Montserrat: The Irish Connection

Montserrat is the southernmost island of the Leeward archipelago in the Caribbean. The first distinctive stamp issues were stamps of Antigua overprinted ‘MONTSERRAT’ that were introduced in 1876. However, the island did not issue its own stamps until 1903 that featured the badge of Monserrat – a female figure embracing a cross, with her left hand resting on a clarsach or Celtic harp – an emblem that alludes to the island’s Irish connection.

Columbus discovered the island in 1493 and named it after Montserrado, the saw-toothed mountain near Barcelona. The first European settlement was established in 1632 when Sir Thomas Warner founded a colony in the area of the former capital, Plymouth. Under the instigation of Warner, a number of Irish settled in Montserrat from neighbouring islands including Saint Kitts and later from Virginia. The colonists built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and sea island cotton, cultivated on large plantations by slave labour and Irish indentured servants. The merchants were also predominately Irish and the use of the Irish language became widespread and remained a major influence until the mid-nineteenth century. To this day, Montserrat is still nicknamed ‘The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean’ both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and its ancestral link to Ireland.

Montserrat 1903 ½d stamp featuring the badge of Montserrat
Montserrat 1903 (Edward VII) ½d featuring the badge
Montserrat 1916 (George V) 4d stamp featuring the badge of Montserrat
Montserrat 1916 (George V) 4d featuring the badge

The postage history of Montserrat is equally interesting, not least for the fact that it remained one of the most isolated British colonies and was largely dependent on communication by small sailing ships that sailed between neighbouring islands. Adhesive stamps specifically identifying the island were not used until September 1876 with the use of Antigua’s issue of 1d to 6d denominated stamps overprinted ‘MONTSERRAT’. Remarkably, these stamps remained in use for fourteen years until 1890 when they were superseded by the general issues of the Leeward islands.

Montserrat 1951 (George VI) 6c stamp featuring the badge of Montserrat
Montserrat 1951 (George VI) 6c featuring the badge

Montserrat’s 1903 issue was the first to be wholly distinctive to the islands and featured the afore-mentioned badge. The King Edward VII issue included denominations of ½d, 1d, 2d, 2½d, 3d, 6d, 1s, 2s and 2s6d and were surface printed by De La Rue on Crown CA watermarked paper. A 5s denomination in a larger format was issued at the same time using a keyplate design. The Monserrat badge would be used again on definitive issues of King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II (featured image).

On 18 July 1995, Montserrat was devastated by the Soufrière Hills volcano that destroyed the southern region of the island including Plymouth. Between 1995 and 2000, two-thirds of the island’s population was forced to flee, primarily to the United Kingdom, leaving fewer than 1200 people on the island. Reconstruction continues with the centre of government and businesses at Brades. Montserrat remains a British Overseas Territory and emblem continues to be used on both the Montserrat flag and Coat of Arms.

To view postal issues of Montserrat, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

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