Caribbean academic Dr. George Irish passes

Caribbean academic Dr. George Irish passes
Photo by Nelson A. King

Dr. George A. Irish, a Montserratan-born retired professor at Brooklyn’s Medgar Ever College, City University of New York (CUNY), died on Feb. 12. He was 76.

His wife, Joy, told Caribbean Life that he was hospitalized since Jan. 8. She did not disclose the name of the hospital nor the cause of death.

But Sir Howard Fergus — who co-authored the Montserrat National Song with Dr. Irish, who had resided in the Bronx – said he was “ailing for some time,” according to Discover Montserrat.

Dr. Irish’s academic and community work embraced diverse fields. He was the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education at Medgar Evers College, where he also headed the Caribbean Research Center (CRC).

At CRC, Dr. Irish documented and analyzed policy and programs that affected the Caribbean immigrant community.

Among other things, he was also a musician, community leader and social engineer, according to Wikipedia.

A graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr. Irish was the first recipient of UWI’s Ph.D. degree in Spanish.

Besides Medgar Evers College, he taught at UWI, where he headed the Department of Spanish, and in the Dominican Republic, at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (UASD).

He was editor-in-chief and founder of the scholarly Journal of Caribbean studies, Wadabagei, and president of the Caribbean Diaspora Press, Inc. and Caribbean American Research Foundation, Inc. in New York.

In addition, Dr. Irish was co-founder and chancellor of the Universidad Popular de Desarrollo Sostenible de Las Americas (UNIPOP) and founding Board member of the International Center for Sustainable Development (CIDES) in Panama.

He authored and edited 32 books, including: Visions of Liberation in the Caribbean, 1992; Life in a Colonial Crucible, 1991; Growth of a Revolutionary Consciousness, 1990; Evolution of a Global and Diasporic Vision; and Discourses from Alliouagana and the Diaspora, according to Wikipedia.

In 2014, Irish received the Order of Excellence honor from the Government of Montserrat, Discover Montserrat said.

On Feb. 13, Montserrat Premier Donaldson Romeo led the volcano-ravaged island in mourning the death of the national icon.

“I, like most Montserratians, am saddened at the passing of The Right Hon., Dr. James Alfred George Irish, OE, son of the soil and national icon,” he said in a statement. “Whether known to some as educator, social activist, trade unionist, politician, musician, artist, singer, orator, or Man of God, in each and every aspect, he has left an indelible mark on us individually and collectively.

“On behalf of the government and people of Montserrat, I express my sincerest condolences to his wife and children, relatives and friends,” Romeo added. “As we mourn his loss, may we hold on to and be comforted by our God, who Dr. Irish himself chose to love, serve and represent as a pastor and Man of God. May he rest in peace!”

In a poem, Sir Howard said: “In this sickly season, when the smell of death pervades the atmosphere, the passing of Prof. Irish creates a sad and gaping hole deeper than six feet.

“George has left us and has left much,” added the former acting Governor of Montserrat. “At a time when ‘icon’ is liberally distributed as klim in our impoverished childhood, it seems beggarly to so endow him.

“I dub him a Montserrat avatar, which carries spiritual overtones, in honor of his enormous gifting, which he generously invested in his island home, attracting meagre appreciation,” Sir Howard continued. “His legacy is wide and long.”

Irish was also the founder of the Montserrat Allied Workers’ Union and the Montserrat Cooperative Credit Union, according to the Barbados-based Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

It said Irish’s “great body of work” was awarded the Nicolas Guillen Medallion for scholarly work in Caribbean and Latin American literature.

CMC also said that Dr. Irish had a brief foray in politics, “unsuccessfully contesting the 1983 general election (in Montserrat) for a seat in the legislative council.”

In July 2015, the Brooklyn-based Progressive Democrats Political Association (PDPA), headed by former New York City Council Member, Jamaican-born Dr. Una S. T. Clarke, bestowed Father’s Day honor on Dr. Irish, among other honorees.

“Today is a day to have them (honorees) smell the roses while their noses are still working,” said US Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, a PDPA executive member, in jest, in addressing the ceremony.

Dr. Irish served as spiritual/Presiding Elder of various ministries in the Bronx – Spiritual Awakening Ministries, Come World Ministries, Come Bible Institute, Zion Pentecostal Faith Center, and Mount Calvary United C.O.G.I.C.; Soul Harvest International Ministries in Long Island; and Beulah Pilgrim Holiness Church in Boston.

He was head of an education task force that was responsible for coordinating activities of a group of psychologists, educators, administrators and parents involved in developing policy issues and programs related to the advancement of Caribbean students in New York City public schools.

This involved Multicultural, Bilingual and Special Education issues; curriculum development; research, evaluation and assessment; parent involvement; counseling; placement and adjustment concerns, among others.

Additionally, he was a consultant on Multicultural Education to New York City Board of Education and New York State Education Department.

Dr. Irish was a Doctoral Dissertation Committee Member, St John’s University, NY (Linguistics), and Boston University, Mass. (Education); and Doctoral Supervisor, Logos Christian University, Jacksonville, FL. (Christian Ministry).

A very sought-after speaker and preacher, Dr. Irish conducted weekly community outreach programs in the Bronx through the church ministry.

In addition, he conducted International Community Sustainable Economic Development programs across the Caribbean Basin and Central America in collaboration with Dr. Waldaba Stewart, a Panama-born professor at Medgar Evers College, and the international team of the Universidad Popular de Las Americas.

On Mar. 3, 2014, on learning that the Montserrat Government was bestowing the Order of Excellence on Dr. Irish, for his outstanding work in education and cultural awareness, as well as his leadership in education on labor relations and political development, CUNY said that Irish was “a respected member of MEC (Medgar Evers College) faculty for decades.”

At the time, CUNY said the honor was “awarded to only seven living nationals who provide transformative and excellent scholarship and service in different categories.

“Medgar Evers College would like to extend a heartfelt bravo to Dr. Irish for representing MEC with such dedication,” the CUNY statement said. “He has been awarded with the Medgar Evers College Excellence in Teaching Award as well.”

Last week, Dr. Maria DeLongoria, interim executive director of the Caribbean Research Center and acting chair of the Department of Social & Behavioral Science at Medgar Evers College, said in a statement: “By now, most have heard of the transition of our father, brother, mentor and friend, Dr. George Irish.

“I have been working on writing something on behalf of his beloved Caribbean Research Center [at Medgar Evers College] since I heard,” she said. “However, it has been extremely difficult to explain the global, social, cultural and intellectual impact George has had on the world. So, I have decided not to at this time.

“Instead, I will simply say to George that we love you; we respect you; we honor you; we thank you; and we miss you,” Dr. DeLongoria added. “You have given so much to so many, and we will keep your spirit alive by continuing to give to others in the same vein.”