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Marcus Garvey and the Irish Connection

How Irish Nationalism Shaped Garvey's Pan-African Movement

By Geoffrey Philp Published 2 months ago 3 min read

The remarkable success of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League (UNIA-ACL), led by Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940), the first National Hero of Jamaica, drew inspiration from various sources. While Booker T. Washington's vision of self-help through education and economics was a primary influence, Garvey's organizational strategies for the liberation of people of African descent closely mirrored the slogans and methods employed by Irish nationalists such as Padraig Pearse, Robert Emmet, Roger Casement, and Eamon de Valera.

Upon returning to Jamaica from England in 1914, with his heart and mind brimming with ideas for the freedom of African peoples, one of Garvey's first official acts was the establishment of the UNIA-ACL. Its slogan, "Africa for Africans at home and abroad," echoed the oft-repeated Irish motto, "The Irish race at home and abroad." Even naming the UNIA-ACL headquarters Liberty Hall was a nod to "Liberty Hall, Dublin, the symbolic seat of the Irish revolution." In The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, he reiterated his conviction and alliance with the Irish cause, stating, "Marcus Garvey has no fear about going to jail. Like MacSwiney or Carson, like Roger Casement, like those who have led the fight for Irish freedom, Marcus Garvey shall lead the fight for African freedom."

The Easter Rising of 1916 profoundly impacted Garvey, but his familiarity with the Irish people's revolutionary struggle began much earlier. As early as 1910, Garvey served as assistant secretary of the National Club of Jamaica, whose activities marked Jamaicans' first attempt to create a nationalist political platform. The club's founder, S. A. & G. Cox, was influenced by the Sinn Fein movement while studying at the Middle Temple in England starting in 1905. Jamaican historian Richard Hart noted that "for [the National Club's] newspaper, Cox chose the name Our Own, a rough translation of the Irish nationalists' Sinn Fein."

Garvey's most audacious plan, the Black Star Line, which led to his imprisonment on fabricated charges brought by J. Edgar Hoover and the US Justice Department, was another symbolic nod to the Irish struggle. As Rupert Lewis points out, "The idea comes to Garvey that black people need a shipping line, and he bases his idea on the fact that the Cunard family has the White Star Line and the Irish have the Green Star Line, and he says, 'Why shouldn't blacks have the Black Star Line?' So it is a vision of grandeur."

The courage of Irish heroes was perhaps the most significant influence on Garvey's strategies. In July 1919, Garvey announced that "the time [had] come for the Negro race to offer up its martyrs upon the altar of liberty even as the Irish [had] given a long list from Robert Emmet to Roger Casement." During the International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Madison Square Garden in August 1920, Garvey accepted the title of "Provisional President of Africa," mirroring Padraig Pearse's designation as "President of the Provisional Government" before his martyrdom in the Easter Rising of 1916.

Garvey's closest personal relationship with Irish nationalism was with Eamon de Valera. They even arranged a speaking engagement to share the platform, although the meeting did not occur. Garvey continued to emulate de Valera, drawing inspiration from his clandestine travel between America and Ireland.

Marcus Garvey's rapid rise to fame and influence was rooted in his understanding of the struggle for Irish freedom. From the beginning of his career, Garvey recognized the kinship between the Irish and Pan-African struggles for freedom from the British Empire. His awareness of Irish nationalists' slogans and methods, as well as his personal and symbolic connections with Irish revolutionaries, shaped the direction of the UNIA-ACL and provided a framework for the struggle of Africans at home and abroad. As historian William Ferris summarized, "the same courage which St. Patrick showed in delving the pagan gods of Ireland Marcus Garvey shows in defying Anglo-Saxon caste prejudice." Marcus Garvey's life was a testament to the kinship of Irish and Pan-African freedom fighters in the liberation of their people.


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About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing. For more info, visit my webpage:

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  • ROCK 2 months ago

    I found this knowledgeable and interesting. I want to learn more about this most definitely!

  • Kendall Defoe 2 months ago

    Now this was educational! I had no idea that the man was influenced by the Irish. Thanks! 🍀

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