'Barbados is simply one of the best places to live in the world'
Ciarán Burke has lived and worked in the West Indies for 17 years
Gary Sobers, Ciaran Burke and John Barnes in Barbados at Apsara, owned by Irishwoman Marie Kavanagh
Back in 2003, as a newly qualified chartered accountant, Ciarán Burke decided to pack up and travel to Barbados. Some 17 years later, he is still there and considers himself an adopted Bajan
Where did you go after Ireland?
In my final year at DCU in 1998 I got a scholarship to Boston College for two months. That really gave me the travel bug. My chartered accountant qualification, as it recognised internationally, gave me a global passport and, once qualified, I moved into EY within its Business Risk Services department, which allowed me to travel all over Europe, the Middle East and Africa (the EMEA region) each week using Dublin as a hub. I wanted to get more adventurous, and packed my bags in 2003 for the West Indies. Barbados was my chosen destination. I only signed a two-and-half-year contract with Deloitte, but I’m still here in 2020.
Why did you stay in Barbados?
I have made Barbados my home for the past 17 years. I married my wife, who is from Trinidad, in 2005. She was studying for her Master’s at the University of the West Indies. Instead of moving back to Dublin, I decided to stay in the Caribbean region for a bit longer working with the Denis O’Brien-led Digicel Group. That ended up being a rapid fire 10-plus year adventure.
What is it like living in Barbados?
After Ireland, having spent my primary school years in Lahinch, Co Clare next to a great links golf course, Barbados is simply one of the best places to live in the world. It has a year-round sunny climate and has many great amenities, world-class beaches, welcoming Barbadians and is also the home of Cockspur rum and Banks beer. However, one does need to prepare carefully for each hurricane season.
It is important when you are in a new country to get involved and I recently was appointed to the FutureTec committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Barbados. I also love Barbados for its air links. We are only one flight away from many cities in North America and Europe and it is a great gateway for the rest of the Eastern Caribbean.
Golf is my favourite pastime and I am on the board of Barbados Golf Club. It was built by an Irishman, Roddy Carr, son of Joe Carr, who was the first Irishman to play Augusta as an amateur where he played his opening two rounds with the defending champion, Jack Nicklaus. Barbados has many other great golf courses. Sandy Lane, which is mainly Irish owned, has three golf courses including the Country Club course which hosted the 2006 World Cup of Golf event. Tiger Woods also held his wedding reception there in 2004.
What is the food culture like there?
Barbados has some great restaurants and it caters for all tastes. However, there is no better place to be than in Oistins fishing village on the south coast after work for a Friday night lime, which is Bajan for Friday night out. Taste roasted breadfruit or cou cou with freshly caught grilled mahi mahi. Being married to a Trinidadian, my favourite food has to be callalou with stewed chicken and rice. However, I do miss a cold pint of Guinness on a long summer’s evening back in the big smoke. So when I do get homesick, good old Irish potatoes and roast beef is order of the day on a Sunday.
How has Covid-19 affected you in Barbados?
Covid-19 was generally well handled. We had 97 cases, sadly with seven deaths, and today we are Covid-free. Now we are gradually reopening our borders. Economically it has been very challenging for a small open economy, especially with approximately 40 per cent of the country’s GDP reliant on tourism.
Are there many Irish people there?
There is a very small group of the Irish in Barbados nowadays, which is nice given the close historic ties between the original Irish indentured servants coming here back in the 1650s during the Cromwell era. You find many Irish surnames here. The Irish tend to gather at key sporting moments such as rugby and cricket games. Also, in 2010 Katie Taylor won her third successive Women’s World boxing title here on the island. And of course we could not forget this year’s historic Irish cricket tour of the West Indies, when the Irish cricket boys beat the mighty West Indies in Grenada, and nearly won here in Barbados at the Kensington Oval in a low scoring thriller.
Have you met Rihanna yet?
Our famous Barbadian has been a great ambassador for the country and, while I haven’t met her yet, Barbados is a great spot to meet various well-known names from all areas. As a lifelong Liverpool fan, one of my great memories was playing golf here with Ronnie Whelan. I also spent time with John Barnes, another great Liverpool hero of mine who is originally from Jamaica, and Barbadian Sir Gary Sobers, one of the greatest all-round cricketers ever.
What do you do now?
In 2017, myself and my business partner Barry O’Brien formed Williams Caribbean Capital (WCC) with the local conglomerate Williams Industries and its chairman Ralph “Bizzy” Williams. From its HQ in Barbados, WCC is an impact investor and developer of renewable energy assets. We have made multiple acquisitions in a diversified asset portfolio across the region and in Ireland covering sectors in tourism, sustainable packaging solutions, insurance and technology.
In an attempt to reflect the vision of the Paris Climate Agreement, which sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and also aims to strengthen countries’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change, we were proud to be honoured as the first Green Certified bond issuer in the region and this month we were awarded our first global award, New Market Green Pioneer, by the Climate Bonds Initiative.
If you work abroad and would like to share your experience, email Irish Times Abroad at email@example.com