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Celebrating Sydney’s Irish heritage: The Dictionary of Sydney goes green

Posted by guest contributor in Blog on March 12, 2013
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Notice promoting female emigration to New South Wales from Cork, Ireland c1835, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW a6087008 / D 356/17/8

Notice promoting female emigration to New South Wales from Cork, Ireland c1835, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW a6087008 / D 356/17/8

Who were the first Irish people to see Botany Bay? What do Hyde Park Barracks have to do with the Irish Famine? How did Sydneysiders celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the 1800s? The answers are in our new Greening the Dictionary content launched this week.

Written by volunteers and supported by the Consulate General of Ireland and the Aisling Society, Greening the Dictionary traces the paths of immigrants brought to Sydney’s shores through famine, poverty, political turmoil and opportunity. Their legacy is marked out across Sydney in monuments, buildings, societies and festivals that are brought to life in a series of fascinating historical essays.

Among them is Perry McIntyre’s article on the Irish Famine Memorial at Hyde Park Barracks. The history of the 2,214 young women brought to Sydney from Ireland’s orphanages and workhouses during the period of the Famine is a poignant one.

Not everyone came to Sydney destitute. Anne Cunningham describes the arrival of John Hughes and his parents in 1840 on passage assisted by the colonial government. Hughes become one of Sydney’s most prominent philanthropists raising £8,000 for the building of St Canice’s Church, Elizabeth Bay.

In fact, the Irish community in Sydney has always covered a broad spectrum of society according to Dr Richard Reid‘s article, Irish in Sydney from First Fleet to Federation. Two of the first arrivals to the new colony were Irish convict Hannah Mullens and Surgeon-General John White. Immigrants who arrived as ‘felons or rebels’ didn’t always remain so; many did well for themselves creating a life of opportunity in their new country.

A history of the Irish in Sydney wouldn’t be complete without mention of St Patrick. Jeff Kildea tracks the changing mood of the Irish community in Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in nineteenth century Sydney. The exuberant revelries of 1795 and ‘acts of excess and violence’ of 1814 find a surprising counterpart in the Temperance tea parties of 1843.

There is so much interesting material in the Greening of the Dictionary it is impossible to do it justice in one reading. Few would know that the Statue of Queen Victoria in Druitt Street spent years languishing in County Offaly before being ‘transported to Sydney’ in 1986. Peter Moore explains why.

Nor, as Michael O’Sullivan explores, would many be aware that the Wicklow Chief, Michael Dwyer, is buried under the 1798 Memorial at Waverley Cemetery. The Irish National Association, whose colourful history is recounted by Anne-Maree Whitaker, maintains the memorial.

Both the INA and the Aisling Society have a long history of fostering Irish culture and heritage in Sydney. As Jeff Kildea relates, the Aisling Society began when three learned friends met for a drink at Pfahlert’s Hotel in Sydney in 1954. Their love of Irish literature, history and culture has kept generations of Irish-Australians connected to their heritage.

Our thanks go to the Consulate General of Ireland and the Aisling Society for supporting the project and to the writers who contributed such interesting and diverse material. We hope you’ll enjoy delving into Sydney’s Irish heritage in the Dictionary of Sydney.

by Jacqueline Spedding, Editorial Coordinator

St Patrick's Day at Botany, Illustrated Sydney News 14 April 1883, p8 (detail), courtesy State Library of NSW TN115

St Patrick's Day at Botany, Illustrated Sydney News 14 April 1883, p8 (detail), courtesy State Library of NSW TN115

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