Montserrat’s Premier Donaldson Romeo was among thousands of mourners Friday night, March 1, paying their last respects to Caribbean academic, Montserratian-born Dr. George Irish, who died on Feb. 12. He was 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, who received a standing ovation prior to giving his tribute at the funeral, dubbed “Celebration of Life,” at the Bethel Gospel Assembly in Harlem.
“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,” added 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 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,’” continued Romeo, stating that Dr. Irish also impacted his own home, particularly through his mother, “a firm fan of his.”
In the “Black Power” days of the late 1960s and early 1970s,” the Montserrat premier said “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,” Romeo said. “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 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, 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 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,” 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.
“I could not miss this opportunity to send our brother home,” added Clarke. “I’m a beneficiary of his works and am humbled to be in your presence.”
Dr. Irish was founder and pastor of the Bronx-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 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.
“He was passionate about the college’s mission,” Dr. Paul added. “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.”
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.
His remains were interred in New York on Saturday, March 2.