Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

So did you know that the Irish have a history on St. Kitts? A confusing one as it turns out. Several sources (one, two) referred to the Irish as "settlers" who had been willingly coming the West Indies for years. Perhaps a "politically correct" version of events.  Other sources said the Irish were "servants" and that they felt that they were treated as badly as the African slaves. Yeah, indentured servants - the same as slaves. A much uglier take on the Irish arrival to the West Indies (and a more likely one) was that James II (in the early 1600s) and Oliver Cromwell (from the mid 1600s - both Brits), reduced the Irish population from 1,466,000 in 1641 to only 616,000 by 1652 by either killing them or sending them off as slaves. Thousands of children were sold into slavery, including to the Caribbean and beyond. Irish girls were purportedly bred to African slaves (making a better mulatto livestock) until the late 1700s (when the practice was stopped because it was interfering with the profitable African shipping trade). African slaves, not sullied by Catholicism, were worth more so treated better.  Plus Africans had to be bought; Irish could be caught. Colonel William Brayne (another Brit) was quoted as saying that plantation owners had more of an interest in "preserving" the life of an expensive African vs. a cheap Irishman.

Pretty crappy, but I'm confused about two things: Many sources suggest that the Irish left willingly from St. Kitts for Montserrat, trying to escape the religious persecution they were experiencing on St. Kitts.  Indentured servants could just leave? And the second question mark is the charge that the Irish themselves had slaves (both at home and while on Montserrat).  African slaves even reportedly staged an uprising against the Irish while on Montserrat (the event is celebrated today).

Which is true?  Were 25,000 slaves shipped here by Cromwell? Were 150 of them shipped to Crab Island (near St. Thomas) to die of starvation for practicing their Catholic beliefs?  Did the Irish do the same thing to Africans? I don't know, but I think it's clear they were badly treated in most places (but if they were making money doing the same thing to others, they were probably early Republicans - sorry, I couldn't help myself). There's been talk of a memorial being built here, but we've never seen it.

Whatever happened, I can see why drinking is part of the whole affair. There are plenty of ways to be Irish for the weekend here in St. Kitts, so just head to the calendar and figure out where you'll be imbibing your green beer.

Please don't wear one of these.