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by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer
Irish Jamaicans can trace their ancestry back to Ireland. After Jamaicans of African ancestry, Irish people are the second-largest reported ethnic group in Jamaica.
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Irish Jamaicans are a significant minority ethnic group, with population estimates ranging from 100,000 to 200,000. The majority of Jamaicans with Irish ancestry are also of African descent.
The Irish first arrived in Jamaica in the mid-1600s, during the British Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell's capture of the island. When British Admirals Penn and Venables' expedition to take Santo Domingo from the Spanish failed, they turned their attention to Jamaica to avoid returning to Cromwell empty-handed.
They quickly dispatched the weak Spanish defence with reinforcements from British-held Barbados (many of whom were Irish) and soon realised that they needed workers to support their new prize.
They looked eastward to islands under British control, such as Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and Montserrat, and imported young, mostly male, bonded servants, many of whom were Irish.
Many of the Irish, both Catholic and non-Catholic, arrived in Barbados and worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a two-hour lunch break, under the supervision of an overseer. Their only clothing was a shirt and drawers; their homes were made of sticks and plantain leaves.
Following the British conquest of Jamaica in 1655, many Irish labourers were sent from both Barbados and Ireland to get the island up and running under British control. After a decade, when many Irish had completed their terms or indenture, their names began to appear on lists of Jamaican planters and settlers.
It is estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 Irish were transported from Ireland. One of the final shipments was made from Limerick aboard the Robert Kerr in 1841.
The Gleaner reported that "they landed in Kingston wearing their best clothes and temperance medals,” implying that they did not consume alcohol.
The Irish are repeatedly intoxicated, drink excessively, are seen emerging from grog shops very dissolute and abandoned, and are of very intemperate habits, according to the Gleaner. As a result, the Irish gained a reputation for being a mixed blessing saints and sinners.
The Jamaican Constabulary is modelled after the Royal Irish Constabulary, right down to the red stripe on the pant legs. Various Irish regiments were stationed in Newcastle, including the Royal Leinsters, Earl of Ulsters, and Royal Irish Rifles. Guinness PC, which was founded in Dublin, now owns Red Stripe/D&G, the Caribbean's largest brewery.
Then there's Digicel, the island's newest Irish import, a cellular phone company. However, the Irish influence in Jamaica extends beyond the names of people, places, and businesses.
It can be found in:
Of all the similarities we share I think they are most evident in our shared love of laughter, horse racing, spirits, women and song.
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