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Irish people in Jamaica or Irish Jamaicans, are Jamaican citizens whose ancestors originated from Ireland. Irish people are the second-largest reported ethnic group in Jamaica, after Jamaicans of African ancestry. Population estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000, making Irish Jamaicans up to 25% of Jamaica's population. Most Jamaicans with Irish ancestry also have African ancestry.[1]

Irish Jamaicans
Total population
300,000–700,000 (estimated 25% of Jamaica's population has some Irish ancestry)
Regions with significant populations
Jamaican English, Jamaican Patois, Irish (historical)
Related ethnic groups
Irish diaspora, White Jamaican

Historical backgroundEdit

The first wave of Irish immigrants occurred in the early 17th century, Irish emigrant principally sailors, servants, and merchants. Many of the poorer emigrants were displaced Gaelic-Irish and Anglo-Irish Catholics, as well as convicts who were indentured servants. Many of the indentured servants were transported unwillingly. More than 2,000 children alone were sent on ships from Galway Bay[citation needed]. Of those surviving the long journey many more succumbed to disease, the harsh conditions and unfamiliar tropical conditions.

One of the first English colonies in the Caribbean was established on Barbados in 1626.

Irish merchant families from towns like Galway, Kinsale and Waterford established their trading networks in the Caribbean.

First contact with JamaicaEdit

Irish transportees were first brought to Jamaica in large numbers as indentured servants[2] under the English republic of Oliver Cromwell following the capture of Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 by William Pen and Robert Venables as part of Cromwell's strategic plan to dominate the Caribbean: the "Western Design". The force that annexed the island undoubtedly contained large numbers of Irish troops, as they were encouraged to leave Barbados where the army assembled. Between three and four thousand additional troops were raised from volunteers among the indentured servants and freemen in the colonies of Barbados, Montserrat, Nevis and St Kitts, all islands known to have large Irish populations at this time.[3]

In 1655 Henry Cromwell, Major-General of the Parliamentary Army in Ireland, proposed that 1,000 Irish girls and 1,000 Irish young men be sent to assist in the conquest and planting of Jamaica[4], however there is no evidence that this plan was ever approved or carried out. Irish immigration to Jamaica occurred primarily through importation of Irish prisoners of war and indentured servants after the Irish rebellion of 1641 and also constituted the second-largest recorded ethnic influx into the country.

In 1687 Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albermarle was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica by the Catholic King James II. His office was supported mainly by the Irish Catholic farmers and servants, an indication that the Irish were numerous, at least among the lower classes.

Later historyEdit

Migration to Jamaica continued through the 17th century, especially during the sugar boom on the sugar plantations of the West Indies, which forced many freed servants to look for land on the bigger islands like Jamaica. A Barbadian historian has estimated that of 10,000 Irish servants who left Barbados in the last quarter of the 17th century, at least half were destined for Jamaica, where land was available for small farmers. Also, it suited the British to have Irish settle near the internal frontier with the Maroons. From 1670 to 1700, Jamaica became the preferred destination for Irish and English servants departing the Atlantic ports at Kinsale, Cork, Galway and Bristol. By the late 17th century, some 10 percent of Jamaica's landowners were of Irish extraction and several, such as Teague Mackmarroe (Tadhg MacMorrough), who owned Irish indentured servants, attained the rank of "middling planter."

Later, in the mid-eighteenth century, Presbyterian colonial settlers who were fleeing Ireland arrived in the Caribbean. Scottish Gaelic speaking highlanders exiled after the Jacobite rebellions also came to the island in the 18th century.

In 1731, governor of Jamaica Robert Hunter said that the "servants and people of lower rank on the island chiefly consist of Irish Papists" who he said had "been pouring in upon us in such sholes as of late years".[5] In the mid-18th century, Irish native names such as O'Hara and O'Connor were prominent, as well as Old English families like Talbot and Martin. Names present in 1837, recorded during the compensation hearings, include Walsh, O'Meally, O'Sullivan, Burke, Hennessy, Boyle, Tierney, Geoghagan, Dillon.

Cultural influencesEdit

The Irish Gaelic language poet Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin wrote his only English-language work in Port Royal, Jamaica while serving on an English naval vessel.

Notable Jamaicans of Irish descentEdit

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Thomas Povey's Diary, British Library, MS 12410, Folio 10
  • The Tide Between Us, by Olive Collins (Published by Poolbeg Press)


  1. ^ "Welcome to Sligoville: The story of the Irish in Jamaica". Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  2. ^ Hogan, Liam (2017-03-12). "All of my work on the "Irish slaves" meme (2015". ’18). Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  3. ^ "The Western Design, 1655". Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  4. ^ Hogan, Liam. "A review of the numbers in the "Irish slaves" meme". Medium. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  5. ^ Nini Rodgers. "The Irish in the Caribbean 1641-1837 : An Overview" (PDF). Retrieved 29 August 2017.