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Irish Slaves in the Caribbean

I love everything weird and colorful in this world and I try to live a life that will make the world a little better once I'm gone.

To Hell, Connaught, or Barbados

Though little has been discussed about them, thousands of Irish men, women, and children, were captured or arrested and shipped to the Caribbean as slaves. Because they did not factor into Oliver Cromwell's new plan of government, these people were gathered and shipped off, with no dignity, to work as slaves in the island plantations of the Caribbean. Their influence is left in those places, in the street names, the towns names, and in any local phone book. But, their stories have not been told.

Mention of these white slaves are often left completely out of history books, or sometimes sugar-coated as "voluntary indentured servants", however thousands were kidnapped from the streets and from their beds. That is not voluntary. And the term indentured servants is meant to describe a temporary situation, which for most this was not.

Novel: Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl - ~ Historical Fiction ~

Kate McCafferty's period fiction reflects life as an Irish slave in the Caribbean and the relationships between Irish slaves and black slaves. She spoke about writing this book in a news article at the University at Albany.

Teachers, and reading groups may want to check out this discussion guide for Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Lord Protector of England from 1653 - 1658

Oliver Cromwell, in 1648, put down a rebellion in Ireland with such savagery and cruelty that is is nearly unimaginable. In his own words after the siege of Drogheda, "the officers were knocked on the head, every tenth man of the soldiers killed and the rest shipped to Barbados."

Cromwell drove Irish men and women, as threats to his new government, from their homes into the relatively barren and inhospitable province of Connaught. He created a system of arresting people for terribly minor infractions and forcing them onto ships headed to the Caribbean, providing the British planters there with "indentured laborers". Often times they actually just 'captured' the Irish for no reason at all.

By his command, roughly 12,000 Irish people were sold into slavery under the Commonwealth. Thousands more were killed on the spot.

Were you surprised? - Did you know about Irish slavery?

It seems that Irish slavery has escaped many texts, and therefore the entire education of many.

To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland

Articles About Irish Slaves - Learn More About Irish Slavery in the Americas

  • England's Irish Slaves by Robert E. West
    Records are replete with references to early Irish Catholics in the West Indies. Gwynn in Analecta Hibernica, states: 'The earliest reference to the Irish is the establishment of an Irish settlement on the Amazon River in 1612."...
  • Island paradise recalls Irish slavery
    A monument to commemorate Cromwell's Irish victims. In the Caribbean St. Kitts is one of those places holidaymakers dream about. However, there is a bit of history of the island which until recently has gone overlooked by virtually all visitors. That
  • Out of Africa, Out of Ireland
    "Under Cromwell's policy, known as "To Hell or Connaught," Irish landowners were driven off millions of acres of fertile land. Those found east of the river Shannon after May 1, 1654, faced the death penalty or slavery in the West Indies. Cromwell re
  • Musical Origin: The Blues
    Although many credit the Mississippi Delta area as the region where Blues music originated, others cite its origins as beginning much earlier in the West Indies, where the Irish and African slaves produced a unique, yet sorrowful, blend of Celtic and
  • A Short History of the Irish in Jamaica, Part 1 of 3 -- The Wild Geese Today
    In this three-part series, I will attempt to solve a puzzle that has bothered and intrigued me from the time I first set foot in Jamaica some 20 years ago. What is it about this small island and its people, 6,000 miles from Ireland, hardly the size o
  • Ireland's Slavery Memorial Day?
    Given that tens of thousands of Irish people were shipped into slavery, isn't it strange that Ireland has no day remembering them?
  • Irish Slavery in America
    One of the topics of interest to a number of our people is the Irish language in America. This is intimately related with the subject of indentured servitude and slavery in America. Gerry Kelly has contributed the following information, as a sample o
  • The Irish in the Caribbean 1641-1837: An Overview
    By Nini Rodgers
  • In memory of Irish victims of the Irish Slave trade
    Few people know that the majority of Slaves in the Caribbean, during the 17th Century, were actually Irish
Goodwife Ann Glover

Goodwife Ann Glover

Goodwife "Goody" Ann Glover

Twice Persecuted

Goodwife "Goody" Ann Glover is an Irish slave that you may have actually heard of before. Ann Glover was the last woman hanged in the Massachusetts witch trials. She was sold as a slave to the Barbados under Englishman Oliver Cromwell reign, during the occupation of Ireland in the 1650s. By 1680 Anne and her daughter were living in Boston, housekeepers for John Goodwin. When the Goodwin children became sick, Goody Glover was accused of being a witch and afflicting them. She insisted on only speaking Irish during her trial, and was subsequently found guilty and hung. Learn more about Goody Glover.

Primary Sources - Available to Be Viewed Online

If want to hear it strait from the horse's mouth, or you are writing a report and realize that primary sources are the best, visit these links:

Damien Dempsey - Music CD

Download the MP3 of the song To Hell Or Barbados from this album.

Published References to Irish Slavery in the Caribbean

These books are now in the public domain and viewable free online:

To Hell or Barbados...

Scroll to Continue

Irish Slave Genealogy

Has your genealogical research led you to the slaves of the Caribbean? These links may help you continue:

  • The Cavanaugh's
    There are a great many K/Cavanaughs in North America who trace their ancestry back to a Charles Cavanaugh, who trace their ancestry back to a Charles Cavanaugh, who arrived in Virginia,
  • Notes on Barbadoes and Irish Slaves
    Genealogical references to Irish slaves
  • The Caribbean Y-DNA Project
    My goal is to find out the ancestry of many of the Europeans who immigrated and settled or conquered most of the Caribbean Islands. Also the Native population and the African population in result of the slave trade. Especially the Irish population wh
  • McGinley - Irish in the Caribbean
    The surname McGinley, along with many other Irish names, can be found throughout the Caribbean today. Some are 20th Century settlers but some are descended from Irish slaves who were transported to the islands hundreds of years before.

Tobacco Island by Flogging Molly

Tobacco Island

The Artist: Flogging Molly
The Song: Tobacco Island
The Album: Within a Mile of Home Release: 2004
Flogging Molly on Facebook
Flogging Molly's Myspace

All to hell we must sail
For the Shores of sweet Barbados
Where the sugar cane grows taller
Than the god we once believed in
Till the butcher and his crown
Raped the land we used to sleep in
Now tomorrow chimes of ghostly crimes
That haunt Tobacco Island

Click here to read the rest of the lyrics to this song.

Flogging Molly's song Tobacco Island, beautifully describes the anger and the pain that the Irish slaves must have felt at being torn from their homes and sent as labor to the Caribbean. At a Flogging Molly concert, Dave King said "This is a song about a man named Oliver Cromwell... and tonight I hope you all dance on his grave!". He has also dedicated the song to Oliver Cromwell on other occasions in a perfect act of irony.

"Roundheads" is the term used by the Irish of that time to describe the English, because of their short haircuts - the Irish wore their hair longer. "Redlegs" is something that the Irish slaves were called in Barbados because of the red hair on their legs.

Escape from Barbados - Historical Fiction on Irish Slavery

This novel is the story of Sean Tierney who is sent to Barbados as a slave. There, he falls in love with an African princess and has a son. He lives as a slave for 35 years and then he, his multi-racial son and grandson make their way back to Ireland.

End Slavery Today

One reason that I made this page, is to remind people that slavery was not a one time thing that attacked one group of people. Throughout time, worldwide, slavery has existed: in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome; in medieval Europe; under the viking rule; the Jews under the Nazi regime; in the Arab world; in Africa; in Brazil; in China; in India; and indeed in America.

You would think that in a world as modern as ours, where people pride themselves on being educated, that slavery would be gone. Unfortunately that is not the case. Slavery exists today, as in any other time. It is merely covered up and disguised (most of the time). People being traded as sex slaves, children being sold off, factories that pay nearly nothing and provide threats of violence if people try to quit, immigrants enslaved to pay for their trip and fake papers - it is all happening today. And, it is slavery.

Help end slavery today.

  • Free The Slaves (not for profit)
    Free the Slaves liberates slaves around the world, helps them rebuild their lives and researches real world solutions to eradicate slavery forever.

Share with us your thoughts on Irish Slavery...


Lynn Klobuchar on January 26, 2014:

What one human will do to another is shocking. Past and present. Will do some reading on this now that I am aware. Thanks.

Kate Fereday Eshete from United Kingdom on September 17, 2013:

I didn't know that Irish folk were enslaved and taken to the Caribbean in the mid 17th century, so thank you for an interesting and informative lens about a forgotten people.

jerrieclapp on August 22, 2013:

@InfoCoop: You are right about our history books in our schools. Many of us have grown up and know so little of the events that actually brought us where we are today because someone decided to change history. But it can't be changed only covered up.

Colin323 on August 19, 2013:

Fascinating. I will definitely read one or more of the books recommended. Thanks for this lens

anonymous on June 17, 2013:

Thank you for raising this type of awareness - especially the overall goal to remind people that slavery was and is not just specific to any time, region, or peoples. For the history buff in me, it should also be noted that discrimination against the Irish (particularly Irish Catholics) persisted well after Cromwell (and describing all that is a beast). For a random side note that many people don't know about is that during the Potato Famine in Ireland,the Native American Choctaw Nation sent aid to the Irish after hearing about the famine (by the way, this was not long after the Choctaws were forcibly removed from their land taking the Trail of Tears).

Gregory Moore from Louisville, KY on May 30, 2013:

Very informative. This is the first that I have heard about this, but very interesting to me since I am of Irish descent.

Aunt-Mollie on March 27, 2013:

I had never heard about this before. This is a story that deserves to be told.

alexbricker on March 23, 2013:

Very insightful and informative. Thank you for sharing the resources with us!

David Edward Lynch from Port Elizabeth, South Africa on March 18, 2013:

I had never heard about the Irish slaves in the Caribbean until I read your lens, quite an eye opener!

InfoCoop on March 12, 2013:

Fascinating lens. I had no idea about this. So many things our history books in school left out.

Carpenter76 on March 08, 2013:

Good to do a lens about this subject! Great work :)

Kerri Bee (author) from Upstate, NY on March 05, 2013:

@anonymous: I actually think a lot of them thought "why couldn't he have just killed us?"

anonymous on March 05, 2013:

I didnât know anything about Irish slaves. But the story sounds like a convenient way to dispose of someone who is in your way. The folks who ended up in the Caribbean might have thought: "Dang! We're on a tropical island. Oh well! It could have been worse. He could have killed us!" Enjoyed this lens!

Matthew from Silicon Valley on January 24, 2013:

I have written about a couple of different slavery examples around the world but was not aware of this in Ireland. Will have to read some of these books and learn more about it. Thank you for sharing, Blessed!

WoodlandIndianEDU on January 21, 2013:

Thank you for this lens... we have something in common as I teach about the eastern North American Indian populations that were captured and shipped to the Caribbean and neighboring areas as slaves for plantations. There is much when it comes to the slave trade that is not common knowledge, and not even mentioned in college level history books. Thanks for sharing this lens.

Jo-Jackson on January 21, 2013:

This was all news to me, despite the fact I have Irish ancestry. Very interesting.

srsddn lm on September 12, 2012:

The story of Irish Slavery is emotive. I agree that it is still prevalent in one form or the other in different parts of the world. It needs to be eradicated to make this earth free from Oliver Cromwell's legacy. Great lens.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 13, 2012:

What a very sad time for the poor Irish working person. There was so much in the past that should not have been and so very much that still occurs today under the category of slavery. A very sad legacy.

zentao on April 07, 2012:

This is a great lens. I love Flogging Molly, But I didn't know the whole story. I should have listened closer.

Einar A on April 01, 2012:

Thank you for shedding more light on this interesting but little-discussed piece of history.

anonymous on March 31, 2012:

Wow I thought I had a fair knowledge of slavery in the Caribbean, but knew nothing about "Irish Slaves". You're probably right, I was probably fooled by the sugar-coated "voluntary indentured servants". thanks for teaching me something new.

Chuck Nelson from California on March 20, 2012:

Very interesting...I'm English, Scotch and Irish by ancestory and had no knowledge of this. No school I was in mentioned it.

anonymous on March 20, 2012:

Thanks for some meaningful reading. I also love the music choices.

curious0927 on March 17, 2012:

Thanks for x\creating a lens with information we don't hear on the daily news. So important that the word is spread! Thanks and Blessed

curious0927 on March 17, 2012:

Thanks for x\creating a lens with information we don't hear on the daily news. So important that the word is spread! Thanks and Blessed

Teri Villars from Phoenix, Arizona on March 17, 2012:

Very interesting. I had no idea. Wasn't Cromwell also around during the Reign of Henry VIII? I had thought so but wasn't sure. Blessed by a Squid Angel and Happy SP Day!

kougar lm on March 17, 2012:

Great lens! Very informative. I too, will be adding "To Hell or Barbados" to my reading list.

BuckHawkcenter on March 17, 2012:

Excellent reading for St. Patrick's Day. Thanks for sharing the truth.

Ruthi on March 17, 2012:

I really had no idea about the enslavement of the Irish, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I will be adding To Hell or Barbados to my list of books to be read. Blessings and a bit o' St. Patrick's Day sunshine to you!

intermarks on March 15, 2012:

Although that might not be happen in the civilized country but it may happen in the past, just that someone have to proof it.

FalconFan LM on March 14, 2012:

I heard a speech about this yesterday and thought it was very interesting to see this lens! Very educational.

writerkath on March 14, 2012:

Fabulous and educational lens on a topic I knew nothing about! What a nice departure from the typical "holiday" lenses here at Squidoo! Totally Angel Blessed!

anonymous on March 13, 2012:

I can recommend adding the following book to your list: Slavery in Bermuda, by James E. Smith. Vantage Press (1976). ISBN-13: 978-0533020430

Beachweddingsbydeb on March 08, 2012:

Great Lens,living on St.Thomas in the U.S.Virgin Islands I have had conversations about Irish slavery. Only got blank stares. It is true there should something to reflect the varied history of these islands.

AJ from Australia on March 08, 2012:

I have only recently learned of this additional tragic Irish history. This lens is blessed and included in my tribute lens - Colossal Squid Stars. Thank you for giving this topic a wider audience.

Ram Ramakrishnan on March 07, 2012:

Know this, Oâ worthy and diligent lensmaster;

With accomplishment youâve earned a tryster.

As a token of immense appreciation expressed,

A squid angel leaves this lens heartily blessed.

On a rendering that is sparkling in its own right,

Propagating an appealing thought well and quite;

If you were to notice a slender shimmering crust;

From the angelâs wand, it is a spill of stardust.

Ram Ramakrishnan on March 07, 2012:

The continued practice of slavery,

on human culture, is indeed an appalling blot;

And it isnât the folly of nature or

providence; by man himself, alas, it is wrought.

derryod on March 07, 2012:

That's uncanny! I was listening to an Irish radio show discussing this within the last hour and then just saw this lens. Excellent

julieannbrady on March 06, 2012:

Such a compelling journey for the Irish ... I didn't know the whole story until now.

nebby from USA on March 06, 2012:

While I had heard of it before, your lens expanded my knowledge. Very interesting subjects and should be discussed more often.

anonymous on March 06, 2012:

Great educational article, it's important to know what our history is and how we've evolved and we need to continue to evolve. *blessed by a squid angel*

Shorebirdie from San Diego, CA on March 05, 2012:

I'm glad you are writing about this. I think the world should know that slavery can happen to any race in any area of the world. It is still happening today.

opheliakeith lm on March 05, 2012:

Excellent lens. I don't why I'm always surprised when presented with evidence of man's inhumanity to man but it's still good to be informed.

Barbara Walton from France on March 05, 2012:

I didn't notice your bit below the comments page on ending slavery today. I thought you might be interested to note the debate going on in the UK at the moment about working for benefits. Several large companies have pulled out of 'back to work' schemes because participants lose benefits if they don't complete the work. These companies have been accused of profiting from slave labour.

Barbara Walton from France on March 05, 2012:

This is fascinating. I'm going to add it to my soon-to-be-published lens, Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx, about the fate of imigrants to America. what about the Magdalen Laundry girls, they too were Irish slaves.

Lemming13 on February 15, 2012:

Very interesting subject here, excellent lens. Much the same thing was done later on by the Georgian monarchs to the Scottish Highlanders who dared rebel in the Jacobite Risings. Man's inhumanity to man has always been horrific, and the tragedy is that such things continue today, though rarely on such a wholesale basis. Blessing this lens.

Zut Moon on February 11, 2012:

Cromwell was just looking at population density and was taking steps toward population control. He was a kind and gentleman... no doubt about it ... duh ...

anonymous on January 05, 2012:

@TheLeftFitz: St. Patrick was a slave/servant stolen from Britain, as a young ladd, return to his home land, then back to Ireland as a Saint to save souls.

Ireland first raided Britain, then Britain slave raided on Ireland.

StudioElysee on August 21, 2011:

Fascinating subject. I am of Irish heritage and very interested in Caribbean history as well. Wonderful recommendations here, thanks!

Kathy McGraw from California on August 19, 2011:

Interesting. I had not heard of Irish Slaves before, and with the links you provided I can now read some more on this subject. It never ceases to amaze me how man can be so cruel, and to steal people from their beds and send them into slavery boggles the mind. *Blessed*

anonymous on July 15, 2011:

Great lens! I am all for giving a voice to those who individuals, communities or groups who might otherwise go unheard. i have to say I had no knowledge of this and believe it or not I am half irish. Thank you fro educating me!

Carol Fisher from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on April 01, 2011:

I didn't know Irish people were sent as slaves to the Caribbean. Well done for writing about this little known piece of history. Blessed

KonaGirl from New York on March 17, 2011:

Well done. Most people don't believe me when I tell them this. Thank's for spreading the word! Leaving you with a Lucky Leprechaun Blessing on this magical day. Your lens has been added to the St. Paddy's Day Blessings on "My Squid Angel Wings" lens.

TheLeftFitz on March 17, 2011:

Thank you for this information. It's a wonder not many people know about it. Here's a Lucky Leprechaun Blessing for St. Paddy's Day!

anonymous on December 02, 2010:

Please add me to any email list or group on this topic. I know there are certain small pockets that still speak Gaelic in the Caribbean. Could you tell me where those are (in which countries)? I'd like to know in case I decide to vacation to or retire in the Caribbean, to be able to work on my Gaelic and speak it with others there.

D Williams on November 15, 2010:

Very important aspect of Caribbean (and european) history. Many have spoken of the irish accent in the 'caribbean accent' so perhaps this gives some clues as to where it came from.


MagpieNest on September 19, 2010:

I was aware of this through novels and general reading about history, I'm pretty sure we weren't taught about this in school (in England) though.

Indigo Janson from UK on September 08, 2010:

Thanks for putting together such a fascinating resource about the Irish people who were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves. I had heard something once about this but it was interesting to learn so much more here. I did not know it was the work of Oliver Cromwell despite having learned about him at school.

anonymous on March 13, 2010:

Sadly this is true. As in Ireland the Scots also suffered at the hands of the English. My own clan had genocide practiced against it, an attempt to kill all adult males was made, woman were rounded up and branded and children were given over to other clans or shipped off to the colonies. The Gaelic language was band. Yes others have suffered in slavery. Thank you for the lens.

almawad on December 06, 2009:

My husband does not want to believe it .He thinks whites did not force other whites to work as slave ... and only black Africans were sold as slaves ...

Ruth Coffee from Zionsville, Indiana on August 27, 2009:

I have a passing knowledge of Irish slavery from historical novels I've read. Slavery here in America as well as in the Caribbean. Sounds like some excellent reading.

Kerri Bee (author) from Upstate, NY on August 27, 2009:

[in reply to Bonni] Exactly what part to you find to be rubbish?

gemenerni1 on July 30, 2009:

Wow, really awesome pictures you got on this lens. It actually brings back memories from my best Caribbean cruises ever that I went on last year.

We did not meet any Irish slaves though. Lol. :-)

Best regards,


anonymous on July 18, 2009:

The same old story.

irish slavery in barbados.

What a cover up.

There wasn't any irish slaves in 17th Century.

The only Irish slaves were the gaelic population brain washed by the Latin Church.

what about the irish sex slaves used by the latin Church in the 2oth century.

anonymous on July 13, 2009:

i was priviledged enough to learn irish history in my school i reckon the world should know about it. Cause i believe the conflict between irish catholics and english have influenced the world in many levels. Like for eg the liberal party was first created by the english and the labour by the irish catholics in Australia

FamilyTreeFellow on July 12, 2009:

I had no clue of the Irish slaves. I knew of the "potato famine" but I guess there is a lot of history about my Irish heritage that is unbeknownst to me. Time to brush up, thanks for the info!

Demaw on June 11, 2009:

There was a book recently about a German child who was sold into slavery in the US in the mid 1800s after her parents died. She forgot who she was and thought she was a very fair skinned black person. The law said a drop of black blood makes you black and therefore able to be a slave even if you look white. It is believed that many white children were sold as mixed race, the number is not known as many may have been orphans. And the reason ? Profit of course. Sadly slavery of many forms are still with us and we need to fight against it. 5* lens.

DougP LM on May 17, 2009:

This is a piece of history that I was not aware of, and yes, slavery still exists! Thanks for all of the great info.

anonymous on April 25, 2009:


Great stuff!! I'd love to read more about the topic, too! Is there any literature/poems/songs etc left from the actual slaves?would be extremely interesting!

I read somewhere that many of the irish slaves were well educated, so I could imagine they left their traces somehow... Any hints would be well appreciated!

Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on March 19, 2009:

I never knew that Irish slaves were sent to the Caribbean. I did know that many Irish were treated like dirt from many different countries over the years. Interesting. Happy Irish Heritage month!

Robin Forlonge Patterson from New Zealand on March 08, 2009:

I never knew about that. Not much Irish history taught in New Zealand. Maybe I should disown my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle Oliver Cromwell instead of embellishing his article on the Genealogy Wikia. But, in the interests of openness and truth, I'll probably find a way to mention the slavery in the article. And I should look up those genealogy sites to see if their writers want to get a bit more Web exposure by putting their details on the wiki too. See

Perilouswish on January 14, 2009:

Thank you so very much for providing such an excellent lense. I have made it one of my goals in life to help educate my friends, co-workers and associates about this untaught portion of history. It is disappointing and insulting that this is not taught in school along with black slave historical information.

TraceyM2 on November 24, 2008:

Thanks for an amazing 5* lens. I've learned a lot from this that I heard nothing of in school, studying Irish history. Would you consider adding it to my new Irish group


religions7 on August 16, 2008:

Wow. Great lens. I didn't know this - and I'm ashamed to say it, because I actually did a paper on Ireland in high school...

anonymous on July 29, 2008:

Why is this not covered in most history books? Well, some of it might have to do with modern Irish immigrant narrative as we've come to know it. The Irish, often through both positive and negative efforts of its people/ex-pats over the years, more than likely aren't really considered by the rest of the world to be "oppressed" anymore, particularly when whiteness as a construct in places like the United States has come to mean disposing of particular ethnic narratives in order to fashion a type of pan-Whiteness, and therefore have access to avenues of influence and power that others don't. Perhaps in Ireland this has not been the case over the years but it certainly has here. If nobody knows much about this stuff, some of the blame could probably be laid at the feet of the Irish descendants themselves. The loss of history/ethnic identity is usually one of the highest costs of assimilation.

AnnaleeBlysse on May 11, 2008:

Interesting lens here. Being of Irish blood, I am offended by the insulting jokes that are prominent these days under the guise of humor. For instance, last weekend I saw a T-shirt that said "Irish I Was Drinking".

anonymous on October 04, 2007:

Excellent and informative. I feel smarter already and I haven't even read the book yet! Thanks!

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