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Irish Jamaicans
The History Of The Irish In Jamaica

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Irish Jamaicans | Sir Alexander Bustamante  - Jamaican National Hero & Our First Prime MinisterIrish Jamaicans | Sir Alexander Bustamante - Jamaican National Hero & Our First Prime Minister

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.

History of the Irish in Jamaica

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.

Facts About Irish Jamaicans

  1. One-quarter of Jamaicans claim Irish ancestors. After Jamaicans of African ancestry, Irish people are the second-largest reported ethnic group in Jamaica.

  2. The Jamaican accent is similar to the Irish accent. The newly arrived African slaves coexisted with the Irish. Some slaves were taught the English language. Even today, the Irish guttural accent can be heard.

  3. Ireland and Jamaica were both British colonies. Ireland gained independence in 1921, while Jamaica gained independence in 1962.

  4. Irish place names abound in Jamaica, including Irish Town, Clonmel, Dublin Castle, Kildare, Sligoville, Belfast, and Athenry.

  5. Irish Moss is exactly what it says it is: Irish. To survive the 1850s famine in Ireland, the Irish drank seaweed. Those who fled to Jamaica during the famine discovered the same seaweed growing on the island's coast. The Irish in Jamaica had their own supper fuel drink long before high-protein drinks or energy boosters.

  6. Indentured servants from England, Scotland, and Ireland brought the Maroon Morris dance to Jamaica.

The Influence of Irish in Jamaica Today

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:

  • Our shared history of colonial dominance and independence in the same century

  • Our shared dance styles - Katherine Dunham, the acknowledged matriarch of Black American dance, once noted the similarity between Accompong Maroon dance formations and Irish reels

  • The way we are educated - many priests and nuns of Irish ancestry have taught generations of Jamaicans

  • Our cadence when we speak - the melodious lilt of Jamaican accents is often similar to the Irish accent

Well-Known Jamaicans of Irish Descent

Irish Jamaicans | Reggae Legend Bob MarleyIrish Jamaicans | Reggae Legend Bob Marley
  • Sir Alexander Bustamante - national hero and first prime minister of Jamaica.
  • John Edgar Colwell Hearne - novelist, journalist and teacher
  • Claude McKay - poet laureate
  • Clinton Morrison - football player for the Republic of Ireland national team
  • William O'Brien - 2nd Earl of Inchiquin
  • SPOT - rapper
  • Dillian Whyte - heavyweight boxer
  • Bromley Armstrong - black Canadian civil rights leader
  • Bob Marley - singer
  • Kalvin Phillips

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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References & Sources For Irish Jamaicans

  1. Collins, O., 2022. 7 Interesting facts about the Irish Influence in Jamaica. [online] Jamaicans.com. Available at: [Accessed 1 September 2022].
  2. En.wikipedia.org. 2022. Irish people in Jamaica - Wikipedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 September 2022].
  3. Old.jamaica-gleaner.com. 2022. Jamaica Gleaner: Pieces of the Past: The Arrival Of The Irish. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 September 2022].

Irish Jamaicans | Written: Irish Jamaicans

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