St. Patrick’s Day in the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean

Only in two places in the world is St. Patrick’s Day a national, public holiday: The Emerald Isle and The Other Emerald Isle!

We mean Ireland and the Caribbean island of Montserrat, obviously.

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Montserrat is a tiny island in the British West Indies with a population of just under 5,000 people. Only a 15-minute plane ride from Antigua, Montserrat has a unique Irish heritage not found on any other Caribbean island. In fact, when you arrive on the island you’ll notice the flag, which features a traditional Irish harp player, and your passport stamp in the shape of a shamrock!

So how did Montserrat become so entwined with Irish culture?

In the mid-1600s, Irish-Catholic indentured servants left St. Kitts for the nearby island of Montserrat due to friction with British Protestants. When the Irish settled on the island, they brought along all their traditions, including the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

However, St. Patrick’s Day in Montserrat is no longer celebrated for the reasons it was before the turn of the century, nor is it celebrated for the same reasons as in Ireland!

When the Irish settled in Montserrat, they continued to operate English sugar plantations with slaves brought from Africa. In 1768, slaves across the tiny 39 square mile island spent months preparing a revolt that would take place on St. Patrick’s Day, when the slave masters would be all at church for the holiday service. The revolt was not successful, but after slavery was abolished in 1834, St. Patrick’s Day became a special holiday to remember the sacrifice and to celebrate freedom from slavery.

Every year the St. Patrick’s Day celebration lasts over a week. Some of the most well-known festivities include the Freedom Run & Walk, a junior calypso competition and a masquerade, where revelers dress in costumes representing the freedom from oppression and perform dances that blend Irish polka and West African styles.

Traditional food enjoyed during the week-long celebration includes goat water (considered the national stew), salted codfish, sweet potato dookna, bush tea and stewed yard fowl. For more information about the exciting annual event, go to www.visitmontserrat.com.

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Vacation Express, one of the largest tour operators in the southeast United States, has been in business for over 25 years. Air/land and hotel-only packages are offered to nearly twenty popular tropical destinations offering flight options on all U.S. and other major airline partners. Today Vacation Express is a member of family-owned and operated, Toronto-based Sunwing Travel Group Inc., Canada's leading vertically integrated leisure travel company.

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