A continuing presence
The Not Just Ned exhibition developed by the National Museum of Australia features objects which help to tell a story of the contribution of Irish immigrants to Australia through culture and sport. It also explores people's reconnections with Ireland.
The old prejudice against the Irish has all but gone. In its place is an acceptance of the central role of the Irish in Australian history since 1788. Today 'Irishness' is seen as contributing to a sense of fun, humour and enjoyment that lightens the burdens of life.
Stories featured here include those of boxer Les Darcy, footballers Jim Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly, champion horse trainer Dermot Weld, centenarian nun Sr Brenda Browne, Rose of Tralee winner Kathryn Feeney, broadcaster Claire Dunne and leading Indigenous artist and businessman John Moriarty.
Image Gallery Page Navigation
Page 2 of 3
Vintage Crop, 1993
Vintage Crop passes the winning post in the 1993 Melbourne Cup. Photo: Bruno Cannatelli. Ultimate Racing Photos.
Irish in sport: The Irish raider
When he was growing up in Ireland, horse trainer Dermot Weld was given a book of Banjo Paterson's poems. They enthralled him, and within weeks he had memorised many of them: 'I visualised myself riding the ranges of that open country, rounding up cattle, herding sheep and experiencing heat'. Years later, Weld astonished a group of Australian journalists who had asked him whether he could recite any of Paterson's poems that were not about racing by launching into 'A bush christening':
On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few,
And men of religion are scanty,
On a road never cross'd 'cept by folk that are lost,
One Michael Magee had a shanty.
On that occasion, at Flemington racecourse on Tuesday 2 November 1993, Weld could afford to indulge his love of Paterson. He was celebrating having just become the trainer of the first overseas-trained horse to take out Australia's richest and most prestigious race – the Melbourne Cup.
Vintage Crop, trained by Weld in Ireland and owned by Sir Michael Smurfit, ran a great Melbourne Cup in 1993. In the last furlongs, the 'Irish raider', as he was dubbed, unleashed a magnificent run from the field to outpace the leaders. Weld had dreamt of taking out the Cup ever since his first reading of 'The Man from Snowy River', and now, like the 'colt from old Regret', the Melbourne Cup had 'got away' – to Ireland.
Sister Brenda Browne, 2008
Sister Brenda Browne, aged 103, 2008. Sisters of Mercy Congregational Archive, Brisbane.
Reconnecting with Ireland: Sister Brenda Browne and the '49ers'
County Kerry people remember their own. On 5 July 2010 Kerry Radio reported the passing of centenarian Sister Brenda Browne, of Brisbane, Australia. A Sister of Mercy, she was originally Mary 'Bidge' Browne from Ballyhorgan, Ballyduff, County Kerry, who left Ireland for Australia in 1924, aged 19. There she spent the rest of her long life serving the order by teaching in Queensland Catholic schools.
Sister Brenda did not come to Queensland alone. She was part of a group of 49 young novices from Ireland, all offering their lives to the service of God. The order looked to Ireland as a source of dedicated teachers, nurses and social workers, and the '49ers', as they were known, were just one of many groups who came to Brisbane in the 1920s and 1930s.
In an age before jet travel, few of these young novices expected to see Ireland, or their families, again. Leaving Ireland in 1947, Sister Angela Doyle, also bound for Brisbane, wrote: 'We did not dwell too long on the sacrifice that this entailed. We were giving our lives to God and we would do it willingly and as cheerfully as the pain of parting allowed ... As we sailed further from our homeland, we put our faith and trust in God for the future'.
The '49ers', about 1924
The '49ers', Tamborine, Queensland about 1924. Sister Brenda Browne is third from right, third row from front. Photo: Father Francis Browne. The Father Browne SJ Collection.
Reconnecting with Ireland: Sister Brenda Browne and the '49ers'
The '49ers' were a group of 49 young novice nuns from Ireland who were sent to Australia in 1924 in the service of God. One of those nuns, Sister Brenda Browne, died in Brisbane at the age of 103 after decades spent teaching in Queensland schools.
Rose of Tralee winner's crown, 2006
Rose of Tralee winner's crown, 2006. On loan from Kathryn Feeney.
Reconnecting with Ireland: Roses of Tralee
In Ireland there is one television event that is right up there with the major sports finals – the annual Rose of Tralee festival.
The Rose of Tralee festival recalls a famous 19th-century love song. Young women from Ireland, and of Irish descent around the world, contest for the title 'Rose of Tralee'. The festival is a big event in Tralee, County Kerry, and the final night, when the winner is announced, plays to a huge television audience in Ireland.
In August 2010 it rated as the most watched show of the year on any television channel available in Ireland. Since its inception in the late 1950s, the 'Rose' has had its share of critics, but hosted for over 20 years by Ireland's most famous television and radio personality, Gay Byrne, the festival has always held centrestage in Ireland. Byrne sees it as a personality show in which the young female contestants might be anyone's daughter, sister or niece. By allowing any young woman of Irish descent worldwide to enter, the festival reaches out like nothing else in Ireland to the huge Irish diaspora in countries like Australia.
To date, three Australians have been crowned the Rose of Tralee: Nyomi Horgan, 1995; Lisa Manning, 2001; and Kathryn Feeney, 2006. All three women have stressed how participating in the competition, and winning the title, has helped them to reconnect strongly with their Irish origins. Nyomi Horgan says that she discovered 'resemblances that have survived the generations' and enjoys the 'bond that makes us family'.
Kathryn Feeney, 2006
Kathryn Feeney, 2006. Rose of Tralee International Festival.
Kathryn Anne Feeney is one of three Australians who have been crowned the Rose of Tralee at the annual Rose of Tralee festival in Ireland. Speaking about her family's renewed link to Ireland, Feeney said: 'This was the first return en-masse of the Feeney family to their familial home for over 90 years ... We also connected with more cousins who still lived locally and a wider family network that still remains in touch via email, phone calls and visits'.
3EA T-shirt, 1970s
3EA T-shirt, 1970s. On loan from Claire Dunne.
Reconnecting with Ireland: That's my language
In June 1975 a man driving down Parramatta Road in Sydney suddenly stopped in the middle of the traffic, got out and started to dance. 'That's my language, that's my music,' he shouted. He had tuned in to the Turkish program of Australia's first ethnic radio station, 2EA.
Irishwoman Claire Dunne, foundation director of 2EA Sydney and 3EA Melbourne, which were forerunners of SBS, would recall how Arabic speakers cried to hear the sounds of their own country over the air. Soon program coordinators were telling her that people from different ethnic groups were writing in to say there was now no need to return to their homeland – 'Home is Australia'.
Dunne's support for multicultural Australia arose out of her strong sense of her Irish heritage. Revisiting Ireland, and reconnecting with Irish music, brought Dunne back to Australia with a growing awareness that it was this music that most strongly expressed Irish cultural identity. Immigrants, she realised, needed to 'keep contact with what was foreign to Australia', for if they lost that, 'they lost part of themselves'. In 1999 Dunne was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to multiculturalism, particularly through the promotion of Celtic culture, and to ethnic broadcasting'.