If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730


273 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1630-1
DDC 972.97'50049162




Reviewed by J.H. Galloway

J.H. Galloway is a professor of geography at the University of Toronto.


This book is not well served by its attention-getting title, nor by the
prominent repetition of two questions, in the introductory blurb and on
the back cover: “What would have happened if the Irish had conquered
and controlled a vast empire?” and “Would they have been more humane
rulers than the English?” The book, however, is not a pro-Irish tract
but a scholarly history of the small Caribbean island of Montserrat,
where the Irish were prominent among the early settlers. The author
explains the misguided rhetoric only near the end of the book. It is his
way of addressing the theme of exceptionalism in Irish
historiography—that “Irish history works differently from that of
all the rest of the world”—a theme of which he disapproves. This
local history of Montserrat is his case study to show that the Irish
were not different: they were victims of imperialism, beneficiaries of
imperialism, and perpetrators of imperialism. Their behavior did not set
them apart.

In addition to engaging in historical debate, Akenson has filled a gap
by producing a history of a minor colony usually passed over in general
accounts of the Caribbean. He has relied largely on secondary sources
but has also drawn on 17th- and 18th-century state papers. His approach
is chronological and political, with little economic analysis or
environmental history. He follows the careers of the various governors,
many of whom were of Irish extraction, and includes much anecdotal
family information. He is repetitive in places, and some comparisons and
analogies are a bit overdrawn.

In a reflective last chapter, Akenson considers both the problematic
survival of Irish traditions in a society from which the Irish have now
long been gone as well as the “invention” of Irish tradition to
boost the tourist trade. Whatever Irishness, genuine or invented, there
may have been in late 20th-century Montserrat has been destroyed in the
tragic volcanic eruptions.


Akenson, Donald H., “If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/3125.