The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean on St. Patrick’s Day

Did you know that Monserrat in the Caribbean is the only country outside of Ireland where 17 March is a public holiday?

The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean on St. Patrick’s Day.

Known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, many people on the Caribbean Island of Monserrat claim Irish heritage.

In fact, Monserrat is the only country outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March, exists as a national holiday. However, the reasons for the celebration of St. Patrick in Ireland and in Monserrat differ exponentially.

Let’s take a look at the history of Irishness on this small island and how 17 March came to be a public holiday.

Montserrat and the Irish influence – 17th century settlement

Montserrat and the Irish influence.
Credit: Instagram/ @islandofmontserrat

Irish people first arrived on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat during the 17th century, before and during the period of plantation owners and slavery.

It was in 1632 that Irish Catholics first settled on the island after being sent there by the first British governor of neighbouring St Kitts, Sir Thomas Warner.

Irish people generally served on the island as merchant labourers and servants. By the mid-17th century, Irish Catholics made up the majority of the roughly 1,000 families residing on the island.

In time, Irish settlement in Montserrat became strongly associated with the growth in slavery and the trade that accompanied it. At this time, over a third of the island’s sugar estates were run by Irish families.

As such, the reasons for St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Montserrat differ greatly from those in Ireland, the United States, and elsewhere around the world.

The St. Patrick’s Day Rebellion – the reason for Montserrat’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean on St. Patrick’s Day.
Credit: Instagram/ @islandofmontserrat

Since many of the plantation owners in Montserrat were Irish, slaves on the island picked St. Patrick’s Day in 1768 to form a revolt.

Most of the island’s inhabitants would be drunk and distracted while celebrating the occasion. The slaves, who outnumbered white colonialists by three to one, were led by one man named Cudjoe to stage an uprising against their oppressors.

However, plans were foiled when one female slave learned of the plan and informed the plantation owners of the uprising.

As such, the rebellion was a failure, and nine rebels, including Cudjoe, were hanged for their crimes. Cudjoe’s head was placed on a tree as a ‘cautionary tale’ for any future uprisings.

So, centuries later, in 1985, the government of Montserrat decided to declare St. Patrick’s Day as a public holiday to honour the rebellion and its members.

Montserrat – the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean on St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day and the Irish influences of Ireland today.
Credit: commonswikimedia.org; Reddit

Today, St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Montserrat and is celebrated with a ten-day festival to honour those who rose up against their oppressors in 1768. You’ll find one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades around the world in Montserrat.

The St. Patrick’s Day festival in Montserrat blends a rich mix of African and Irish heritage and culture.

Many typical Irish symbols and images are displayed, including shamrocks, leprechauns, and Guinness. However, African dance and music are incorporated to create a unique St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Montserrat.

The Irish identity is alive and well in Montserrat today. The country’s flag and coat of arms depicts an image of a woman with red hair, a harp, and a religious cross. The shamrock also appears on Montserrat passports and postage stamps.

So, there you have it, the fascinating story behind the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean on St. Patrick’s Day.

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