Last night on the CBC TV Channel 8 News it was disclosed that the Catholic Church under the aegis of Father Harcourt Blackett was exploring the possibility of converting at least one of two caves believed to be early sites on the island for Catholic worship into a shrine. Although he did not mention specifically where these caves were located, he did indicate that they were in the north of the island and identified them as Indian Cave and Chapel Cave. These caves were apparently used as places of worship by Irish Catholic white slaves/indentured servants, thousands of whom were rounded up in Ireland and sent to Barbados, Montserrat and Virginia to work on cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations during the early days of British colonialism in the Caribbean and North America. At that time Anglicanism was the established state church/religion in Barbados and other faith traditions were persecuted and driven underground, as was apparently the case literally with these early Catholics.
The news of the effort to create the shrine comes at a time of growing awareness of and interest in the so-called “Red Legs” of St. John and the Irish connection in the early settling and development of the island. This connection survives not only in the “Red Legs” but also in the surnames of many Barbadians both black and white such as - Kennedy, O’Neal, Lynch, MacClery, etc., and in place names like Farley Hill, Collins, and even “Mullins” - which this blog celebrates. Mullins itself is very close to what may be one of the caves to which Father Blackett is referring - Chapel Cave - if this blogger‘s hunch is correct. There is/was a cave just north of Mullins and east of Battaleys which locals curiously referred to as “Church & Chapel Cave” which this blogger visited a couple times as a kid in hot pursuit of monkeys.
Whether or not this is the cave to which Father Blackett is referring does not matter so much as the fact that it is in the north of the island, hence the entire area stands to benefit from the potential tourism returns. Such a shrine is bound to have some cachet not only because of the historical, political and religious significance, but also because of the deep-pocketed New Irish connected to the island who own ultra-luxury 1000-acre/3 golf course resorts like Sandy Lane and whose names have already been associated with Father Blackett’s effort. If the Father Blackett/Dermot McBride combination is as effective as the Paul Altman/Michael Tabor combination (the latter being Mr. McBride’s Jewish business partner) was with the restoration of the 17th century Bridgetown Jewish synagogue and cemetery and creation of an associated museum, then Barbados could end up with yet another window into its ethnic and religious past through which visitors and pilgrims (the world’s first tourists) would flock to peer.
See also: “Exploring the Irish Conection,” "To hell or Barbados," "Irish city commemorates founding of Catholic Church in Barbados,"and “Red Legs In Barbados.”
N.B. No monkeys were harmed by this blogger as a child.