Centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign

The centenary of the start of the military phase of the Gallipoli campaign on 25 April 1915 will be well commemorated in Australia and New Zealand, as might be expected. Although many thousands of Irishmen served at Gallipoli and died there, the campaign is not well known in Ireland and has not been widely commemorated there. In recent decades ex-pat Australians and New Zealanders have conducted ceremonies in Dublin on the anniversary of the landing at Grangegorman Military Cemetery and at St Ann’s Church in Dawson Street. This year, however, with the centenary of the campaign, a number of events in Ireland will mark the occasion.

Beneath a Turkish SkyOne in particular should attract considerable interest. At 3pm on 25 April 2015 at the Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Philip Lecane will give a talk entitled “Beneath a Turkish Sky: The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Assault on Gallipoli” This is the title of Philip’s forthcoming book which is scheduled for publication in June by The History Press Ireland. It is not widely known that during the landing at V Beach at Cape Helles the Irish suffered more casualties than did the Australians and New Zealanders in their landing at the beach at Anzac Cove.

Other events include the “Gallipoli 100” conference In Kells, County Meath, on 24-25 April 2015 in St Columba’s Church of Ireland church in Market St and a wreath laying ceremony at the Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar. No doubt there will be many others.

In addition, the History Hub at University College Dublin is publishing a six-part series of podcasts on the Irish at Gallipoli which I recorded during my time as the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History in 2014.

Irish Anzacs Project

IAP Logo 3The Irish Anzacs Project is a significant research undertaking of the Global Irish Studies Centre (now called Irish Studies at UNSW), made possible by a grant from the Irish government’s Emigrant Support Program. The project aims to identify all Irish-born enlistments in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, or as close to all as is practicable, and to compile a publicly accessible database containing information on each of them. The database will provide families with information on their Irish-born family members who served in the war as well as providing statistical information to assist researchers understand the contribution of the Irish to the Australian war effort.

The information in the database has been extracted from service records held by the National Archives of Australia and includes the following details: name, town and county of birth, date and place of enlistment, declared age, occupation, marital status, next of kin location, previous military service, religion, and the unit to which initially posted. Over time, additional information is being added from other sources such as the Roll of Honour, the Embarkation Roll, the Nominal Roll, the list of Awards and Decorations and the Red Cross files relating to the wounded and missing and to prisoners of war, ultimately producing for each soldier a comprehensive record. When completed the database will contain details of more than 6000 Irish-born soldiers and nurses who enlisted in the Australian forces.

Mr Charlie Flanagan TD launching Irish Anzacs database in Ireland at UCD

The Irish Anzacs database was launched in Ireland on 17 October 2014 by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Charlie Flanagan TD at University College Dublin with a live Skype link to the Global Irish Studies Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The launch of the database was followed by a full-day symposium “Emergent Nations: Australia and Ireland in the First World War – Gallipoli, Conscription and Commemoration“. The Australian launch of the Irish Anzacs database will take place on 28 March 2015 during the 14th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry in Canberra.

To access the Irish Anzacs database go to the webpage of Irish Studies at UNSW.

Keith Cameron Lecture 2014

Brennan - KCL 2014

Fr Frank Brennan SJ gave the 2014 Keith Cameron
Lecture at University College Dublin on 22 September in the presence of the President of UCD Professor Andrew Deeks and the Australian Ambassador to Ireland Dr Ruth Adler. The annual lecture is the most significant event in the calendar of the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History at UCD. As the current holder of the chair I was delighted when Fr Brennan accepted my invitation to give the lecture. I have known Fr Brennan for more than 30 years and he has always impressed me as one of Australia’s finest activist intellectuals and a brilliant speaker on topical subjects with an uncanny ability to explain complex issues of public policy to a general audience without sacrificing the subtleties and nuances of the debate. On this occasion he spoke about Australia’s controversial asylum seeker policy explaining its history and background and arguing the need for a moral foundation to the policy rather than one justified by narrow legalism based on a strict reading of international conventions. The large audience who squeezed into the lecture room in the John Henry Newman Building did not leave UCD disappointed. And the high quality of the questions from those who came to hear the lecture gave the speaker an opportunity to expand on the subject and to put the Australian experience into the broader context of the problems facing all First World countries, including Ireland, in dealing justly with persons fleeing persecution while maintaining border security. The moral force of Fr Brennan’s argument is compelling and you can read the full text of the lecture here. 

Anzac Day in Dublin 2014

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Jeff Kildea giving Anzac address at Grangegorman Military Cemetery (Courtesy Michael Lee)

When I arrived at Dublin’s Grangegorman Military Cemetery this morning at 6 o’clock for the Anzac Day dawn service to commemorate all those who died in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, a crescent moon was rising in the east. Very appropriate, I thought. After all, the victors in that campaign were the Turks, whose national flag includes a crescent moon. Just as Australians and New Zealanders regard that campaign as of the utmost significance in the emergence of their nationhood, so too do the people of modern Turkey, whose first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the great military hero of the campaign, had defended his country from the invaders.

I am well familiar with Grangegorman Military Cemetery. I had visited it many times while researching Anzacs and Ireland. Buried there are seven Australian soldiers of the First World War and three New Zealanders. Of those, four Australians and two New Zealanders died when the RMS Leinster, the mailboat from Dublin to Holyhead, was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast, just one month before the end of the war, with the loss of more than 500 lives. I had written about those soldiers in the book.

For Australians and New Zealanders, the 25th of April, the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli is the main focus of their national commemorations of their countrymen who died in that campaign and in other military conflicts. Thousands of Irishmen also died at Gallipoli, but they have largely been forgotten in Ireland.

While the antipodean nations along with the Turks see the Gallipoli campaign as the crucible of their nations, for the Irish it is the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence (1919-1921). After the Irish had won their independence and established their state in 1922, their nation-building understandably focussed on the struggle for independence, not the part that Irish soldiers had played in what many regarded as “England’s war”. In recent years attitudes have changed. Ireland is now a mature, confident nation state and its people are increasingly looking back to that war and giving recognition to the sacrifice made by the more than 35 000 Irishmen who died fighting for what they believed was a righteous cause.

That recognition was evidenced today by the presence at the ceremony of more than 200 people, mostly Irish, including the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan and representatives of the Defence Forces of Ireland.

To me, today’s service in Dublin was extra special as I had been given the honour of delivering the Anzac Day address. It gave me, as an Australian of Irish descent, the opportunity to pay regard to the part played by the Irish in the war, particularly the more than 6000 Irish men and women who served in the Australian forces and the more than 900 who were killed or died of wounds or illness related to their war service. Among them were thirteen Irishmen who, wearing the Australian uniform, were killed on the day of the landing at Gallipoli 99 years ago today. And to underline the personal tragedy which is the nature of war, I recited the name, age, occupation and birthplace of each of them. I was delighted afterwards by the number of Irish people who took the trouble to speak with me and to commend me for having done so and for having spoken about the part played by the Irish in the war.

As the rising sun broke through the trees overlooking the graves at Grangegorman and cast its light and warmth on this cold place, I concluded my address with the following words:

Mindful that the loss of life in war is “always personal, always tragic, and always has consequences”,* it is right that we remember the individual men and women killed in the war and their families left with long mourning and deep grief. In that way, we commemorate our war dead, not to glorify their deeds, for there is no glory in war, but to see them as our father, our mother; our brother, our sister; our son, our daughter, whose life was precious, and then to echo Pope Paul’s exhortation to the UN: “No more war, war never again”.

(* Michael McKernan, Gallipoli, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2010)

The Last Summer: William Redmond’s Final Visit to Australia

This year 2014 we will be commemorating the centenary of the start of the First World War, which, appropriately, will overshadow many other centenaries. Nevertheless, apart from the war, a centenary event of relevance to Irish Australia is the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the Third Home Rule Bill, which had been introduced into the Westminster parliament in April 1912. It gave Ireland limited domestic self-government within the United Kingdom and under the Crown. In the course of the ensuing two years the House of Commons voted three times in favour of the bill, but on each occasion the House of Lords rejected it. However, under the terms of the Parliament Act 1911 the bill could become law without the consent of the Lords if it had passed the House of Commons three times in the same form in three consecutive sessions of parliament. Accordingly, on 18 September 1914 King George V signed the bill into law, but with a suspensory bill that delayed the commencement of the Home Rule Act until the end of the war or twelve months, whichever was the later.

The home rule bill’s passage from 1912 to 1914 had caused a political and constitutional crisis that almost plunged Ireland into civil war, with Ulster unionists, urged on by the Conservative Party opposition, pledging to resist home rule at all cost. Australia was not spared from the fallout of the crisis, with discussion of the bill becoming mixed up with the local issue of state aid for Catholic schools, amplifying chronic sectarian tensions between the British Protestant majority and the Irish Catholic minority. For almost 40 years the Australian Irish had been strong supporters of Irish home rule, particularly following the visit of John and William Redmond in 1883. Thereafter a procession of delegates sent from Ireland sustained antipodean support for the cause, particularly of the financial kind.

One of those visits occurred one hundred years ago when William Redmond arrived in Australia in late 1913. Following William’s tour of Australia with his brother in 1883, he had married Eleanor Dalton of Orange, NSW in 1886 and thereafter had made several trips to Australia. On one of them, in 1905, William was instrumental in persuading Hugh Mahon to shepherd through the Australian parliament resolutions in support of home rule. Almost nine years later William made his next and final visit. On his arrival in Fremantle on 1 December 1913 Redmond was upbeat about the prospects for home rule, telling journalists, “Ulster will not fight. The whole affair is a gigantic bluff in an attempt to frighten the English people. I am confident that home rule will become law in June of next year”. It was a message that he repeated many times during his stay of two months. On 9 February 1914 the Redmonds departed Australia so that William would be back in London in time for the third and final introduction of the Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons.

In the end Ulster did not fight, but for reasons neither William Redmond nor anyone else could have predicted in early 1914. The outbreak of the war in August saw home rule put on the backburner and, instead of fighting each other, as many had feared, Irishmen, nationalist and unionist, found themselves in the same uniform fighting a common enemy, Germany. Before war’s end both William and his brother John would be dead along with the cause to which both had devoted themselves for more than 40 years. By then home rule was too anaemic a proposition to satisfy the desire of the Irish people to govern themselves. While many in Australia would continue to espouse the Redmondite cause, in Ireland a new generation of activists with aspirations for a separate, republican Ireland was by then in command of the nationalist movement.

Ireland – in a new light

I have just received a copy of a new eBook Ireland – in a new light by Chris Hill and Colin McCadden. Published by eBooks Ireland it is a most wonderful illustrated book that takes you on a virtual tour of Ireland. The images – 400 in all – are enchanting with an amazing depth of colour. It’s a delight to flick through them on the iPad. The text is shoIreland - in a new lightrt, to the point and not intrusive, in most cases just identifying the scene but in others providing valuable context. There are also galleries of images that allow you to dispense with the text altogether. The arrangement is logical with chapters for the provinces and sub-chapters for the counties in each province. Navigation is easy, whether you want to browse seriatim or to jump to your favourite province or county. In a nutshell it’s a coffee-table book for the iPad – truly a great read/view. As yet Ireland – in a new light is available only for the iPad and through iBooks. In time that will change so that those with Kindle and Android devices can share the experience. At about $A15 it is a real bargain. Try it out with a free sample at the iBooks store or take a look at eBooks Ireland‘s Facebook page.

Disorder in the House

The Victorian parliament is in the news a lot these days, mostly for the wrong reasons. Google “Victorian parliament” and the results over the past month frequently include words such as “chaotic scenes”, “turmoil”, “mess”. In this finely balanced parliament, with the speaker under fire from the Labor opposition and from an independent member who holds the balance of power, members are not behaving as paragons of propriety. Yet, so far, no one has accused the members of being drunk.

In New South Wales recently a minister was sacked after allegations that he had been drunk in the house. But Victorians would be quick to point out that they are a cut above that sort of behaviour, pointing to their northern counterparts’ sordid parliamentary past as depicted so colourfully in Cyril Pearls’ racy Wildmen of Sydney (WH Allen, London, 1958). After all, Edmund Barton, speaker of the NSW parliament and later Australia’s first prime minister, was not nicknamed “Toby Tosspot” for nothing. And that colourful Irish-Australian William “Paddy” Crick had once been expelled from the NSW parliament after he had been in his cups and had defied the chairman of the Committee of the Whole. He might have got away with it had he left the house quietly when the chairman directed him, but, as Hansard records, the charge against him of contempt of parliament went on to say “and afterwards having violently resisted the Serjeant-at-Arms when that officer was directed to remove him, and continued such resistance until other officers rendered assistance, causing a great disorder and scandal” (NSWPD, 12 November 1890, p 5188). The report in The Sydney Morning Herald was a little less anodyne: “The attempt at removal was violently resisted, and it required the strength of three or four of the officers of the Assembly to force the member, struggling, resisting, and kicking, outside the House” (SMH 13 November 1890, p. 4). While his fellow members were sufficiently scandalised to vote immediately for his expulsion, his constituents were more forgiving, re-electing him at the by-election held the following month.

It might be said that by expelling Crick the members demonstrated their abhorrence of such behaviour. Indeed, the Herald argued in its report of the incident that the stern determination shown by the house was the most encouraging aspect of the recent attempts at disorder by “a small section of less than half-a-dozen members by whom the whole House of 137 members has been made to bear a reputation of an undesirable kind”. In other words the honour of the NSW parliament was being besmirched by the bad behaviour of a few drunken louts. Interestingly, south of the Murray it was the corollary that led to the expulsion in 1876 of another Irish-Australian member of parliament Belfast-born James McKean. (Is there something about Irish-Australians and expulsion from parliament?)*

McKean’s offence was slandering the Victorian assembly by alleging that members came into the house ‘staggering drunk’. McKean, a lawyer, made his derogatory remarks while appearing for a client in the Collingwood Police Court. During the hearing the magistrate suggested that the legislature should change a relevant law. McKean’s response, which unfortunately for him was reported in the press, was, “Call such a drunk and immoral lot of individuals legislators? Why, the lowest in Collingwood are not so near so bad as they” (VPD, 26 July 1876, p 153). A select committee was established to investigate the matter and, following the tabling of its report, the motion to expel McKean was passed on the voices.

So, while the present Victorian Legislative Assembly might be in chaos, turmoil and a mess, its members have not as yet plumbed the depths of their 19th-century counterparts. But as my mum used to say, “Things are never so bad they can’t get worse”. Let’s hope not.


Nine members have been expelled from the lower houses of Australian parliaments, six of them Irish-Australians. Offaly-born Hugh Mahon was expelled from the Commonwealth House of Representatives in 1920 for seditious and disloyal utterances. Five members have been expelled from the Victorian Legislative Assembly, three of whom were Irish-Australians: Leitrim-born Patrick Costello 1861 for electoral fraud; Belfast-born James McKean 1869 for breach of privilege and Edward Finley 1901 for seditious libel. The other two were Scotsman James Butters and Welshman Charles Edwin Jones, both 1869 for corruption. Three members have been expelled from the NSW Legislative Assembly, two of whom were Irish-Australians: William Crick 1890 for contempt of the house and Dublin-born Richard Atkinson Price 1917 for conduct unworthy of a member in making allegations against a minister. The third was Englishman Ezekial Alexander Baker 1881 for conduct unworthy of a member, namely misappropriation of funds. All three were re-elected by their constituents.

Searching for Irish-Australia in Canada

Next week I am off to North America to see what I can find out about Hugh Mahon’s time there from 1869 to 1880. Mahon, the Irish-Australian politician who is the subject of a biography I am researching was a 12 year old schoolboy when the family landed in New York City in March 1869. From there they travelled to Ontario, Canada, where they lived for four years on a farm in Oxford County before returning to New York State and settling in Albany, where Hugh trained as a printer and journalist.

By 1880 the 23-year-old Hugh was back in Ireland, editing the staunchly nationalist New Ross Standard and heavily involved in nationalist and Land League politics that eventually led to his imprisonment in Kilmainham Gaol in 1881 and his emigration to Australia the following year. Methinks he learned more than the newspaper business while living in the Fenian homeland across the Atlantic. But evidence is required before speculation, however plausible, can be called fact.

If time permits, I would like to trace another Irishman with Canadian and Australian links whose life was influenced by the Fenians, though in a completely different way. Aisling Society member Myles Mooney put me on to the story of Timothy O’Hea (1846-1874), a soldier from Bantry, County Cork who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in putting out a fire in an ammunition wagon that was attached to a passenger train. The incident occurred at Danville, Quebec on 9 June 1866 when the ammunition was being transported to the loyalist forces defending Fort Erie from Fenian raiders who had crossed the border from New York State. In total disregard for his own life O’Hea entered the wagon and extinguished the fire, thereby saving the lives of the passengers. His was the first (and perhaps the only) VC awarded for bravery other than in the face of an enemy.

Timothy O'Hea VC

Timothy O’Hea VC

A few years later O’Hea emigrated to New Zealand, where he served as a policeman, and then to Australia. In June 1874 he joined an expedition led by Andrew Hume to search for Adolf Glassen, believed by many to have been the lone survivor of Ludgwig Leichhardt’s ill-fated 1848 expedition to south-west Queensland. For a quarter of century the improbable, if not bizarre, story of Glassen’s survival when the rest of the expedition had perished  enticed foolhardy explorers to venture into outback Australia in search of the man who could tell them of Leichhardt’s demise. Some suffered the same fate as Leichhardt and his men, including the hero of Danville, Timothy O’Hea VC. Or did he?

The story has been told numerous times, including by the celebrated author of Australian exploration and bushranging Frank Clune in “The Man who Found Leichhardt”. But in 2005 Elizabeth Reid suggested in The Singular Journey of O’Hea’s Cross that the man who died in the desert was not Timothy O’Hea but his brother John, who had assumed his identity. Hmm, what was I saying about evidence and speculation.

In either case it is an interesting story which I had not heard before and I am grateful to Myles for alerting me to it as I prepare to uncover the story of another Irishman with links to Canada, Australia and perhaps Fenianism. But Canada like Australia is a vast country and Danville is a long way from Oxford County. So, the search for Timothy O’Hea might have to wait for another time.

2013 International Irish Famine Commemoration in Sydney

Sydney played host this weekend (23-25 August) to the 5th International Famine Commemoration, marking the occasion with a dinner, a seminar and the annual gathering at the monument to the Great Irish Famine in the grounds of the Hyde Park Barracks. Previously, the event has been held in Toronto (2009), New York (2010), Liverpool (2011) and Boston (2012). The guest of honour was the Irish Arts and Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan, who is the chair of the Irish National Famine Commemoration Committee.

The Great Famine (1845-52) had a profound impact on Ireland, which is still felt today, not the least in the fact that population has never recovered to the pre-famine level of 8 million 170 years ago. By the early 1850s a million had died and a million emigrated. The draining of Ireland’s population continued for a century afterwards, with the population declining to about 4 million in 1940.

But Ireland’s loss was the world’s gain with the émigrés settling in various countries around the world, including Australia. In particular, Australia received just over 4000 single young women, most of whom were teenaged orphans. These “famine orphans” are the focus of the annual commemorations at the Hyde Park Barracks, where many of them were housed when they first arrived in this new and strange land. Much has been written about the famine orphans, but a recently-published book, which I had the privilege of launching at the seminar on Saturday, provides an intimate insight into what these young women experienced. (Click here to read my launch speech.)Not the Same Sky Thumbnail

Not the Same Sky by Evelyn Conlon, one of Ireland’s foremost novelists and short story writers, tells the story of a group of orphan girls, who, recruited from workhouses and given the “choice” of emigration or starvation, came to Australia on the Thomas Arbuthnot in 1850. Although Not the Same Sky is a work of fiction it is based on thorough historical research. In launching the book, I observed:

Grounded in detailed research, in part it reads like history. But it is much more than that. Historians are constrained by the facts as they find them. A novelist, while still being faithful to the essential facts, can go that one step further using imagination to elaborate, embellish and entertain; to bring raw facts to life; to vest the characters with a humanity that brings them closer to us. As an accomplished novelist and short story writer, Evelyn does this brilliantly, tapping into our emotions as we follow the progress of the orphan girls’ on their journeys.

The time and place of the novel’s launch could not have been better for Not the Same Sky is a fitting tribute to the orphan girls that bridges the temporal gap of understanding to bring them to life for us, complementing the evocative monument which stands in the grounds of the Hyde Park Barracks.

The Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee and, in particular, its chair Dr Perry McIntyre, are to be congratulated on what was a truly memorable weekend of commemoration and celebration for Irish Australia.

Not the Same Sky (Wakefield Press 2013, RRP $24.95)

Cricket: When Irish Eyes are Smiling

My wife and I have just returned from a cricketing tour of England with the Sydney Cricket Ground XI that included two days at Lord’s for the second Ashes Test. The atmosphere at Lord’s was fantastic – too bad about the cricket. It was not long ago that as an Irish-Australian I took delight in the way Australia used to put England to the sword whenever the two teams played the game the English had invented. On the Australians’ present form it may be some time before I will experience that sense of satisfaction once again.

Some Irish patriots might argue that anyone with a drop of Irish blood in his or her veins would despise the game of cricket as a garrison game. One such patriot was Mary MacSwiney, the sister of Terence MacSwiney, the Sinn Féin lord mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in 1920 at Brixton prison. At the Irish Race Convention in Paris in 1922 MacSwiney gave Australian delegate Dr Herbert Moran a verbal lashing when during a debate on the establishment of an Irish Olympic Games he emphasised the value of team sports, especially cricket. In his memoirs Viewless Winds Moran recalled how she “scornfully stigmatised [the game] as a subtle means for the anglicisation of Ireland.” He should have known better than to proselytise the virtues of cricket in Ms MacSwiney’s presence given his own assessment of her:

During all that week I never saw Miss MacSwiney smile. She was the incarnation of a people’s hatred for the oppressor. The memory of all the massacres and famines blazed perpetually in her eyes. Her speech was a scalding infusion from all the bitter herbs that ever grew in the crevices of suffering and misfortune.

On the other hand, according to the Guardian‘s Patrick Kingsley, contemporary Irish patriot Martin McGuinness is said to be a fan of the sport and, no less, of the England cricket team.

Garrison game or not, during the Great Irish Famine (1845-52) cricket provided a much-needed source of income to some of the native Irish living on Viscount Ashbrook’s estate at Castle Durrow in County Laois. According to Michael Parsons in the Irish Times, recently discovered records of the Ashbrook Cricket Club reveal that while gentlemen members of the club had to pay a shilling for the privilege of playing, Catholic hirelings were paid two shillings a match. Parsons writes, “With the exception of boxers and jockeys, the Laois cricketers appear to have been the first Irish sports players to be paid”. Better than taking the soup, perhaps.

But the Australian Irish accommodated themselves to cricket from early on and many have done well at the highest levels of the sport. Sons of Erin such as Bill O’Reilly, Stan McCabe and Jack Fingleton are legends of the game. But they too were made to feel uncomfortable about their playing the English game, though not by Irish patriots. In the sectarian times in which they played waspish team mates were more likely to be the source of vitriol.

In recent times, with the attenuation of patriotic fervour and sectarian conflict, Ireland has taken its place among the second tier of cricket playing nations with some notable success. As well as progressing to the second round of the 2007 World Cup, they memorably, defeated England in the 2011 World Cup. In that game Dublin-born Kevin O’Brien hit the fastest World Cup century off only 50 balls. Even Mary MacSwiney might have cracked a smile at that result.

Let’s hope that in the return Ashes series this southern summer the Aussies can turn it around so that Irish-Australian eyes are smiling once again.