Murphies of West Indies will celebrate

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The Independent Online

Thousands of miles from Ireland, the inhabitants of the British Caribbean territory of Montserrat will be vigorously celebrating St Patrick's day today - but not for the usual reason. Many people on the island are descended from Irish-Catholic settlers and the territory is awash with names like Murphy, Sweeney and Fitzgerald.

But their St Patrick's day, although a riotous carnival, is in honour of an abortive 1768 slave rebellion against cruel Irish sugar plantation masters.

The Irish are believed to have landed on Montserrat after leaving St Kitts, where they could not get on with their Protestant compatriots. The rebellion, planned for St Patrick's day, when the Irish landlords were expected to be too drunk to notice, wascrushed when the plan leaked.

Today's celebration, a curious mix of Irish-American and Afro-Caribbean culture usually lasts a week, with islanders dancing Irish jigs one night, then mocking their former masters the next by cracking whips and prancing around in tall hats like bishops' mitres.

"We are celebrating the rise of the slave freedom fighters, but also the Irish Catholic element in our history," said historian Howard Fergus.