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St. Patrick's Day Card From Belize

James F. Cavanaugh - Clann Chief Herald


St. Patrick's Day in Belize

In our small country coddled in the ancient Maya world, where the most common names are Mes, Mai, Coc, Cocom, Uk, Panti, Con, Chun, Saqi, Moh and Chuc, you wouldn't imagine that St. Patrick's Day would be a big thing. But we have a sizeable group of Irish volunteers who work teaching skills and educational subjects to Belizeans, and many others, like Brendan O'Donohue, Paddy Behan, Brian O'Brien, Father Murphy, and your's truly, are permanent residents here.

And there is a great residue of Irish presence in the Belizeans themselves. I went fishing a couple of weeks ago with two Maroon lads named McCoon (McKuen?), and Cabnah (Kavanagh), bought shrimp for a Mestizo Edilberto Duffy, and had dinner at a cafe owned by two Kreoles, Eamon Magintire (McIntyre) and Carlos McKensy. Our dark brown waitress with grey eyes was Naomi Finkheimer, whose mother was a Mary Murphy. And do they celebrate St Paddys Day? You better believe it.

As an explanation, a Maroon is a descendant from an African Jamaican group of slaves who revolted against the English in Belize City about 1820 and hid in the coastal swamps at Gales Point, to the south. Some got their Irish names in Jamaica from Irish and African slave ancestors, but others from Irish adventurers in Belize. The Garifuna are one of the few cultures who preserve their Arawak, Bantu, Carib, Irish and French mixed-heritage, a real mish-mash strongly spiced with voodoo. Irish slaves escaping from Barbados ended landed on St. Vincent, a Black Carib stronghold and mixed with the population. The English forcibly rounded up several thousands of them on St. Vincent in 1765 and abandoned them on Roatan island off Honduras to starve to death, but they were resourceful, got help from Honduras and moved to the mainland, then up to Belize. Mestizos are a Maya cross with hispanic, English or Irish, and are our biggest population group. A Kreole is an African cross with anybody they can't remember.

So our St. Paddys Day as a different flavour. We even have an Englishman, Bob Jones with a indelible Cockney accent, in San Ignacio who serves green beer on the 17th at Evas, his cafe. He swears there is NOT ONE DROP OF HEATHEN IRISH BLOOD IN HIM. Such a pity, but we can tell that he wishes there was.

We wont have a parade, but we will get together at Brendan O'Donohue's for a few pints and a bit of talk, with a huge gold-green-white Irish flag flapping overhead from his antenna. We will even invite Bob Jones, but he wont come. But anybody with an Irish name, or an Irish claim is more than welcome.

Have a wonderful March 17th, and send us a kind thought here in our little hidden paradise, tucked away under the wing of the Yucatan Maya Gods, one whose name is Chuculcan (really!)

- James F.