The Irish has been a huge presence and influence in the Caribbean.
In Jamaica, the influence can be found in place names such as Irish Town and Dublin Castle in St. Andrew, Clonmel and Kildare in St. Mary, and Belfast and Middleton in St. Thomas. There is also a surplus of Irish last names including Collins, Murphy, Madden, Mulling, McCarthy and McDonnough.
So how did the Irish wind up in the Caribbean?
Krystal D’Costa of Scientific American writes that after the Battle of Kinsale, the Irish clan system was abolished and around 30,000 prisoners of war were shipped off and sold as laborers to the colonies of the Caribbean and United States.
“The first Irish slaves were sold to a settlement on the Amazon River In South America in 1612. It would probably be more accurate to say that the first “recorded” sale of Irish slaves was in 1612, because the English, who were noted for their meticulous record-keeping, simply did not keep track of things Irish, whether it be goods or people, unless such was being shipped to England.”
This would become a common practice after the Proclamation of 1625.
“In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters.”
The Irish were a more desirable “slave stock” than Africans, who had to be “caught,” because they could be obtained for free and sold for a profit. Because they were “cheaper” the Irish would often suffer harsher punishments from their plantation masters.
It is estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 Irish were sold as laborers. D’Costa says that “while most European settlers on the islands confined themselves to a single island giving rise to the identifications we know today as Hispanic Caribbean, French Caribbean, and British Caribbean,” the Irish presence in the Caribbean became firmly established and can be found on practically all of the Caribbean islands.
*Originally published in April 2015.