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The Irish of Jamaica: The Tide Between Us by Olive Collins

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Olive Collins © 24 August 2017.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Historical Fiction · Interviews ).

About 15 years before android phones or google came into play, I attended a St. Patrick’s Day party in Israel. Most of us were Scottish, Welsh and Irish. A man from Jamaica joined our crew and surprised us by his own version of the song “The Wearing of the Green.” I assumed the Jamaican was a fan of Irish folk music or had spent some time in Ireland. He told me that, although he’d never been to Ireland, he identified his heritage as Irish. The story that was passed down the generations was that his great-great grandfather came to Jamaica in the 1850’s from Waterford. It was years later before I checked his story.

A few years after that party, I watched a Jamaican movie and, when the credits rolled, I noticed the Irish surnames: Roche, McLaughlin, Crowe, Morrison, Maloney, Harris. A few years later I watched a documentary on Bob Marley and noted a peculiar Irish lilt in some of the words spoken by the Jamaicans. When the internet became accessible I researched the Jamaican link and found a few staggering facts. The extent of Irish emigration to the Caribbean and Jamaican was so prolific that a staggering 25% of Jamaican citizens claim Irish ancestry, the second-largest reported ethnic group in Jamaica after African ancestry.

In the 1650s, when England captured Jamaica from Spain, Oliver Cromwell needed to populate the new colony. Some were convicts, many indentured servants and very few of the deportees had committed any great crimes. Deportation “beyond the sea, either within His Majesty’s dominions or elsewhere outside His Majesty’s Dominions” was one of the methods of dealing with the Irish Issue and, more importantly, of populating England’s new acquisition. One man whose crime was to harbour a priest was imprisoned and his three daughters were sent to Jamaica. In order to prevent the new arrivals forming communities, the three girls were sent to different corners of Jamaica. Large numbers of the Irish exiles died from heat and diseases. It was thought that the Irish would have a better chance of survival if they were introduced to the climate at young age. Cromwell then sent 2,000 children between the age of 10 and 14 years.

Two years ago, I spent a month in Cuba. I imagined the exiled Irish and their surprise at the landscape and torturous heat of the Caribbean, the people and culture that was so vastly different to Ireland. At the time of my travels to Cuba, I was working on a different historical novel that required a great deal of research. When I finished the first novel, I was reluctant to take on another novel with the same level of research, yet the Jamaican story needled me to explore it further. I found the voice of Art O’Neill, an eleven year old boy who crosses the Atlantic in 1821 and, once Art O’Neill began to talk, he couldn’t stop.

The Tide Between Us is my second book with Poolbeg. I was aware of The Difficult Second Novel and how many writers often fall short of the mark, so I was determined to give it everything I had. In my old-life, before my book deal with Poolbeg, I idled away a lot of hours shopping, socialising, popping in and out of various friends’ houses without considering the hours that passed. I had to deliver my second novel within nine months. When I began the novel in April 2016, I was working full-time for a radio station in an advertising position that involved a lot of travelling and thought. I soon realised that I couldn’t work in that role and write to the best of my ability within that time-frame. I had to decide what was more important: my allegiance to the day-job or Book 2. I chose Book 2 and quit the day-job. I took another advertising position working from home, strictly 9 to 5pm, and less demanding in every respect.

I moved home to my mother’s house in Tipperary where I worked on the novel for 8 months. My routine was rigid. I worked at the day-job from 9 to 5, left my home-office for 1 hour and retuned at 6pm. I wrote until midnight and then read sometimes until 2am. I poured over memoirs, novels, academic papers, diaries, and anything I could find. I watched documentaries, geographic programs, and political programs on Jamaica. To get to the essence of my subject I had to peel back every layer and peer into caves that often prompted me to crack open my laptop in the early hours of the morning and take a machete to cut into Caribbean fields of sugar cane with my characters. There were times I felt I was aging with Art O’Neill, long with his growing family and, eventually, with his grandchildren. Occasionally I was more attuned to Art O’Neill’s needs than those sitting in my own home.

Although it was difficult, I enjoyed the process. I loved plotting the novel and was enthralled with the stories of the Irish in Jamaica. I love the aspect of getting acquainted with my characters and feel at ease when they begin to write the novel for me.

(c) Olive Collins

About The Tide Between Us

The Tide Between Us is historical fiction (1821 – 1991) set in Ireland and Jamaica.

Part 1 (1821 – 1891) tells the story of Art O’Neill, who records his life in his final years. He begins with his boyhood in Ireland where he lived in the shadow of Lugdale Estate. After the local landlord was assassinated, Art was deported to the cane fields of Jamaica as an indentured servant on Mangrove Plantation. When he acclimatizes to the strange exotic country and bizarre customs of the African slaves, he assumes his days of English tyranny are finished until the arrival of the new heirs to Mangrove Plantation.

Part 2 is based in Ireland (1921 – 1991). It opens with the discovery of a skeleton beneath a tree on the grounds of Lugdale Estate with a gold coin minted in 1870. Yseult, the owner of Ludgale Estate watches the events unfold and recaps on the rumours that abounded about her father’s beginnings in Jamaica, a country with 25% of the population claiming Irish descent. As the body gives up its secrets, Yseult realises she too can no longer hide.

Order your copy online here.


Olive Collins grew up in Thurles, Tipperary, and now lives in Kildare. For the last fifteen years, she has worked in advertising in print media and radio. She has always loved the diversity of books and people. She has travelled extensively and still enjoys exploring other cultures and countries. Her inspiration is the ordinary everyday people who feed her little snippets of their lives. It’s the unsaid and gaps in conversation that she finds most valuable. Her debut novel, The Memory of Music was an Irish Bestseller.

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