Dr. George Irish, a cultural giant in Montserrat history who was a scholar, professor, trade unionist, musician, politician and author, among other titles, passed away Tuesday in New York. He was 76 years old.
A cause of death was not immediately known but a close friend said Irish was hospitalized in December with a serious illness.
Irish, who once said music was the love of his life, formed the Emerald Community Singers in 1971 and watched the choral group rise to international acclaim.
Irish was born in Baker Hill and grew up in Cudjoe Head. He attended the St. Peter’s Anglican Church and, although the Cavalla Hill Primary School was closer to his home, he attended the St. Peter’s Parish School. “That’s how loyal people were to their church,” he said during an interview with My Montserrat in 2012.
As a young boy his family moved to Plymouth and then to Fort Barrington. Irish said he got involved in as many social activities as he could when he was a teenager, especially anything involving music. “I played the guitar, ukulele, accordion and the piano,” he said. “I was never bored.”
After graduating from the Montserrat Secondary School, Irish was the recipient of the Montserrat Island Scholarship and went to study at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. He earned a degree in Modern Languages in 1965. After returning to Montserrat for a few months, he got a scholarship from UWI to return and earn his doctorate. He then stayed on and became part of the faculty as chair of the Spanish department. “I ended up spending 16 years in Jamaica,” he told My Montserrat.
When he returned to Montserrat, he contacted some former MSS classmates and formed the Emerald Community Singers on September 15, 1971. The group practiced for three months and held its first Christmas concert that December at the Shamrock Theatre in Plymouth. Some of those early members included Vera Roach (Ryan), Veronica Hickson, Edith Bellot Allen, Dorothy Greenaway and Dr. Vernon Buffonge.
In 1972, Irish founded the Alliouagana Festival. He later founded the Montserrat Allied Workers’ Union and also delved into local politics, with mixed results. In 1982, he established the Montserrat Cooperative Credit Union.
After his party suffered a big defeat in the 1983 elections, Irish relocated to the United States and became director of the Caribbean Research Centre at the Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. In 2014 he was appointed Dean of the Liberal Arts program at Medgar Evers. He has published more than 30 books and booklets.
Irish is the father of up-and-coming singer Ayanna Irish.
Condolences and tributes poured in on social media Tuesday after news of Irish’s passing, including a poem from his old friend Sir Howard Fergus, who wrote in part:
If I am allowed a meaningful cliche,
Dr Irish was a colossus, worthy of our tears;
His music and the music of his life,
Will resonate endless years.