Dr George Irish was a name that as a young man I often heard of
Tribute by Author: Jeevan A. Robinson – MNI Media | Date: 12 February 2019
This evening, an entirely different article was being formulated within my mind to pen. The points I wished to highlight were already mentally structured, and the plan to bring into to life was final for tonight.
But alas, the sad news came in of the passing a great Montserrat Hero and Icon, Dr George Irish. Thus, with such gigantic but yet sad news, the focus had to shift towards paying tribute to this Lion of a man, who has been in many regards larger than life itself.
Dr George Irish was a name that as a young man growing up on Montserrat I often heard of. As a former Leeward Islands Debating competitor, it was through that avenue that I had firsthand interaction with his rich legacy; as it was he who conceived the idea for the Leeward Island Debating Competition (LIDC), with this competition becoming a mecca that birthed many brilliant minds and high achievers throughout the chain of the Leeward Islands.
This is but one aspect of Dr Irish and his rich contribution to humanity’s advance. He was not only a visionary but he was a pioneer. He formed in his country of birth the chorale group, The Emerald Community Singers in 1971. To date, this group not only makes their singing voices heard on Montserrat, but they have travelled over the years extensively to North America and Europe spreading their unique renderings of Montserrat and Caribbean folk songs. Thanks to Dr Irish for his vision with this creation.
Dr Irish passed away at the age of 76. He was from the North of Montserrat; Baker Hill to be exact. He earned a degree in Modern Languages from the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 1965, and went back to the same institution to earn his PhD.
Dr Irish was a man known for both his cultural and academic work, and also his social activism in his earlier years. At the time of his passing his resume was an illumination of accolades and achievements.
He was the Professor of Caribbean and Latin American Studies at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Medgar Evers College in New York. There he taught Caribbean literature, Caribbean History, Caribbean Music and African Diaspora/Migration in the Americas.
He also was the Founder of the Montserrat Allied Workers’ Union. The Montserrat Cooperative Credit Union was founded by him in 1982.
Dr Irish was also President/CEO of Caribbean Diaspora Press Inc, and the Editor-in-Chief of the international publication, WADABAGEI – which is described as being a Journal of the Caribbean and its Diasporas. He is also the Author of over 25 books. For his great body of work he was awarded the Nicolas Guillen Medallion for scholarly work in Caribbean and Latin American literature.
He made a brief foray into politics on Montserrat, but was not successful in the 1983 elections.
His influence on the Arts is unquestionable. Speaking earlier to one of his good friends, – a fellow luminary in the Arts, Dr Yvonne Weekes, she spoke of him writing the intro to her upcoming book to be released hopefully in the summer. Her sadness at his passing being felt throughout the conversation about this great man.
It has always been my private thought that to understand Montserrat both from a historical context, and also to understand the current mental attitudes that dictate many of her people and society today to a large extent, then everyone should have a read of Dr George Irish’s book titled; “Life in a Colonial Crucible” .
It is a book that was loaned to me to read in the early 90s by a dear friend towards the same mantra of understanding the dynamics that comprised Montserrat. Dr Irish, in that book, captured concisely the pulse of the island; and that book is one that I have always held as an all time best in local published literary works.
I recall reaching out to him back then to express my pleasure at having read that book; a book that I feel perhaps should have always had a sequel in many regards.
Many years ago, a singer from Montserrat in the person of Mr Rick Tyson sang a song called “National Hero”. As the news of Dr Irish being no longer with us resonated with me, I penned the following initial social media post with that song’s chorus leading the path, as that is who I see Dr Irish as being – A National Hero!