Irish Come to Australia

Australia will provide us a better standard of living. Rae Green and Clay Crighton Australia, 2010

With 10 per cent of Australians claiming an Irish ancestor, Australia has proportionately more people of Irish descent than any other place outside Ireland. Many fondly held aspects of the Australian character – egalitarian ideals and disdain for authority – are commonly attributed to the ‘Irish rebels’ who came to Australia.

Behind the mythology is a complex history of the Irish-Australian experience. Most Irish immigrants were Catholic but there were minorities of Anglo-Irish and Irish Protestants. There were lawyers and labourers, urban academics and the rural poor. Ned Kelly was Irish but so were some of the policemen who hunted him down and the judge, Sir Redmond Barry, who sentenced him to hang.

The influence of Irish migrants was greatest in Victoria. The gold rush coincided with the final years of famine, the breakdown of the independence movement in Ireland, and an exodus of educated and politicised Irishmen to Melbourne. Self-government and land use were critical issues at the time, and Irish immigrants such as Peter Lalor, leader of the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, and Charles Gavan Duffy, advocate for small landholders, played leading roles.

But Irish Catholics, were not easily accommodated into Australian society. Anti-Irish sentiment continued well into the 20th century. The Catholic education system fostered a sense of Irish community but it also entrenched religious and social divisions. St. Patrick’s Day promoted an exclusively Irish Catholic identity.

A surge in family history research, declining sectarian prejudices and increasing expressions of Irish-Australian experiences through film, television and literature, all express and recognise the Irish contribution to Australia. St Patrick’s Day is now a celebration of all things Irish, and everyone can join the party.

I'd probably be going in search of adventure anyway. Darren Crook, Australia 2011

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