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From the 16th to the 19th cen­tu­ry, there was con­sid­er­able Irish immi­gra­tion to Puer­to Rico, for a num­ber of rea­sons. Dur­ing the 16th cen­tu­ry many Irish­men, who were known as “Wild Geese,” fled the Eng­lish Army and joined the Span­ish Army. Some of these men were sta­tioned in Puer­to Rico and remained there after their mil­i­tary ser­vice to Spain was com­plet­ed. Dur­ing the 18th cen­tu­ry men such as Field Mar­shal Ale­jan­dro O’Reil­ly and Colonel Tomas O’Daly were sent to the island to revamp the cap­i­tal’s for­ti­fi­ca­tions. This led to an influx of Irish immi­gra­tion to the island. In 1797, the appoint­ed gov­er­nor of Puer­to Rico, Ramón de Cas­tro, ordered the expul­sion of the Irish from Puer­to Rico which led to protests from the local peo­ple of the island. Many Irish­men sur­vived the witch hunt cre­at­ed by Cas­tro and con­tin­ued to live in Puer­to Rico.

The Span­ish gov­ern­ment mod­i­fied the Roy­al Decree of Graces of 1815 to encour­age Euro­peans of non-Span­ish ori­gin to immi­grate and pop­u­late the last two remain­ing Span­ish pos­ses­sions in the “New World,” Puer­to Rico and Cuba. Many Irish refugees who fled Ire­land because of the Irish Pota­to Famine of the 1840s which killed over one mil­lion Irish peo­ple immi­grat­ed to Puer­to Rico. These set­tlers were instru­men­tal in the devel­op­ment of the island’s sug­ar indus­try which was vital to the island’s economy.

After Puer­to Rico was ced­ed to the Unit­ed States by Spain as a con­se­quence of the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War, many sol­diers of Irish-Amer­i­can descent sta­tioned in the island inter­mar­ried with the locals and estab­lished their homes there. The Irish influ­ence in Puer­to Rico is not lim­it­ed to their con­tri­bu­tions to the island’s agri­cul­tur­al indus­try; they have also influ­enced the fields of edu­ca­tion and politics.

Irish in the service of Spain

Field Marshal Alejandro O'Reilly

Field Mar­shal Ale­jan­dro O’Reilly

Dur­ing the 16th Cen­tu­ry the Irish, who were most­ly Catholic, were suf­fer­ing many injus­tices from the Eng­lish author­i­ties who were Protes­tant. William Stan­ley, an Eng­lish Catholic, was giv­en a com­mis­sion by Queen Eliz­a­beth I to orga­nize an Irish reg­i­ment of native Irish sol­diers and mer­ce­nar­ies. The main idea was to get rid of these men because the Eng­lish author­i­ties want­ed them out of the coun­try. They were sent to fight on behalf of Eng­land in sup­port of the Dutch Unit­ed Provinces. How­ev­er, in 1585, moti­vat­ed by reli­gious fac­tors and bribes offered by the Spaniards, Stan­ley defect­ed to the Span­ish side with the reg­i­ment. The Irish­men who fled the Eng­lish Army to join the armies of oth­er for­eign nations became known as “Wild Geese.”

Among those con­sid­ered “Wild Geese” was Ale­jan­dro O’Reil­ly, an Inspec­tor-Gen­er­al of Infantry for the Span­ish Empire who as a mil­i­tary reformer became known as “The Father of the Puer­to Rican Mili­tia” and Colonel Tomas O’Daly.

18th century

Demetrio O'Daly

Demetrio O’Daly

In 1765, the King of Spain, Car­los III sent Field Mar­shal Ale­jan­dro O’Reil­ly to Puer­to Rico, to assess the state of the defens­es of that colony. O’Reil­ly, known today as the “Father of the Puer­to Rican mili­tia”, took a very com­plete cen­sus of the Island, and again rec­om­mend­ed numer­ous reforms, includ­ing the instill­ing of strict mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline in the local troops. He insist­ed that the men serv­ing the defense of the Realm receive their pay reg­u­lar­ly and direct­ly, rather than indi­rect­ly from their com­mand­ing offi­cers, a long-stand­ing prac­tice that had led to abus­es. Some of O’Reil­ly’s rec­om­men­da­tions result­ed in a mas­sive 20-year pro­gram of revamp­ing San Felipe del Mor­ro Cas­tle in San Juan, now a World Her­itage Site. The train­ing which he insti­tut­ed was to bring fame and glo­ry to the Puer­to Rican mili­tias 30 years lat­er dur­ing the Eng­lish inva­sion of Puer­to Rico in 1797. O’Reil­ly’s civil­ian mili­tias had become known as the “Dis­ci­plined Mili­tia.” O’Reil­ly was lat­er appoint­ed gov­er­nor of colo­nial Louisiana in 1769 where he became known as “Bloody O’Reilly.”

Colonel Tomás O’Daly joined O’Reil­ly in Puer­to Rico in the quest of revamp­ing the fort and was named chief engi­neer of mod­ern­iz­ing the defens­es of San Juan, which includ­ed the fortress of San Cristóbal. Lat­er he was grant­ed land in the vicin­i­ty of Guayn­abo and O’Daly devel­oped it into a thriv­ing sug­ar hacien­da. O’Daly and fel­low Irish­man Miguel Kir­wan became part­ners in the “Hacien­da San Patri­cio,” which they named after the patron saint of Ire­land, Saint Patrick. The plan­ta­tion no longer exists, how­ev­er the land in which the plan­ta­tion was locat­ed is now a sub­urb called San Patri­cio with a shop­ping mall San Patri­cio Plaza. He mar­ried a local Puer­to Rican girl, Maria Gertrud­is de la Puente and had three chil­dren, Isabel, Manuel, and Demetrio. O’Daly joined an embry­on­ic Irish immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty in Puer­to Rico that would come to be asso­ci­at­ed with the growth of com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture. Upon his untime­ly death in 1781, his broth­er Jaime took over the prop­er­ty and helped raise Tomás’s chil­dren. Jaime O’Daly was named Direc­tor of the Real Fab­ri­ca de Taba­co (Roy­al Tobac­co Fac­to­ry) in Puer­to Rico by the Span­ish Crown.

Jaime O’Daly became a suc­cess­ful sug­ar and tobac­co planter. His nephews, Julio and Arturo O’Neill, moved to Puer­to Rico in 1783 with their slaves and plan­ta­tion equip­ment and were lat­er fol­lowed by Tomás Arm­strong, a friend and planter in 1791. O’Daly ‘s con­nec­tions with the non-His­pan­ic Caribbean and Euro­pean nations helped him eco­nom­i­cal­ly, but hin­dered his nom­i­na­tion to a post on the pres­ti­gious San Juan city coun­cil. How­ev­er in 1787, the Span­ish Crown appoint­ed him direc­tor of the Roy­al Tobac­co Fac­to­ry. O’Daly remained in Puer­to Rico, where he died of nat­ur­al caus­es in 1806 and was buried in the San Juan Cathedral.

Plaque honoring Ramon Power y Giralt in San German, Puerto Rico

Plaque hon­or­ing Ramon Pow­er y Giralt in San Ger­man, Puer­to Rico

Joaquín Pow­er y Mor­gan came to Puer­to Rico in con­nec­tion with the Com­pañía de Asien­to de Negros which reg­u­lat­ed the slave trade in the island. He mar­ried María Jose­fa Giralt a local Puer­to Rican girl and lived in San Juan. In 1775, they had a son, whom they named Ramon Pow­er y Giralt. Ramon Pow­er y Giralt, dis­tin­guished him­self as a Cap­tain in the Span­ish Navy when he defend­ed the Span­ish colony of San­to Domin­go against an inva­sion from French forces by enforc­ing a block­ade from 1808–1809. Pow­er y Giralt, who accord­ing to Puer­to Rican his­to­ri­an Lidio Cruz Mon­clo­va, was the first native born Puer­to Rican to refer to him­self as a “Puer­to Rican,” was named Puer­to Rico’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Span­ish Cortes in 1808 and lat­er pres­i­dent of the same leg­isla­tive assem­bly. He served in the Corte’s until his death in 1813.

Demetrio O’Daly, Tomas O’Da­ly’s son, was sent to Spain where he received his mil­i­tary train­ing. O’Daly par­tic­i­pat­ed in the 1809 Penin­su­lar War and was pro­mot­ed to the rank of Brigadier Gen­er­al dur­ing Spain’s war for inde­pen­dence. Defend­er of the Span­ish Con­sti­tu­tion of 1812, O’Daly was con­sid­ered a rebel and exiled from Spain by King Fer­nan­do VII in 1814. In 1820, he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the suc­cess­ful revolt against the Span­ish monar­chy which result­ed in his pro­mo­tion to Field Mar­shal. He was then appoint­ed the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Puer­to Rico before the Span­ish Cortes. One of his accom­plish­ments as rep­re­sen­ta­tive, was the cre­ation of a law which sep­a­rat­ed the civ­il author­i­ty from the mil­i­tary author­i­ty in the island. In 1823, O’Daly was exiled by the restored Span­ish Crown only to return to Puer­to Rico in 1834. He returned to Spain in 1836 where he died the fol­low­ing year.

Miguel Con­way, Patri­cio Fitz­patrick, Felipe Doran, Jaime Kier­nan, and Anto­nio Sker­ret, were also com­mer­cial farm­ers around north­ern Puer­to Rico. Their prop­er­ties cov­ered areas from Toa Baja in the north­east to Luquil­lo in the east. Kier­nan man­aged to acquire 400 acres (1.6 km²) of land in Hato Rey, which increased his total area to 800 acres (3.2 km²).

Irish influence in Puerto Rico’s sugar and tobacco industry

Irish immi­grants played in instru­men­tal role in the island’s econ­o­my. One of the most impor­tant indus­tries of the island was the sug­ar indus­try. Besides Tomás O’Daly whose plan­ta­tion was a suc­cess, oth­er Irish­men became suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men in this indus­try, among them Miguel Con­way, who owned a plan­ta­tion in the town of Hatil­lo and Juan Nagle whose plan­ta­tion was locat­ed in Río Piedras. Puer­to Ricans of Irish descent also played an instru­men­tal role in the devel­op­ment of the island’s tobac­co indus­try. Miguel Con­boy is cred­it­ed with being the founder of the tobac­co trade in Puer­to Rico and the Quin­lan fam­i­ly estab­lished two tobac­co plan­ta­tions, one in the town of Toa Baja and the oth­er in Loíza.

Expulsion of the Irish from Puerto Rico

On Feb­ru­ary 17, 1797, the appoint­ed gov­er­nor of Puer­to Rico, Brigadier Ramón de Cas­tro, received the news that Great Britain had invad­ed the island of Trinidad. Believ­ing that Puer­to Rico would be the next British objec­tive, he decid­ed to put the local mili­tia on alert and to pre­pare the island’s forts against any mil­i­tary action. After the Puer­to Rican and Span­ish vic­to­ry against Great Britain in what is known as the Bat­tle of San Juan of 1797, Cas­tro became sus­pi­cious of all Eng­lish-speak­ing Euro­pean for­eign­ers believ­ing that they sup­port­ed the anti-Span­ish mil­i­tary cam­paign and ordered some of the local res­i­dents and for­eign­ers, espe­cial­ly those of Eng­lish and Irish descent, to be placed under sur­veil­lance. Many were giv­en eight days to leave the island and those who did not leave were imprisoned.

Many of the peo­ple in Puer­to Rico, among them Trea­sury offi­cial Felipe Anto­nio Mejía, were out­raged at Cas­tro’s actions and came to the defense of the Irish. Soon their views became known to the Span­ish Crown where they con­demned Cas­tro’s pro­nounce­ment as legal­ly unjus­ti­fied and eco­nom­i­cal­ly counter-pro­duc­tive. Even­tu­al­ly, the major­i­ty returned to the island includ­ing the O’Dalys, Dorans, Kier­nans, Quin­lans and Sker­rets. In 1823, broth­ers Robert and Josi­ah Arch­bald, import­ed and intro­duced to Puer­to Rico the island’s first steam oper­at­ed mill, which they used in their Ponce sug­ar plantation.

19th century

Roy­al Decree of Graces of 1815

Royal Decree of Graces, 1815

Roy­al Decree of Graces, 1815

By 1825, the Span­ish Empire had lost all of its ter­ri­to­ries in the Amer­i­c­as with the excep­tion of Cuba and Puer­to Rico. These two pos­ses­sions, how­ev­er, had been demand­ing more auton­o­my since the for­ma­tion of pro-inde­pen­dence move­ments in 1808. Real­iz­ing that it was in dan­ger of los­ing its two remain­ing Caribbean ter­ri­to­ries, the Span­ish Crown revived the Roy­al Decree of Graces of 1815. This time the decree was print­ed in three lan­guages — Span­ish, Eng­lish and French — intend­ing to attract Euro­peans of non-Span­ish ori­gin, with the hope that the inde­pen­dence move­ments would lose their pop­u­lar­i­ty and strength with the arrival of new set­tlers. Free land was offered to those who want­ed to pop­u­late the islands on the con­di­tion that they swear their loy­al­ty to the Span­ish Crown and alle­giance to the Roman Catholic Church.

Among the Irish­man who received free land was Angus McBean. McBean became involved in the cul­ti­va­tion of the sug­ar cane and had a plan­ta­tion in the city of Baya­mon. In 1821, the slaves owned by McBean were involved in a failed slave revolt planned and orga­nized by Mar­cos Xior­ro, a bozal slave.

The O’Neills arrived in Puer­to Rico from Spain and oth­er loca­tions in the Caribbean, among them the islands of Tor­to­la and St. Croix. How­ev­er, many Puer­to Ricans with the O’Neill sur­name can trace their ances­try to Colonel Arturo O’Neill O’K­effe. O’Neill O’K­effe was the son of Tulio O’Neill O’Kel­ly and Cather­ine O’K­effe y Whalen. On August 8, 1828, O’Neill O’K­effe, a Knight of the Roy­al Order of King Car­los the 3rd of Spain and 2nd Mar­ques del Norte, served as a Lieu­tenant Colonel in the Span­ish gar­ri­son of the City of Bayamón. He was mar­ried to Joan­na Chabert Heyliger. The descen­dants of Arturo and Joan­na O’Neill were Tulio Luis, Arturo, Micaela Ulpi­ana and Gon­za­lo O’Neill y Chabert. All, with the excep­tion of Tulio Luis, were born in Puer­to Rico where they estab­lished their families.

Irish Potato Famine

Early Irish settlers, such as the ones pictured, immigrated to the Americas, including Puerto Rico.

Ear­ly Irish set­tlers, such as the ones pic­tured, immi­grat­ed to the Amer­i­c­as, includ­ing Puer­to Rico.

Many eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal changes occurred in Europe dur­ing the lat­ter part of the 18th cen­tu­ry and the begin­ning of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Hun­dreds of farm work­ers aban­doned their work in agri­cul­ture and moved to the larg­er cities with the advent of the Sec­ond Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion in search of bet­ter pay­ing jobs. Those who stayed behind and attend­ed their farm­lands suf­fered the con­se­quences of the wide­spread crop fail­ure brought upon as a result of long peri­ods of drought and dis­eases such as the cholera epi­dem­ic and the pota­to fun­gus which caused the Great Irish Famine of 1840. Star­va­tion was wide­spread in Europe.

In Ire­land, the Irish Pota­to Famine killed over one mil­lion Irish peo­ple and cre­at­ed near­ly two mil­lion refugees. These refugees went to Britain, the Unit­ed States, Aus­tralia, Cana­da, New Zealand, and, among oth­er places, the Caribbean. One of the islands that many Irish emi­grat­ed to in large num­bers was Puer­to Rico. Being a Span­ish colony, the island had a pri­mar­i­ly Roman Catholic pop­u­la­tion, as opposed to the Protes­tant majori­ties of most of the colonies of the British Empire and the Unit­ed States at the time.

20th century

After Puer­to Rico was ced­ed by Spain to the Unit­ed States at the end of the Spanish–American War in 1898, many Irish-Amer­i­can sol­diers who were assigned to the mil­i­tary bases in Puer­to Rico chose to stay and live in the island. Unlike their coun­ter­parts who set­tled in the Unit­ed States in close knit com­mu­ni­ties, both the Irish immi­grants and migrants in Puer­to Rico inter­mar­ried with Puer­to Ricans and adopt­ed the lan­guage and cus­toms of the island, there­by com­plete­ly inte­grat­ing them­selves into the soci­ety of their new homeland.

The Irish influ­ence in Puer­to Rican pol­i­tics is also notable. After Pedro Albizu Cam­pos was hon­or­ably dis­charged from the Unit­ed States Army, he attend­ed Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty in Boston, Mass. While in Boston he estab­lished clubs and cen­ters where young Irish peo­ple con­gre­gat­ed and dis­cussed the inde­pen­dence of their home­land. Albizu was invit­ed by Éamon de Valera to assist as a con­sul­tant in the draft­ing of the Irish Free State con­sti­tu­tion. After Albizu returned to Puer­to Rico, he joined the Puer­to Rican Nation­al­ist Par­ty and soon after became the par­ty’s pres­i­dent. Albizu adopt­ed the Irish Repub­li­can Move­ment as the mod­el for the Nation­al­ist Par­ty to follow.

Irish influence in Puerto Rican and popular culture

Kenneth McClintock, the Puerto Rico Secretary of State

Ken­neth McClin­tock, the Puer­to Rico Sec­re­tary of State

Besides hav­ing dis­tin­guished careers in agri­cul­ture and the mil­i­tary, Puer­to Ricans of Irish descent have made many oth­er con­tri­bu­tions to the Puer­to Rican way of life. Their con­tri­bu­tions can be found, but are not lim­it­ed to, the fields of edu­ca­tion, com­merce, pol­i­tics, sci­ence and entertainment.

Ken­neth McClin­tock is the Sec­re­tary of State of Puer­to Rico. Mr. McClin­tock served as co-chair of Hillary Clin­ton pres­i­den­tial cam­paign’s Nation­al His­pan­ic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil in 2008, co-chaired Clin­ton’s suc­cess­ful Puer­to Rico pri­ma­ry cam­paign that year and served as the Thir­teenth Pres­i­dent of the Sen­ate of Puer­to Rico until his term end­ed on Decem­ber 31, 2008. In late 2008, he served as Pres­i­dent of then-Gov­er­nor-Elect Luis For­tuño’s Tran­si­tion Com­mit­tee. He was sworn into office as Sec­re­tary of State on Jan­u­ary 2, 2009 by Chief Jus­tice Fed­eri­co Hernán­dez Den­ton, ful­fill­ing the role of Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor (first-in-line of suc­ces­sion) in the islands.

The Coll fam­i­ly played an impor­tant role in shap­ing Puer­to Rico’s pol­i­tics and lit­er­a­ture. Dr. Cayetano Coll y Toste was a his­to­ri­an and writer. He was the patri­arch of a promi­nent fam­i­ly of Puer­to Rican, edu­ca­tors, politi­cians and writ­ers. Both Coll y Toste’s sons were notable politi­cians. José Coll y Cuchí was the founder of the Puer­to Rican Nation­al­ist Par­ty and Cayetano Coll y Cuchí, was a Pres­i­dent of Puer­to Rico House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. His grand daugh­ter, Isabel Cuchí Coll, was a jour­nal­ist, author and the Direc­tor of the “Sociedad de Autores Puer­tor­riqueño” (Soci­ety of Puer­to Rican Authors), his oth­er grand daugh­ter, Edna Coll, was a notable edu­ca­tor and author. She was one of the founders of the Acad­e­my of Fine Arts in Puer­to Rico.

Among the mem­bers of the O’Neill fam­i­ly whose con­tri­bu­tions to Puer­to Rican cul­ture are evi­dent today are Hec­tor O’Neill, politi­cian and May­or Ana María O’Neill an edu­ca­tor, author and advo­cate of wom­en’s rights. and María de Mater O’Neill an artist, lith­o­g­ra­ph­er, and professor.

Puer­to Rican beau­ty queens of Irish descent who rep­re­sent­ed their island in the Miss Uni­verse beau­ty pageant are the fol­low­ing: Ada Perkins — Miss Puer­to Rico (1978); Deb­o­rah Carthy Deu — Miss Uni­verse 1985 and Lau­rie Tama­ra Simp­son — Miss Puer­to Rico (1987).

The Irish ele­ment of Puer­to Rico is very much in evi­dence. Their con­tri­bu­tions in Puer­to Rico’s agri­cul­tur­al indus­try and in the field of pol­i­tics and edu­ca­tion are high­ly notable. In the city of Bayamón, there is an urban­iza­tion called Irlan­da Heights (Ire­land Heights). For the last sev­er­al years, the town of Luquil­lo has host­ed a day-long Saint Patrick­’s Day fes­ti­val which includes a Para­da de San Patri­cio (St. Patrick­’s Parade) hon­or­ing Ire­land’s patron saint. There are var­i­ous Irish pubs around the island which also cel­e­brate the hol­i­day and serve the typ­i­cal green col­ored beer on the occa­sion. Amongst them are Shan­non’s Irish Pub in San Juan, and Logan’s Irish Pub in Río Piedras.

Common Irish surnames in Puerto Rico

The fol­low­ing are com­mon sur­names in Puer­to Rico of the first Irish settlers:

Sur­names of the first Irish fam­i­lies in Puer­to Rico

Ander­son, Arm­strong, Kir­wan, Cole, Coll, Cole­man, Con­way, Coop­er, Davis, Dar­by, Doran, Fin­lay, Fitz­patrick, Gilbert, Hayes, Hen­na, Kel­ly, Kennedy, Kier­nan, Mar­tin, McConnie, McClin­tock, McCormick, McDougall, Mon­roe, Mor­gan, Mur­phy (Mor­fi), Mur­ray, Nagle, O’Daly, O’Fer­ral (O’Far­rell), O’Fray, O’Neill, O’Reil­ly, Perkins, Pow­er, Quin­lan, Richard­son, Roberts, Sker­ret, Simp­son, Sul­li­van (Sóli­van), Todd, Walk­er, Williams and Wilson.