anthony was forced to change his plans and to make St. Christopher his destination; this is where most of them wanted to go." Akenson,1997, pp. 52–53) [2]

According to Nini Rogers:

"The irony of the Irish as ‘colonised and coloniser’ is intellectually disturbing to readers in a later generation; it was not so to the actual participants. Needy Catholic gentry, landless swordsmen, particularly from the provinces of Connacht and Munster, might look west to recoup their losses. The earliest surviving Irish emigrant letter from the New World comes from the Blake brothers on Barbados and Montserrat, conventionally carrying messages home to Galway of the good living to be made in a new land." [3]

In 1687 Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albermarle was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica by the Catholic King James II. His office was supported mainly by the Irish Catholic farmers and servants, an indication that the Irish were numerous, at least among the lower classes.[2]

Later history[edit]

Migration to Jamaica continued through the 17th century, especially during the sugar boom on the sugar plantations of the West Indies, which forced many freed servants to look for land on the bigger islands like Jamaica. A Barbadian historian has estimated that of 10,000 Irish servants who left Barbados in the last quarter of the 17th century, at least half were destined for Jamaica, where land was available for small farmers. Also, it suited the British to have Irish settle near the internal frontier with the Maroons. From 1670 to 1700, Jamaica became the preferred destination for Irish and English servants departing the Atlantic ports at Kinsale, Cork, Galway and Bristol. By the late 17th century, some 10 percent of Jamaica's landowners were of Irish extraction and several, such as Teague Mackmarroe, (Tadhg MacMorrough) who owned eight slaves, attained the rank of "middling planter."

Later, in the mid-eighteenth century, Presbyterian colonial settlers who were fleeing Ireland arrived in the Caribbean. Scottish Gaelic speaking highlanders exiled after the Jacobite rebellions also came to the island in the 18th century.

In 1731, governor of Jamaica Robert Hunter said that the "servants and people of lower rank on the island chiefly consist of Irish Papists" who he said had "been pouring in upon us in such sholes as of late years".[3] In the mid-18th century, Irish native names such as O'Hara and O'Connor were prominent, as well as Old English families like Talbot and Martin. Names present in 1837, recorded during the compensation hearings, include Walsh, O'Meally, O'Sullivan, Burke, Hennessy, Boyle, Tierney, Geoghagan, Dillon.

Cultural influences[edit]

The Irish Gaelic language poet Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin wrote his only English language work in Port Royal, Jamaica while serving on an English naval vessel.

Notable Jamaicans of Irish descent[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas Povey's Diary, British Library, MS 12410, Folio 10