My how Summer is flying by….
Not to worry though, because here today on Irish Writers Wednesday, author Olive Collins takes us all on a fascinating journey to Jamaica.
‘There are words spoken in remote parts of Jamaica with a clear Irish lilt and there are songs sung reminiscent of the struggles that continued in their homeland while they laid roots in their exotic new home, Jamaica.’
This really is an incredible guest post so do please read on… (you’ll find me searching for my new Jamaican cousins!!)
Jamaica and The Irish Connection
by Olive Collins
My first book was Irish historical fiction spanning 100 years. The research was pain-staking, from finding out the weather on Easter Week to life in the tenements during the 1920’s.
I had 9 months to submit my second novel to Poolbeg. I wanted to write a simple contemporary novel, explore the characters rather than spend nights reading novels, text books, academic paper and anything else historic.
At the time I had a few ideas however each time I sat down to work on Book 2, the same story nagged me.
Several years ago I attended a St. Patrick’s Day party in Israel where most of us were Scottish, Welsh and Irish. A coloured man from Jamaica joined our crew. He sang along to the Irish songs and was as an enthusiastic in celebrating all things Irish as us Celts. He told me he’d never been to Ireland however he claimed Irish descent. He also told me that large numbers of Jamaican’s claimed Irish descent and had Irish surnames. It was before the google-years and I’d no way of checking out his story.
Years later I watched the Jamaican Movie ‘Cool Running’. Only when the credits rolled, I noticed the Irish surnames, Roche, McLaughlin, Crowe, Morrison, Maloney, Harris.
I remember watching a documentary on Bob Marley and noting a peculiar Irish lilt in some of the words spoken by the Jamaican’s.
Finally when the internet became accessible I researched the Jamaican link and found a few staggering facts. The extent of Irish emigration to the Caribbean and Jamaican is so prolific that a staggering 25% of Jamaican citizens claim Irish ancestry, the second-largest reported ethnic group in Jamaica after African ancestry.
It began in 1655 when England captured Jamaica from Spain, Oliver Cromwell needed to populate their new colony. Who better to use, than the Irish. Some were convicts, many indentured servants and very few of the Irish deportees had committed any great crimes. Deportation “beyond the sea, either within His Majesty’s dominions or elsewhere outside His Majesty’s Dominions” was one of their methods of dealing with the Irish Issue and more importantly, populating England’s new acquisition. Large numbers of the Irish exiles died from heat and diseases.
It was thought that the Irish would have a better chance of survival if they were introduced to the climate at young age. Cromwell then sent 2,000 children between the age of 10 and 14 years. Migration to Jamaica continued through the 17th century.
Although the Irish exiles were not chattel slaves. Their white-skin meant they would know freedom when their Indenturship expired. Some Irish emigrated willingly, especially during the sugar boom but few had any of idea of what to expect. In 1841 a Jesuit priest recorded the arrival of a ship from Limerick, “They landed in Kingston wearing their best clothes and temperance medals.” They laid their roots and contributed to Jamaica’s changing island and motto, “Out of many, one people.”
Some Irish acquired land and slaves. Names like O’Hara and O’Connor were recorded in 1837 during the compensation hearings when slaves were freed and their owners remunerated. The strong Irish influence is seen in place names, Irish Town, Clonmel, Dublin Castle, Sligoville, Belfast, Athenry and Kildare. Not only are the Irish surnames and townlands evident of the strong shared history, there are striking similarities between the Maroon dance formations in Accompaong and Irish reels.
There are words spoken in remote parts of Jamaica with a clear Irish lilt and there are songs sung reminiscent of the struggles that continued in their homeland while they laid roots in their exotic new home, Jamaica.
In April 2017, the clock was against me, I dabbled with my “simple contemporary book” but all the time I could only hear the voice of a boy on his voyage to Jamaica. I imagined the sights he saw, the climate, the African slaves whom the Irish thought to speak English.
Finally I succumbed and began The Tide Between Us. (Available from 7th September 2017 )
The research was even more painstaking than my first novel. It was never work, it was as if I was journeyed across the Atlantic with my Irish boy whom I called Art O’Neill.
There were nights when I felt I was aging with him and watching the great changes in his life and the changing county he eventually called home.
Thank you Olive for this absolutely fascinating look back at Irish history. I always had known there was an Irish presence in Jamaica but had never really understood how that came to be.
We truly are everywhere!
You can read more about Olive Collins here with a small bio and twitter details….
Olive Collins grew up in Thurles, Tipperary, and now lives in Kildare. For the last fifteen years, she has worked in advertising in print media and radio. She has always loved the diversity of books and people. She has travelled extensively and still enjoys exploring other cultures and countries. Her inspiration is the ordinary everyday people who feed her little snippets of their lives. It’s the unsaid and gaps in conversation that she finds most valuable.
Her debut novel, The Memory of Music, was an Irish Bestseller.
Twitter ~ @olivecollins