By Father George Agger SVD
Everyone on the Caribbean island of Montserrat knows Kinsale, a beautiful village on the southern part of our island. Many Montserratians have happy memories of growing up there, memories of friends and neighbors, and sorrowful memories of what befell the village when the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted in 1995.
There is another town of the same name in the County of Cork in Ireland. There, the Emerald Community Singers of Montserrat were treated to a civic reception by the town councilors in 2011. In return, they gave an awe-inspiring concert at St. Multose, a Church of Ireland church in the Anglican Communion.
Kinsale, Ireland, is a small seaport. It is the home of sailing, sail cruising and offshore fishing. The town also boasts of having more restaurants and eating places per capita than any other town or city in Ireland.
Back in the 1600s, Kinsale was a thriving seaport with many ships sailing from there to the Caribbean islands. In particular, trips to Barbados were especially well documented.
A little known fact is that thousands of Irishmen and women were sold into slavery at this time and brought to Barbados, Antigua and Montserrat. One author puts the number at between 50,000 and 60,000—nothing compared to the 11 million African slaves torn from their own countries and transported across thousands of miles to work on the sugar plantations of the West Indies—but significant nonetheless.
There’s little documented evidence as to why our Kinsale on Montserrat was named after its namesake in Ireland. When I visited the Irish town and spoke to the rector of St. Multose, Reverend David Williams, he said he was struck by the similarity of names that are popular there and also here on Montserrat.
Tombstones and graves bearing the names of Allen, Meade, Galway and Lynch are common in the Irish port town and a bond has grown between the two Kinsales over the years.
When the volcano struck in 1995, Kinsale in Ireland was quick to respond and send aid. On occasions, Ministers of Government and Montserratian politicians have visited Kinsale, Ireland, so it was very appropriate for the Emerald Community Singers to perform there on their tour of Britain and Ireland in 2011.
Arrangements had been made three years earlier when I visited the Reverend Williams. We put plans into action for the visit. He and I have been good friends for many years, and he was anxious to do all he could to make the visit of our Emerald Community Singers something very special.
And special it turned out to be. The people of Kinsale turned out in great numbers to attend the concert by their long lost cousins from the Caribbean. The concert was a combination of sacred and traditional music.
As the concert came to an end and thanks were expressed, what was especially noted was that our Emerald Community Singers from Montserrat were a choir made up from many different churches: Anglican, Catholic, Wesleyan Holiness, Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist.
This sent a very strong message about how peoples of different faith traditions could live and work together and let their combined voices–gifts from the heavenly Father—unite in a heavenly harmony of praise and entertainment.
Sitting in my pew towards the back of the church, the prayer of Jesus for unity and harmony among his followers came rushing to my consciousness.
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me… and that you loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17: 20-23)
Thank you, Kinsale, for bringing home this message afresh to me. Despite being oceans apart geographically and in other ways, we are joined together by our similarities and the love of the Heavenly Father.
Editor’s note: The Atlantic commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the first modern-day Soufrière Hills volcanic eruption with a stunning photo essay.