Puerto Rico each March goes green, a nod to the many Irish immigrants who settled on this largely Catholic island while much of the rest of the New World was Protestant. Many of Puerto Rico’s Irish immigrants were “wild geese” who fled the English army as early as the 16th century to fight on behalf of other nations. Swarms more arrived on this Caribbean isle during the Irish potato famine of 1840.
One of Puerto Rico‘s largest St. Patrick’s Day events takes place in Luquillo. Known as “La Riviera de Puerto Rico” and nestled just beyond Vieques southeast of San Juan, Luquillo celebrates the religious feast day for Ireland’s patron saint and Irish culture with a Parada de San Patricio (St. Patrick’s Parade) that’s part of a daylong festival featuring traditional Irish food and a Caribbean Trading Company raffle.
Irish Food in Puerto Rico
Those who prefer more formal St. Patrick’s Day celebrations might instead set their sights on Rincon on Puerto Rico’s northwestern coast. There, the restaurants Copa Llena, Das Alpen and Villa Cofresi are planning Caribbean St. Patrick’s Day parties as early as Saturday that include corned beef and cabbage and vegetarian options, a beer garden, an Irish car bomb bar, a raffle, silent auction, live music, dancing beneath the stars and a fund-raiser for Puerto Rico’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF).
Irish Pubs in Puerto Rico
Casa Islena in Rincon celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a fashion show, live music and raffle that raises funds for different kind of green – the Puerto Rican Parrot Genome Project that conducts conservation studies of the Caribbean species – while Irish pubs such as Shannon’s in San Juan and Logan’s in nearby Río Piedras serve up green beer.
St. Patrick’s Day Extravaganza
Also in San Juan, Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor is hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Extravaganza at the San Juan Island Yacht Club that includes Irish dinner and music and a Hawaiian Getaway raffle. The Soroptimists work to improve the lives of women and girls, and funds raised from the event benefit local scholarships, emergency grants, support for family, domestic violence and more.
Irish History in Puerto Rico
Although many Irish immigrants were provided free land in exchange for swearing loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, Puerto Rico never really developed close-knit Irish communities that cities such as Boston and New York did. Rather, many Irish immigrants married Puerto Ricans and took on the island’s language and customs.
Irish inhabitants have nevertheless contributed to the fields of commerce, science, education, politics and entertainment. Included among them are Kenneth McClintock, Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, and artist and lithographer María de Mater O’Neill, who Carnegie Mellon Professor Dr. Elaine A. King describes as an “an iconoclastic tour de force. . . steeped in the spirit of experimentation. . . [who has] quietly inspired many artists in Puerto Rico.
Ireland itself inspired the name of the Irlanda Heights (Ireland Heights) area of the central Puerto Rican city of Bayamón, which was once a sugar plantation owned by Irishman Angus McBean. Sites of Irish interest on Puerto Rico also include:
- San Felipe del Morro Castle. This World Heritage Site in San Juan benefitted from a 20-year revamp that was the recommendation of Puerto Rico Field Marshal Alejandro O’Reilly, the “Father of the Puerto Rican militia.”
- San Patricio. This San Juan suburb with shopping mall sits on the site of a former sugar plantation, Hacienda San Patrico, that Colonel Tomás O’Daly and partner Miguel Kirwan, launched.
- The San Juan Cathedral. Spanish Crown-appointed Royal Tobacco Factory director Jaime O’Daly, a sugar and tobacco planter, was buried here after dying in 1806 of natural causes.
- Northern Puerto Rico. The region spanning Loiza on the northeastern side of Puerto Rico to Luquillo at the northwest once boasted commercial farms and tobacco plantations owned by Irishmen Antonio Skerret, Miguel Conway, Felipe Doran, Patricio Fitzpatrick, Jaime Kiernan and the Quinlan family. Miguel Conboy is credited with founding Puerto Rico’s tobacco trade.
- La Princesa Prison. Now headquarters for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, La Princesa once held Pedro Albizu Campos, who adopted the Irish Republican Movement as the model for the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party over which he presided. Campos’s former residence in Ponce served as Nationalist Party headquarters.
- Ponce. This southern Puerto Rican town once boasted a sugar plantation owned by brothers Robert and Josiah Archibald who, in 1823, introduced Puerto Rico to steam operated mills when they employed one on the site. By the early 20th century, Nationalists marched to the Ponce Cathedral, now Our Lady of Guadelupe Cathedral, where police ultimately opened fire with pistols and sub-machine guns, killing 21 people and injuring more than 200 as part of what became known as the Ponce Massacre.
- Puerto Rican Academy of Fine Arts. Edna Coll, author and educator, was one of the founders of this San Juan academy. Her grandfather, Dr. Cayetano Coll y Toste, was a historian and writer, and both his sons were politicians. Her sister, Isabel Cuchí Coll, was a journalist, author and the Director of the Society of Puerto Rican Authors.
The Legend of St. Patrick’s Day in Puerto Rico
Legend has it that Puerto Rico was infested with fatal worms and ants when the chief inquisitor of the Spanish inquisition turned to the Catholic bishop for relief. They placed the names of saints in a hat and, though they wanted a more highly recognized saint, the name of St. Patrick was pulled from it three times. Three days passed before rain poured down on the land for weeks and washed the pests away.