Brian Fitzpatrick, writing for Irish Emigrant, looks at a new novel by William P. Sexton that sheds light on the history of the Irish in Barbados. Follow the link below for the review’s original post.
An American-born chronicler of Irish history, William P. Sexton, has penned a new historical novel centered on the fate of the Irish men, women and children transported to Barbados in the 1600’s by Oliver Cromwell. In the aftermath of the conquest of Ireland, Cromwell deported a great many Irish who refused to give up their land or to fight in foreign wars; others were simply lifted from the streets and shipped to the Caribbean to work as slaves or indentured laborers on tobacco plantations. The majority ended up in Barbados, Montserrat or Jamaica, and these forced transfers became so prevalent that the term “Barbado’ed” was coined to mean someone deported to Barbados.
Slaves transported by white settlers first arrived on Barbados in the 1620’s and continued to be sent there for decades in order to feed the booming trade in forced labor. By 1667, there were over 40,000 slaves on the island. However, most descendants of the “Barbado’ed” Irish were eventually able to move away from the island (many to other parts of the Caribbean), as African slavery became the norm. The number of Irish sent to Barbados is not known for certain. Estimates vary widely, from a high of 60,000 to a low of 12,000. The enslavement of Africans in Barbados continued until 1834, when the slaves were emancipated (conditional to completing a four-year period of apprenticeship). By then the Irish of Barbados had disappeared into history; the census of the 1880’s did not identify any Barbadians as Irish.
What did remain in the region was a small population of poor whites, often called ‘Red Legs’. According to folk etymology, the name is derived from the effects of the tropical sun on their fair-skinned legs. They are thought to be the descendants of the “Barbado’ed” victims of Cromwell’s wars, be they Irish, Scottish or English (many Enlglishmen were also “Barbado’ed” following the Monmouth Rebellion). These descendants are to this day dotted around Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada and a few other Caribbean islands. In Belize, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago they are known as “Bakras”, meaning “back row”.
Sexton’s novel tells the tale of Sean Tierney, a veteran of the early siege of Limerick taken from his home in the middle of the night and sent to Barbados in chains. The swashbuckling, pirate-slaying narrative tells of his 35-year long effort to return to Limerick against all odds, taking in a gamut of historically-themed encounters with the likes of Michel de Grammont, and spanning exotic locations such as Panama, Mexico, Venezuela and Hispaniola. It sheds light on an absolutely fascinating and still divisive subject matter in an entertaining manner, spinning one man’s personalized thread around a period and practice still shrouded in some mystery.
William P. Sexton was born in New York City to Irish-born parents, and lived in Ireland during the seventies. He is married with two sons and two grandsons, living in New Jersey. He has previously written three Irish historical novels: Liam O’Connor, I Have Not Forgotten Thee, and Nina’s Irish Odyssey. For details on how to obtain a copy of “Escape from Barbados” see www.oseasnain.com
For the original post go to http://www.irishemigrant.com/ie/go.asp?p=story&storyID=6910