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Irish pride resonates to Caribbean as tiny island makes merry

NWS_2014-03-17_OPI_010_31014597_I2By Graham Clifford From

As the sun sets over the Caribbean island of Montserrat, I find myself serenading the locals who have come down to the waterfront to meet up with the visiting Irish.

I belt out ‘Raglan Road’ and ‘Red is the Rose’ with the assistance of the Martin Healy band, who have become a regular fixture during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations on this tiny volcanic territory.

“Not bad, not bad at all, brother,” says one Montserratian with a beer in hand.

Today the island will come to a standstill as the small population of 5,000 converge on the west of Montserrat to parade, sing, dance and celebrate St Patrick’s Day in their own unique style.

While the country will be awash with Leprechaun costumes and greenery, they also use the day to remember their African forefathers.

It was in his home in Ballyfermot one afternoon in 2004 that Martin Healy stumbled across a chapter in a book that would change his life forever.

“I was reading Pete McCarthy’s ‘The Road to McCarthy’, and there was a chapter on the West Indies which focused on Montserrat.”

The only country in the world outside of Ireland where St Patrick’s Day is a national holiday, the tiny Caribbean island, not much bigger than Inis Mor in the Aran Islands, has a population described as Afro-Irish. The Irish made up 70pc of the country’s pop-ulation in the mid-1600s and they celebrate their Irish roots to this day.

“It mentioned a St Patrick’s Day festival – I’d never heard of the island before,” explains Martin.

“I thought I’d email the government here to see if they had Irish musicians over for the celebrations.

“The tourist board in Montserrat said they didn’t so they invited me to come out and have a look, which I did. That was nine years ago … and I’m still coming!” says Martin.

He’s even acted as a kind of “unofficial Irish ambassador to Montserrat”, hand-delivering a message of support from President Higgins to the Premier here last year.

In the week leading up to St Patrick’s Day, the Martin Healy trad band have been entertaining locals and today they’ll lead the celebrations on the island, which is technically a British territory. They even allowed me sing with them in Monty’s Bar on the seafront at Little Bay.

PHOTO: Martin Healy, Graham Clifford, Brother Tom Phelan and Niall Brosnan perform at Monty’s bar on Little Bay in Montserrat. Photo by Wayne Fenton

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