The Brooklyn-based West Indian-American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) on Labor Day, Monday, bestowed special honor on Dr. J.A. George Irish, former head of the Caribbean Research Center (CRC) at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College, bestowing on him posthumously the title of March Marshal.
Montserratian-born Dr. Irish was also the dean of the School of Liberal Arts and professor of Caribbean and Latin American Studies at Medgar Evers College.
Additionally, Dr. Irish was the founder and pastor of the Bronx-based Spiritual Awakening Ministries.
He was among three other March Marshals named by WIADCA. The other were: New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, who traces her roots to Barbados and St. Lucia; Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Brooklyn-based Jewish Community Council; and Dr. Henri Paul, of the Brooklyn-based Haitian Medical and Disaster Relief Organization.
During a press conference on Labor Day, at the Brooklyn Museum, Dr. Patricia Ramsey, the new and first woman president ever of Medgar Evers College, introduced Dr. Ken Irish-Bramble, Dr. Irish’s St. Martin-born son, who accepted the award in honor of his late father.
Dr. Irish-Bramble, a professor of political science at Medgar Evers College, told the carnival gathering that WIADCA’s work is “a reflection of his (Dr. Irish) ideals.”
He later told Caribbean Life that “it was an honor to represent my father in recognition his life-long support of Caribbean people and his promotion of Caribbean culture and unity throughout the Diaspora.
“He often spoke to the importance of institutions, like WIADCA, that offered opportunities for Caribbean peoples to come together in unison and share their common heritage,” Dr. Irish-Bramble said. “I believe he would have been particularly moved by this honor, as it speaks to his belief that Caribbean artistic expression is second to none.
“The fact that we were able to have these events, despite the challenges of the day, speaks to the resilience of Caribbean people,” he added. “I want to again thank the organizing committee for acknowledging his contributions to the Caribbean Diaspora.”
In March 2019, then Montserrat Premier, Donaldson Romeo, was among thousands of mourners in Harlem who paid their last respects to the Caribbean academic, who died on Feb. 12, 2019. He was 76.
“I consider it a great privilege to be allowed to stand before you today to honor a great Montserratian whose life has left so many memories, indelible footprints, in all of our hearts,” said Romeo at the three-hour-plus-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 said Dr. 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,” said Romeo, as several mourners used tissues to dry their tears. “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 Dr. Irish’s work, as executive director of CRC for over 30 years.
“I also benefited because Dr. Irish was a man of God,” said the representative for the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn. “It was his faith in God that enabled many of us to be who we are today.”
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 former 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 Dr. 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,” she said. “He was a transformative and respected Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education.”
Dr. Irish had officially retired from Medgar Evers College in August 2018, with the title Professor Emeritus.
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, Dr. 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 honor from the Government of Montserrat, Discover Montserrat said.
Irish’s “great body of work” was awarded the Nicolas Guillen Medallion for scholarly work in Caribbean and Latin American literature.
Dr. Irish had a brief foray in politics, unsuccessfully contesting the 1983 general elections in Montserrat for a seat in the legislative council.
An accomplished musician, composer and theatre director, Dr. Irish co-founded several groups “with the purpose of highlighting the folk-culture of Montserrat and to provide a platform for the development of the arts on the island,” Dr. Irish-Bramble said.
Between 1971 and 1974, he said his father founded and directed the Emerald Community Singers, the Montserrat Theatre Group, the Alliouagana Arts Festival and Alliouagana Commune.
“In 1981, he founded the Alliouagana Music Center, where dozens of young Montserratians got their first introduction to formal music instruction,” Dr. Irish-Bramble said.
Under Dr. Irish’s leadership, “the Caribbean Research Center grew into a hub for not only scholarly research and publication but for advocacy and community development,” Dr. Irish-Bramble said.
“A its peak, the Caribbean Research Center ran youth programs, through the Beacon Program, held numerous conferences and symposiums, published dozens of books and scholarly journals, wrote policy papers, conducted field research into the Caribbean-American presence in Brooklyn and throughout the Diaspora, and advocated for changes in the NYC Board of Education’s treatment of Creole-speaking immigrant students and broader immigration reform,” he added.
Dr. Irish-Bramble said his dad published many books, which were “dedicated to highlighting, preserving and advancing the culture of Caribbean peoples.”
He said Dr. Irish also composed several songs, including the Montserrat National Anthem, and founded the Leeward Islands Debating Competition, “which is today the longest running regional youth competition in the Caribbean.”
“He sought to build on this tradition through the development of the Windward Island Debating competition, the Caribbean Inter-collegiate Debating Competition and the Eastern Caribbean Debating Foundation,” Dr. Irish-Bramble said.