Montserrat

Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory (BOT) in the Caribbean. The island is in the Leeward Islands, which is part of the chain known as the Lesser Antilles, in the West Indies. Montserrat measures approximately 16 km (10 mi) in length and 11 km (7 mi) in width, with approximately 40 km (25 mi) of coastline. Montserrat is nicknamed “The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of many of its inhabitants.

On 18 July 1995, the previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano, in the southern part of the island, became active. Eruptions destroyed Montserrat’s Georgian era capital city of Plymouth. Between 1995 and 2000, two-thirds of the island’s population was forced to flee, primarily to the United Kingdom, leaving fewer than 1,200 people on the island as of 1997 (rising to nearly 5,000 by 2016).
The volcanic activity continues, mostly affecting the vicinity of Plymouth, including its docking facilities, and the eastern side of the island around the former W. H. Bramble Airport, the remnants of which were buried by flows from volcanic activity on 11 February 2010.

An exclusion zone, encompassing the southern half of the island to as far north as parts of the Belham Valley, was imposed because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity. Visitors are generally not permitted entry into the exclusion zone, but a view of the destruction of Plymouth can be seen from the top of Garibaldi Hill in Isles Bay. Relatively quiet since early 2010, the volcano continues to be closely monitored by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

A new town and port are being developed at Little Bay, which is on the northwest coast of the island. While this construction proceeds, the centre of government and businesses is at Brades.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island Santa María de Montserrate, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery of Montserrat, on Montserrat mountain, near Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. “Montserrat” means “serrated mountain” in Catalan.


 

Flag of Montserrat

The flag of Montserrat is the Montserrat arms placed on the fly of the British Blue Ensign after the colony of the Leeward Islands (which consisted of several British-administered islands in the region) was dissolved in 1958.

It is a Blue Ensign with the Union Flag in the canton and the coat of arms of Montserrat in the flie of the country.
The coat of arms of Montserrat was adopted in 1909. The arms consist of a shield featuring a lady in green representing Erin, the female personification of Ireland, based on the mythology of Ériu. The lady is holding a golden harp, a symbol of Ireland that features in Ireland’s coat of arms. The cross she embraces with one arm symbolises Christianity.

The arms feature on the flag of Montserrat and on the Union Flag used by the Governor of Montserrat.


 

History

Archaeological field work in 2012, in Montserrat’s Centre Hills indicated there was an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 4000 and 2500 BP (2000 – 500 BC). Later coastal sites show the presence of the Saladoid culture (until 550 AD). The native Caribs are believed to have called the island Alliouagana, meaning ‘Land of the Prickly Bush’.

Early European Period

In November 1493, Christopher Columbus passed Montserrat in his second voyage, after being told that the island was unoccupied due to raids by the Caribs.

A number of Irishmen settled in Montserrat in 1632. Most came from nearby St Kitts at the instigation of the island’s governor Thomas Warner, with more settlers arriving later from Virginia.
The preponderance of Irish in the first wave of European settlers led a leading legal scholar to remark that a “nice question” is whether the original settlers took with them the law of the Kingdom of Ireland insofar as it differed from the law of the Kingdom of England.

The Irish being historical allies of the French, especially in their dislike of the English, invited the French to claim the island in 1666, although no troops were sent by France to maintain control.
However, the French did attack and briefly occupy the island in the late 1660s; it was captured shortly afterwards by the English and English control of the island was confirmed under the Treaty of Breda the following year. Despite the seizing by force of the island by the English, the island’s legal status is that of a “colony acquired by settlement”.

A neo-feudal colony developed amongst the so-called “redlegs”. The colonists began to transport Sub-Saharan African slaves for labour, as was common to most Caribbean islands.
The colonists built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and sea island cotton, cultivated on large plantations manned by slave labour. By the late 18th century, numerous plantations had been developed on the island. Many Irish continued to be transported to the island, to work as indentured servants; some were exiled during the English Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

18th century

There was a brief French attack on Montserrat in 1712. On 17 March 1768, slaves rebelled though failed to achieve freedom. The people of Montserrat celebrate St Patrick’s Day as a public holiday due to the slave revolt. Festivities held that week commemorate the culture of Montserrat in song, dance, food and traditional costumes.

In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, as America’s first ally, France captured Montserrat in their war of support of the Americans. The French, not intent on truly colonising the island, then agreed to return the island to Great Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Irish language in Montserrat

The Irish constituted the largest proportion of the white population from the founding of the colony in 1628. Many were indentured labourers; others were merchants or plantation owners.
The geographer Thomas Jeffrey claimed in The West India Atlas (1780) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either Irish or of Irish descent, “so that the use of the Irish language is preserved on the island, even among the Negroes”.

African slaves and Irish colonists of all classes were in constant contact, with sexual relationships being common and a population of mixed descent appearing as a consequence.
The Irish were also prominent in Caribbean commerce, with their merchants importing Irish goods such as beef, pork, butter and herring, and also importing slaves.

There is indirect evidence that the use of the Irish language continued in Montserrat until at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The Kilkenny diarist and Irish scholar Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin noted in 1831 that he had heard that Irish was still spoken in Montserrat by both black and white inhabitants.

In 1852, Henry H. Breen wrote in Notes and Queries: a Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, etc. that “The statement that “the Irish language is spoken in the West India Islands, and that in some of them it may be said to be almost vernacular,” is true of the little Island of Montserrat, but has no foundation with respect to the other colonies.”

In 1902, The Irish Times quoted the Montreal Family Herald in a description of Montserrat, noting that “the negroes to this day speak the old Irish Gaelic tongue, or English with an Irish brogue. A story is told of a Connaught man who, on arriving at the island, was, to his astonishment, hailed in a vernacular Irish by the black people.”

A letter by W. F. Butler in The Atheneum (15 July 1905) quotes an account by a Cork civil servant, C. Cremen, of what he had heard from a retired sailor called John O’Donovan, a fluent Irish speaker:

He frequently told me that in the year 1852, when mate of the brig Kaloolah, he went ashore on the island of Montserrat which was then out of the usual track of shipping. He said he was much surprised to hear the negroes actually talking Irish among themselves, and that he joined in the conversation.

The British phonetician John C. Wells conducted research into speech in Montserrat in 1977–78 (which included also Montserratians resident in London). He found media claims that Irish speech, whether Anglo-Irish or Irish Gaelic, influenced contemporary Montserratian speech were largely exaggerated. He found little in phonology, morphology or syntax that could be attributed to Irish influence, and in Wells’ report, only a small number of Irish words in use, one example being minseach [ˈmʲiɲʃəx] which he suggests is the noun goat.
However as the word is an adjective and translates as having resolve, spirit, or courage, attributes that a ramming goat may have, the locals viewed Wells’ particularly closed line of questioning, where the desired outcome was loaded into the question, as attempting to engage in confirmation bias and thus on recognizing the nature of Wells’ intent, saw fit to play with describing him, or giving him exactly what he had set out to “prove”.

New Crops & Politics

Britain abolished slavery in Montserrat and its other territories effective August 1834. During the nineteenth century, falling sugar prices had an adverse effect on the island’s economy, as Brazil and other nations competed in the trade.

In 1857, the British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought a sugar estate to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labour rather than slaves. Numerous members of the Sturge family bought additional land. In 1869 the family established the Montserrat Company Limited and planted Key lime trees, started the commercial production of lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island. Much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.

From 1871 to 1958, Montserrat was administered as part of the federal crown colony of the British Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962. The first Chief Minister of Montserrat was William Henry Bramble of the Montserrat Labour Party from 1960 to 1970; he worked to promote labour rights and boost tourism to the island, and Montserrat’s original airport was named in his honour.
However Bramble’s son Percival Austin Bramble was critical of the way tourist facilities were being constructed, and he subsequently set up his own party (the Progressive Democratic Party) which went on to win the 1970 Montserratian general election, with Percival Bramble serving as Chief Minister from 1970-78. The period 1978-1991 was dominated politically by Chief Minister John Osborne and his People’s Liberation Movement; his brief flirtation with possibly declaring independence never materialised.

In 1979, The Beatles producer George Martin opened AIR Studios Montserrat, which resulted in musical artists such as Dire Straits, Paul McCartney, Duran Duran, The Police, Elton John, Jimmy Buffett and The Rolling Stones visiting the island to record albums.

In the early hours of 17 September 1989, Hurricane Hugo passed the island as a Category 4 hurricane, damaging more than 90% of the structures on the island. AIR Studios Montserrat closed, and the tourist economy was virtually wiped out. Corruption allegations within the PLM party resulted in the collapse of the Osborne government in 1991, with Reuben Meade becoming the new chief minister. As a result, early elections were called.
In 1995 Montserrat was devastated by the catastrophic volcanic eruptions of the Soufrière Hills, which destroyed the capital city of Plymouth, and necessitated the evacuation of a large part of the island. Many Montserratians emigrated abroad, mainly to the United Kingdom, though in recent years some have started returning. The eruptions rendered the entire southern half of the island uninhabitable, and it is currently designated an Exclusion Zone with restricted access. Criticism of the Montserratian government’s response to the disaster led to the resignation of Chief Minister Bertrand Osborne in 1997 after only a year in office, being replaced by David Brandt who remained in office until 2001. Since leaving office Brandt has been the subject of a criminal investigation into alleged sex offences.

John Osborne returned as Chief Minister following victory in the 2001 election, being ousted by Lowell Lewis of the Montserrat Democratic Party in 2006. Ruben Meade returned to office in 2009-2014. During his term, the post of Chief Minister was replaced with that of Premier. Since 2014 Donaldson Romeo of the People’s Democratic Movement has been Premier. In the Autumn of 2017, Montserrat was not hit by Hurricane Irma and sustained only minor damage from Hurricane Maria.


 

Politics & Government

Montserrat is an internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes Montserrat on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. The island’s Chief of State is Queen Elizabeth II represented by an appointed Governor.
Executive power is exercised by the government, whereas the Premier is the head of government. The Premier is appointed by the Governor from among the members of the Legislative Assembly which consists of nine elected members. The leader of the party with a majority of seats is usually the one who is appointed. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly also includes two ex officio members, the attorney general and financial secretary.

Military defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom so the island has no regular army.

The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Parishes

For the purposes of local government, Montserrat is divided into three parishes. Going north to south, they are:

  • Saint Peter Parish
  • Saint Georges Parish
  • Saint Anthony Parish

The locations of settlements on the island have been vastly changed since the volcanic activity began. Only Saint Peter Parish in the northwest of the island is now inhabited, with a population of between 4,000 and 6,000, the other two parishes being still too dangerous to inhabit.


 

Communications

he island is served by landline telephones, fully digitalized, with 3,000 subscribers and by mobile cellular, with an estimated number of 5,000 handsets in use. An estimated 2,860 users have internet access. These are July 2016 estimates. Public radio service is provided by Radio Montserrat. There is a single television broadcaster, PTV. Cable and satellite television service are available. The UK Postcode for directing mail to Montserrat is MSR followed by four digits according to the destination town, for example, the postcode for Little Bay is MSR1120.


 

Geography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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