Tribute to Dr. George Irish By Professor Howard A Fergus


In this sickly season when the smell of death

pervades the atmosphere, the passing

of Professor Irish creates a sad and gaping hole

more than six feet deep in the ranks of the good

and great of Montserrat. The usual euphemisms

like “called home” and “called up higher” cannot

disguise the earthquake, occasioned by his fall;

he left us with a burning ache in hearts

of family and friends, and the list is long,

accomplishments immense, traversing art, academy,

activism and the rights of genuine Montserratians,

and he was a practicing believer from early morning.

That elder Irish ended up in the pulpit is no surprise

to us acquainted with his pilgrim greening,

and his venerable grandmother; in many senses,

he was well rooted, local first before universal.

George has left us and has left us much. At a time

when “icon” is liberally distributed as klim

in our impoverished childhood, it seems beggarly

to so endow him, I dub him a Montserrat avatar

which carries spiritual overtones, in honour

of his enormous gifting which he generously

invested in his island home, attracting meagre

appreciation; his legacy is wide and long.

Versatile musician, he taught us how to sing our songs

of home and hope in tuneful melody,

and Montserratian voices gladdened the air

in Castro’s Cuba, Demerara, Antigua and America,

while birds hummed our songs in Trinidad

with echoes in Barbados. You could’t fence Irish in.

With his searching intellect, he taught their story

and their folkways to the people in palatable pieces,

this apostle of enlightenment; he gave new meaning

to popular education and community upliftment.

Irish taught all classes and conditions of people,

and made them teachers also, liberating learning

from traditional walls and broadened the classroom too.

Irish wrote his name on the trade union movement

clothing it in modern dress attracting youths,

and saw culture as spirit and lifestyle,

beyond goat water, masquerade and jumbie dance,

which he wisely elevated to the national stage,

to the condemnation of a myopic Plymouth elite.

George Irish was a pioneer, indeed a revolutionary;

it is a fake history that omits his role

in the Saint Patrick’s Day story, the attendant festival

and the economic whoop and holla; his nyam-nyam

evoking Africa, prototyped the now famous slave feast.

His activities are far-reaching and abiding;

he is our proud export to America, our treat.

If I am allowed a meaningful cliché, Dr. Irish

was a colossus worthy of our tears; his music

and the music of his life will resonate endless years.