he St Patrick’s Festival has become one of Montserrat’s most popular annual events.
On March 17, 1768, the Montserrat’s martyrs of freedom attempted to overthrow the island’s leaders while they celebrated the Irish feast of St Patrick at Government House. The story goes that a woman overheard the enslaved people’s plans and reported the plot. The rebellion was thwarted, nine of the ringleaders were executed and another 30 were imprisoned and later banished from the island.
In the early 1970s, the local campus of the University of the West Indies began organizing lectures and exhibitions and performances around that date to encourage national pride. These activities were later centralized in the village of St Patrick’s to give it a special day like other communities had, such as St John’s Day held every December 27. Montserrat’s first commemoration of St Patrick’s Day as a holiday was held in 1985.
While many of Montserrat’s villages and family names still bear the legacy of Ireland’s presence during and after slavery, Montserrat’s version of St Patrick’s Day is a chance to remember the price paid in the struggle for freedom.
It’s a complex juxtaposition of a painful past and the color and vibrancy of life, which in Montserrat, like in Ireland, is vibrant shades of green. The festival does offer attendees the chance to wear their leprechaun hats, four-leaf clovers and the like, but you will also see imagery of broken chains, African apparel and the music and culture of a community learning to remake itself after multiple devastations.
Whether you come for the revelry and rum, or the culture, Montserrat’s St Patrick’s Festival offers many ways to celebrate.
The 2023 festival takes place from Friday March 10 to Sunday March 19 at various locations across the island, including Salem in the south and Little Bay in the north. The landmark Montserrat Cultural Centre in Little Bay, which was built from funds raised at the famous Music for Montserrat concert in 1997 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, serves as a performance center for concerts, theater productions and national ceremonies.
The Slave Feast has been renamed Heritage Feast and is the highlight of the festival taking place from noon on St Patrick’s Day (March 17) into the evening in Salem village.
The 10-day festival is a mix of day and night events so careful planning is necessary to get the best of both. Sleep becomes optional the closer you get to March 17.