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Celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Montserrat

February 18, 2016 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent

Known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, Montserrat is a prime example of old-world charm in a laid-back atmosphere.
Known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, Montserrat is a prime example of old-world charm in a laid-back atmosphere.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! To celebrate we're spotlighting an off-the-beaten path take on the holiday in the Caribbean island of Montserrat. 

It is rare that a Caribbean island will remind vacationers of both Pompeii, Italy, and all of Ireland at once, but that’s most likely because Montserrat’s tourism scene has been dormant of late. But with the destination’s new Tourism Accommodation Growth Fund Initiative, Montserrat is looking to get back on agents’ radar screens.

This British overseas territory with a population of about 4,700 offers the impressive Soufriere Hills Volcano, a modern day Pompeii in the form of its buried former capital city, Plymouth, alongside green mountains, nature trails, deserted dark-sand beaches, pristine reefs and a quiet, friendly charm.

Known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, Montserrat also has the distinction of being the only nation outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday. Showcasing the unique mix of Irish and African heritage, the destination comes alive with weeklong events that will take place around March 17 at various locations throughout the island. Residents and visitors alike have the chance to participate in feasts, parades, concerts, cultural exhibitions and outdoor theater productions to commemorate the planned slave uprising that occurred on the island during St. Patrick’s Day in 1768. Activities include national exhibitions showcasing history, art and literature, a kite festival, Junior Calypso Monarch Competition, Freedom Walk and Run, Heritage Day & Feast and annual St. Patrick’s Day church service and dinner.

Of all the Caribbean islands, Montserrat is the only one to offer a noticeable Irish heritage. The island was the home for indentured Irish Catholic servants in the British West Indies and the influence of their culture is still felt today. There is even a village named St. Patrick’s, which is located in the “Exclusion Zone.” Visitors also receive a green shamrock stamp in their passport upon arrival. Goat water, the national dish made of kid or mutton and spiced with cloves and rum, hails from the original Emerald Isle. The Irish legacy is present in the folklore, surnames and even the local speech, which is laced with Irish brogue.

Montserrat’s lodgings include guest houses (such as Gingerbread Hill), villas, apartments and B&Bs.
Montserrat’s lodgings include guest houses (such as Gingerbread Hill), villas, apartments and B&Bs.

The Lodging Picture

With an award of roughly $75,000 in funding to assist with renovations that will contribute to the reopening of the island’s premier hotel, The Vue Pointe Hotel and Conference Center was announced as the first beneficiary of the Tourism Accommodation Growth Fund Initiative. Launched by the Government of Montserrat in October, the fund is intended to support projects that will create new or improve existing tourist accommodations.

The Vue Pointe, which was first opened in 1961, was the flagship hotel on Montserrat until the volcanic activity interrupted its operations and it eventually closed for the third time, in January 2007. At press time, Travel Agent was unable to get a timetable on when the groundbreaking or reopening of the hotel might be.

The island’s other accommodations consist primarily of villas (two to five bedrooms), guest houses (two to 16 rooms), apartments (two to four rooms) and bed-and-breakfasts (two to 12 rooms). Weekly rates for a fully furnished luxury villa with a pool, full kitchen, garden and all amenities start around $700 per week; most require a minimum of one week’s stay. The villas offer ample room and lots of privacy. Most guest houses and at least one B&B also have swimming pools, but other amenities vary. Virtually all lodging options include Wi-Fi.

Variety of Dining Choices

B&Bs and some other units include Continental breakfast; otherwise meals are extra. Some properties have an on-site restaurant, while others offer catering. Clients can and should check out some of the local eateries. Montserrat has no fast food joints, but offers a range of restaurants categorized by the Tourism Division as flavorful local, traditional British, American favorites, neo-Caribbean and Cantonese. Among local delicacies are lobster burgers, fried mountain chicken (frog legs) and the aforementioned goat water stew.

Montserrat is the only nation outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday.

Montserrat is the only nation outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday.

New Cruises

Windstar Cruises made its first port call to Montserrat on December 8, 2015. It’s a stop included on a seven-night voyage throughout the Caribbean and is part of ongoing efforts to increase destination awareness, expand within the cruise industry and promote the island as a “must-see” for discerning travelers. Windstar’s Star Legend, a 208-passenger vessel, docked in the harbor at Little Bay from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and provided passengers ample time to tour and explore the island.

The passengers on the vessel’s inaugural berth to Montserrat were greeted at the port by masquerade performances, a hospitality desk and a welcome tropical drink. Several craft vendors were also on hand, offering unique items for sale to visitors such as bottled ash, volcano rum and hot sauce, locally made items such as wines and Montserrat Sea Island-cotton products.

In addition to being a prime example of old-world charm in a laid-back atmosphere, Montserrat offered passengers a chance to experience eco-adventure activities such as hiking, bird-watching and snorkeling, as well as visiting Plymouth. The new weekly sailings will continue through the current winter season.

Fun Facts About Montserrat

* Montserrat has the world’s highest number of volcanologists per capita.

* The only “traffic jams” on the island involve about five cars and the occasional goat or donkey.

* Dive enthusiasts will be blown away with Montserrat’s underwater sites, as the island’s reefs are teeming with life.

* Suggest clients go to the bat cave at Rendezvous Bluff, where you will see hundreds of protected fruit bats.

* Montserrat is the only part of the British Empire that is still growing. Pyroclastic and other flows in the “Exclusion Zone” areas as a result of volcanic activity continue to increase the isle’s physical size, which now measures about 41 square miles.

* Holidays in Montserrat are a time for religious reflection, spending time with loved ones, spreading goodwill unto others and the island’s biggest party of the year. The Montserrat Festival, running from mid-December to New Year’s Day, highlights the culture, creativity and talent of Montserrat with events such as Miss Festival Queen Pageant, a Calypso King Competition, Musical Extravaganza and vibrant costumed masqueraders parading in the streets.

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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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By Joe Pike | February 18, 2016
With a unique mix of Irish and African heritage, Montserrat is looking to get back on agents' radar screens with a new Tourism Accommodation Growth Fund Initiative. Here's how to sell this unique Caribbean destination.