The tiny tropical island of Montserrat might seem an unlikely place for a Bree man to end up, but this is exactly what happened in the early 17th century. Located in the the southern Caribbean, where it forms part of the British West Indies, Monserrat is probably most famous in recent years for a terrible volcanic eruption that caused considerable destruction in 1995. Although it was first christened by Christopher Columbus in 1493, it wasn’t until the 17th century that the first Europeans actually settled here at the expense of the indigenous Carrib tribes.
The leader of these early colonists, Anthony Bryskett, was in fact a Bree man from Macmine. He was to become Montserrat’s first Governor (see Gwynn 1929 & 1932 A) and would oversee the island developing a particularly Irish flavour. Indeed, under his stewardship over 3,000 Irish men would chose to make this tiny Caribbean Island their home by 1650. He was of Italian decent; his grandfather Antonio Bruschetto was a merchant from Genoa, Italy who emigrated to England in circa 1536 (see Gwynn 1929, 651). Antonio’s name was subsequently anglicized to Anthony Bryskett. His son Lodowick came to Ireland in 1565 as part of the Lord Deputy, Sir Sidney’s, household and in 1581 was granted a large farm at Macmine, in Bree (see note 1).
The following year he described his holding at Macmine as ‘neighbouring the quiet gentlemen of the Caveneghs’ with the land being ‘very pleasant and fertile’ (Gwynn 1929, 652). The Cambridge-educated Lodowick was a noted writer and a close friend of the famous Elizabethan poet, Sir Edmund Spenser (of Faerie Queen fame). In addition, Bryskett was friendly with the Wallops of Ennniscorthy Castle, spending the Christmas of 1594 with them and also acting as Steward for their extensive estates (Jenkins 1932, 114). He was to reside at Macmine until 1598 when he was forced out by the rebellious Irish, but he returned a short time later when the conditions improved.
It was at Macmine that his son Anthony, the future Caribbean adventurer, was born and this was where Lodwick passed-away in 1612. Little is known of young Anthony’s Bryskett’s early life. In 1613 he is recorded as holding 120 acres of land in Wexford, but after this his movements become less certain. It appears that he went first to the English colony of Virginia in America (Gwynn 1932 B) before arriving in Montserrat sometime around 1634. He was made Governor of the Island in 1636 and was to remain an important member of the islands burgeoning Irish community until his death in 1646.
Although the Irish were to remain synonymous with Montserrat, they were gradually replaced by a large Afro/Caribbean community. The latter were the descendants of African slaves who were brought to the island to work on the large sugar and cotton plantations. Indeed, St. Patrick ’s Day is still celebrated on Montserrat. However, unusually, it does not honour the patron Saint of Ireland but instead commemorates a failed slave uprising which took place on the 17th of March 1768.
The date of the rebellion was specifically chosen to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day when the Irish landlords and their guards would be preoccupied with the festivities. All of this, however, happened long after the days of Anthony Bryskett, a man born on the banks of the Slaney but buried along the sandy shores of the Caribbean. As we might say in Bree, ‘twas a quare long journey.’
It has also been suggested that Lodowick may have resided at St. John’s, which is adjacent to Enniscorthy town as he was granted lands at a St. John’s in December 1581. However, for the remainder of his tenure in Wexford he is referred to as being from Macmine. For example, under a privy seal dated Richmond 11 March 1582 and by a patent dated Dublin 6 November 1583 he is described as ‘of Maghmaine’ (Macmine) in Co. Wexford (Cooper 1891, 58), while on the 31st of March 1600 he is living at ‘Maghmayne’ (Macmine), Wexford (Public Record Office 1885, p.119). Similarly in 1612, Lodowick’s widow complains about stray cattle damaging her crops at Macmine (Gwynn 1929, 651). In the original document Bryskett actually refers to a priory ‘sometime belonging to St. John Jerusalem’ (Plommer & Cross, 1927, 49) and this would suggest that he was talking about The Knights Hospitaller (Order of St. John Jerusalem) foundation at Ballyhogue, Bree rather than the Augustinian foundation at St. John’s, Enniscorthy. Ballyhogue is a townland located beside Macmine.
Cooper, C. H. & Cooper, T. 1891. Athanae Oantabrmenses, Vol III 1609-1611, Cambridge
Gwynn, A. 1929. ‘Early Irish Emmigration to the West Indies: Part II’ in An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 18, No. 72, Dec 1929,
Gwynn, A. 1932 (A). ‘Documents relating to Irish in the West Indies’ in Analetca Hibernica No. 4, Dec 1932
Gwynn, A. 1932 (B) ‘ An Irish settlement on the Amazon 1612-1629’ in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Vol. 41, 1932-34, Section C, pp. 1-54
Jenkins, R. 1932 ‘Spenser and the Clerkship of Munster’ in PMLA, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 109-121
Plommer, H. R. & Cross T.P. 1927. The Life and Correspondence of Lodowick Bryskett. Chicago
Public Record Office. 1885. Seventeenth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. H.M. Stationery Office. Dublin.