Discover 400 years of Irish links to the Caribbean
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is pleased to present Entangled Islands, a new exhibition exploring Ireland’s influence on the Caribbean. Our connections go back to the 17th century, when Irish indentured labourers were among the many thousands transported to work on islands acquired by the English. The Irish in time found their way into positions of power and privilege across the region, whether as plantation owners or colonial governors.
This temporary exhibition tells the stories of a wide range of Irish people who traversed and settled in the Caribbean, but it also considers our intersecting histories of colonisation and resistance. Ireland’s struggle for independence has informed decades of Caribbean political thought, just as many Irish men and women have supported and related to the challenges faced by Caribbean countries. Entangled Islands traces this long and multifaceted history of connection through 19 key figures on either side of the Atlantic, from merchants and enslavers to poets and journalists.
DATE: 5th September – February 2024
TIME: 10am – 5pm
WHERE: EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
COST: Free until September 24th
‘REDLEGS’ OF BARBADOS
The plantations established by English settlers in Barbados relied on a plentiful supply of indentured workers from Ireland and Britain. Labourers of all backgrounds faced harsh conditions, but Irish Catholics were especially poorly treated due to their ethnicity, religion and supposed rebelliousness. The sugar industry boom that began in the mid-17th century saw profit-driven planters increasingly replace these contracted workers with enslaved Africans, who were considered more productive. Meanwhile, the poor white population that emerged from this indentured class settled around the eastern parish of St John, where some of their descendants – ‘Redlegs’, as they are known – remain today.
‘Redleg’ fishermen photographed by Manuel Auguste Nunes Siza in the late 19th century. Taken from the Mayson Beeton photo album, Through the West Indies, 1896–97. Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros”
Stowage of the Liverpool ship Brookes, which could hold 454 enslaved people. iStock by Getty Images
SHIPS OF ENSLAVEMENT
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, millions of men, women and children were forcibly transported from Africa to be enslaved in the Americas. For a long time, Irish ships were banned from direct involvement in the trade, but some Irishmen profited as sea captains and traders. David Tuohy from Tralee commanded a number of transatlantic voyages to the West Indies in the mid-18th century, carrying hundreds of enslaved Africans across the infamous Middle Passage to Barbados, Grenada and Antigua. Dubliner James Field Stanfield played a role in transatlantic trafficking as a merchant seaman, but – unlike Tuohy – was horrified by what he witnessed, publishing a graphic account of his experience in Observations on a Guinea Voyage (1788).
John Archer in ceremonial robes as mayor of Battersea, as featured in a 1914 issue of African-American magazine The Crisis. Wikimedia Commons
John Archer was born in Liverpool in 1863, the son of a Barbadian ship steward and Irish Catholic woman. He became the first Black mayor of a London borough with his appointment as mayor of Battersea in 1913 – a milestone that made national headlines in Britain. In the aftermath of World War I, he advocated for the many African and West Indian soldiers who had moved to Britain after serving their ‘mother country’, only to face racist violence and abuse. He also supported radical and anti-colonial candidates in his own constituency, serving as election agent for Charlotte Despard, the Anglo-Irish suffragette and pacifist, during her 1918 run for parliament.
A photo of Kay Donnellan printed in Trinidad’s The Guardian after her death. June 25, 1941. National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago
Galway native Kay Donnellan came to Trinidad in 1938 to teach at a Catholic girls’ school in Port of Spain. She and another Irish teacher in the school, Eleanor Frances (Frank) Cahill, were prominent voices in the colony’s labour movement by the time they were sacked in 1940 for their supposed ‘anti-British’ and ‘ultra-socialist’ views. The two women stayed in Trinidad and helped to co-found New Dawn, a monthly magazine that endorsed the drive for Caribbean self-determination. A year later, they were both arrested under emergency laws providing for detention without trial. Donnellan’s death in June 1941 was widely mourned by trade union activists.
Montserrat Tourism Division
CARIBBEAN ‘EMERALD ISLE’
Irish Catholics were among the earliest European settlers to arrive in Montserrat in the 17th century. When the first census was taken in 1678, the Irish made up more than half of the population. Many had come as indentured labourers and ended up living in poverty, but the growth of the sugar industry saw some Irish-descended families become hugely wealthy. When enslaved people planned an uprising in 1768, they decided to strike on St Patrick’s Day – an occasion they assumed would have plantation owners distracted – but the plot was ultimately foiled. Today, St Patrick’s Day in Montserrat is a commemoration of both that rebellion and the island’s Irish and African heritage.
A Word from Our Curator
“The last two decades have seen a flowering of research on Irish migration to the Caribbean. Entangled Islands seeks to capture some of the complexities of that history, from the parallels in colonial experience to the riches brutally acquired by Irish planters. There have been many dark chapters, but our shared traditions of resistance and storytelling remain a source of inspiration. We hope this exhibition can spark new conversations about the convergence of Black and Irish heritage – both in the past and present day.”
Catherine Healy, Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
Visit the exhibition at EPIC
This exhibition will be on display at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum from September 5th until February 2024 – general museum admission tickets required after September 24th.
This exhibition is supported by funding from the Government of Ireland through the Department of Foreign Affairs.