It is almost St. Patrick’s Day- the ubiquitous Irish holiday that brings out the wearin’ o’ the green- and the Irish in us yearns to break free and do a jig. When thinking of St. Patrick Day celebrations, everyone thinks of the events that are celebrated in Boston or New York City – large communities of Irish descent. But everyone is always surprised to see Puerto Rico celebrating the day. Now, of course, Puerto Ricans will take any excuse to celebrate and indulge in a holiday. But really – there is a rich Irish history in Puerto Rico (and the Caribbean for that matter). So, when you drink that green beer as you lounge along the beaches of Puerto Rico, feel confident that you are memorializing a long history of Irish immigration and participation in Puerto Rico’s history….
From the 16th to the 19th century, there was considerable Irish immigration to Puerto Rico, for a number of reasons. During the 16th century many Irishmen, who were known as “Wild Geese,” fled the English Army and joined the Spanish Army. Some of these men were stationed in Puerto Rico and remained there after their military service to Spain was completed. During the 18th century men such as Field Marshal Alejandro O’Reilly and Colonel Tomas O’Daly were sent to the island to revamp the capital’s fortifications. This led to an influx of Irish immigration to the island. In 1797, the appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Ramón de Castro, ordered the expulsion of the Irish from Puerto Rico which led to protests from the local people of the island. This was due to the British invasion in Trinidad, which de Castro believed would be followed by an invasion of Puerto Rico, which it was. All English-speaking people were given six days to leave the island or be imprisoned. It was later repealed by the Spanish Crown. Many Irishmen survived the witch hunt created by Castro and continued to live in Puerto Rico.
The Spanish government modified the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815 to encourage Europeans of non-Spanish origin to immigrate and populate the last two remaining Spanish possessions in the “New World,” Puerto Rico and Cuba, with the hope that the independence movements would lose their popularity and strength with the arrival of new settlers. Free land was offered to those who wanted to populate the islands on the condition that they swear their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church.
Many Irish refugees who fled Ireland because of the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s which killed over one million Irish people immigrated to Puerto Rico. These settlers were instrumental in the development of the island’s sugar industry which was vital to the island’s economy.
After Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States by Spain as a consequence of the Spanish-American War, many soldiers of Irish-American descent stationed in the island intermarried with the locals and established their homes there. (Source: Wikipedia.org)
Where to Celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day:
For the last several years, the town of Luquillo has hosted a day-long Saint Patrick’s Day festival which includes a Parada de San Patricio (St. Patrick’s Parade) honoring Ireland’s patron saint. There is traditional Irish food and a raffle. Caribbean Trading Company will be there wearing our green and will donate an awesome gift basket to the raffle again this year, as we did last year! There are various Irish pubs around the island which also celebrate the holiday and serve the typical green colored beer on the occasion. Amongst them are Shannon’s Irish Pub in San Juan, and Logan’s Irish Pub in Río Piedras.
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