More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 21

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

Soon, Jeremy Thompson arrives and I am, of course, now a back number in the glamorous world of broadcasting. He is generous in his thanks for what I’ve done for Sky but that’s it. There is a full crew on the scene, a star broadcaster and no room left for yours truly and his breathless style of reporting. I’m not really bothered. The best of the story has now been and gone in my view.

But I can afford to be generous. I take Sky and WTN (Worldwide Television News) up to meet the Kleebs. They put on their usual star performance. Robert Kleeb has a great way with words from his isolated villa with the volcano spewing ash behind him. He refuses to believe the prophets of doom.

He says the scientists at the Volcano Observatory are “academic whores”. He dismisses the credentials of the earnest vulcanologist and Head Scientist at the Montserrat Volcano Obervatory.

The Kleebs are amongst the rather more recent of immigrants. In 1493, Columbus sighted this lush, tropical island and called it Montserrat because it reminded him of the landscape surrounding the monastery of Montserrat in his native land of Spain. Today, they call this the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean after the settlers who came later.

In 1632, the English governor, Sir Thomas Warner, ordered the tiresome dissident Irish living on nearby St Kitts to colonise Montserrat for England and the island soon became renowned as a refuge for persecuted Irish Catholics from other English colonies.

The evidence of this Irish diaspora is everywhere. Irish shamrocks adorn Government House and the cannons on the foreshore of the now abandoned capital of Plymouth. The flag and crest bear a lady – Erin – with a cross and a harp.

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated with an open air fete.

The names of the estates, villages and heights are pure Irish: St Patrick’s, Fergus Mountain, Kinsale, Galway’s, Cork Hill, Sweeney’s, O’Garro’s and Galloway.

Montserrat enjoys an extraordinary and unique Afro-Irish culture; a curiously integrated mixture of the cultures of the Caribbean slave and the Irish settler. It is intriguing to hear a black Monserratian ending a sentence, “at all, at all”.

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