Montserrat premier leads tribute at funeral service of Caribbean academic

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Montserrat premier leads tribute at funeral service of Caribbean academic
Dr. George Irish (File Photo)
Dr. George Irish (File Photo)

NEW YORK, Mar 2, CMC – Montserrat’s Premier Donaldson Romeo led thousands of mourners Friday night in paying their last respects to Caribbean academic, Montserratan-born Dr. George Irish, who died on February 12 at the age of 76.

“First and foremost, on behalf of the government and the People of Montserrat, wherever they may be, I would like to express profound condolences with wishes of peace and consolation to the wife, children, close relatives and friends of the Right Hon. Professor Dr. George Irish – son and hero of our native land,” said Romeo, at the funeral service, dubbed “Celebration of Life,” at the expansive Bethel Gospel Assembly in Harlem, New York.

“I consider it a great privilege to be allowed to stand before you today to honour a great Montserratian whose life has left so many memories, indelible footprints, in all of our hearts,” added Romeo at the more than three-hour long funeral service.

“He has left enduring footprints in our civic life and education, through trade union activity, the credit union, political activism and speeches, through lectures, sermons, classes and informal chats.

“He has left his mark on Montserratian culture. memories of the University Center packed with people: Arrow on stage performing in his platform shoes; Gus White singing his heart out; Joe West playing the role of Willie Bramble; the newly-formed Community Singers bringing national pride tears to our eyes, with ‘Oh, Montserrat in the Carib Sea’”, said Romeo.

He said in the “Black Power” days of the late 1960s and early 1970s,” “we all wore afros, and our mother sewed up a storm of dashikis for the whole family for just about every occasion.

“More importantly, we were taught to wear these symbols of our African heritage with pride, just as he did, as an outward sign of an inner liberation. For, as sons and daughters of slaves, Montserratians had long learnt to be ashamed of our past, of the culture that had grown out of this past, of our so called ‘bad English’, of our very selves.”

He said Irish’s enthusiasm for “’Montserratianness’, for our history, our stories, our music, our jokes and our twang, was contagious, and made a priceless contribution to a joyous sense of national pride and celebration.

“He has left an imprint that goes way deeper than activism, deeper than clothes or cultural events. He has left us a legacy of freedom and dignity that is encoded in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) of our little Caribbean Rock.”

Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told mourners that she, as well as the entire Caribbean Diaspora in New York, benefited tremendously from Irish’s work, as executive director of the Caribbean Research Center (CRC), at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College, City University of New York (CUNY), for over 30 years.

“I also benefited because Dr. Irish was a man of God. It was his faith in God that enabled many of us to be who we are today. I could not miss this opportunity to send our brother home. I’m a beneficiary of his works and am humbled to be in your presence.”

Dr. Irish was founder and pastor of the Bronx, New York-based Spiritual Awakening Ministries.

Clarke’s Jamaican-born mother, Dr. Una S. T. Clarke, the first Caribbean-born woman to be ever elected to New York City Council, said she was among seven people who hired Dr. Irish, directly from Montserrat, to head CRC in the late 1980s.

“Dr. Irish was a staple in our community,” said the elder Clarke, a current CUNY trustee. “May we be grateful for the work he did.”

Speaking on behalf of Dr. Rudolph Crew, the president of Medgar Evers College, and the college itself, Dr. Sheila Paul, the Trinidad and Tobago-born Founding Dean of the college’s School of Education, described Irish as “one of our brightest lights.”

“As we memorialize Dr. Irish, most of us remember him as one of a kind – a singular, dominant intellect; evolutionary and revolutionary. He was a transformative and respected Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education.

“He was passionate about the college’s mission. His standards weren’t just high, they sometimes appeared unattainable. From the physical appearance of the School, to nurturing and championing promotional opportunities for his dedicated administrative staff, to mentoring our chairs and faculty, to guiding his beloved students, and the extensive work of the Caribbean Research Center, Dr. Irish’s indefatigable spirit reignited the purpose of the School of Liberal Arts and Education.”

“For everyone who worked with Dr. Irish, his lesson was clear: It wasn’t good enough to be the best in your field; you had to create new fields. George Irish was bold, unpretentious, and unselfish.

“His quiet words, often conveyed articulately, would lift you up, when you achieved a goal; or shake you into reality, when you floundered As his protégé, Dr. Irish expended no effort in honing my leadership and management skills.”

Irish had officially retired from Medgar Evers College in August 2018, with the title Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Maria DeLongoria, CRC’s current executive director, said that, when Dr. Irish’s eldest son, Dr. Ken Irish-Bramble, a professor at Medgar Evers College, who read his father’s obituary, told her that she was on the funeral programme to pay tribute, she was “honoured.”

A graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr. Irish was the first recipient of UWI’s Ph.D. degree in Spanish. Besides Medgar Evers College, he taught at UWI, where he headed the Department of Spanish, and in the Dominican Republic, at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (UASD).

He was editor-in-chief and founder of the scholarly Journal of Caribbean studies, Wadabagei, and president of the New York-based Caribbean Diaspora Press, Inc. and Caribbean American Research Foundation, Inc.

In addition, Irish was co-founder and chancellor of the Universidad Popular de Desarrollo Sostenible de Las Americas (UNIPOP) and founding Board member of the International Center for Sustainable Development (CIDES) in Panama.

He authored and edited 32 books, including: Visions of Liberation in the Caribbean, 1992; Life in a Colonial Crucible, 1991; Growth of a Revolutionary Consciousness, 1990; Evolution of a Global and Diasporic Vision; and Discourses from Alliouagana and the Diaspora.

In 2014, Irish received the Order of Excellence honour from the government of Montserrat.

He had a brief foray in politics, unsuccessfully contesting the 1983 general election in Montserrat for a seat in the legislative council.

Irish’s remains were interred in New York on Saturday.

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