Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not just Ned: a true history of the Irish in Australia...

... is an exhibition I had been looking forward to visiting since I heard Richard Reid talk about planning for it  at the SAG Irish Day last year. Richard displayed such enthusiasm for the exhibition and passion for the Irish in Australia that I knew I had to attend.

The exhibition was my last stop this morning before travelling back home after a  few days break in Canberra. As Mr Geniaus was busy with work I dragged a friend, who also has Irish heritage, along with me. My friend hadn't heard much about the exhibition even though he lives in Canberra, not far from the National Museum of Australia where the exhibition is housed, and had no idea of what he would see.

The excellent exhibition, that shows many artefacts begged and borrowed from institutions and individuals from Australia and overseas, has a wealth of information about the Irish in Australia. Highlighted in the exhibition, in addition to Ned Kelly and his notorious gang, are many famous and infamous Australians of Irish heritage, their stories are told with photos, maps, video, sound and  artefacts.

There is a reading area that has a collection of books on Ireland, the Irish in Australia and Irish genealogy; unfortunately, as there were no copies of these for sale, the Museum is probably missing out on  some extra revenue. I did manage to buy a couple of books from the small collection that was for sale. Additionally in a corner of the retail/reading area there is a family history area with a few PCs that visitors can use to research their family history. It would be useful if there was a person available to help budding genealogists use the resources on these PCs.

Les Darcy - Locket
What I didn't realise was how much I would be emotionally affected by my visit, how many memories  of my early years it would dredge up and what a connection I would feel while in the exhibition space. It was because of  Patrick and Ellen, Bridget, Denis and Eliza, Mary, Michael and Catherine, Mary, Margaret and Ann, my Irish ancestors, that I felt such closeness. I recalled spending many hours with my grandmother, who was born in Australia and had never left its shores, talk longingly of Ireland and teaching me Irish songs like "The Rose of Tralee". That grandmother's cousin, boxer Les D'arcy, was one sportsman featured in the exhibition. I have not been able to find evidence to support her claim but am confident that, as they lived near each other in NSW and came from the same place in Ireland, that there is a relationship to our D'Arcy ancestors.

Hearing a recording of  "Hail Queen of Heaven" reminded me of my years in a catholic school and seeing the model of Tarmons, the first site of St Vincent's Hospital, and later part of St. Vincent's College caused me to reflect on my schooldays and the influence the Sisters of Charity.

When I saw the chalice that Father Therry, the pioneer priest, used in the early years of the colony tears welled up. Father Therry baptised my 2 x great grandfather, Patrick Curry. Patrick's parents, my convict ancestors Patrick Curry and Ellen Moore, would have taken communion from this cup when Father Therry visited the area near Camden Park where they lived. I was  glad that I had a friend with me with whom I could share my joy at seeing that object. Sadly, as photography is not allowed, I was not able to take a photo of the chalice to add to my family story.

I learnt so much about Australia from this exhibition and have added too many books to my "to buy" and "to read" lists; I am now anxious to organise another more leisurely trip to Ireland than my last one. My friend was thrilled that I had taken him along and, as our tickets allowed re-entry on the day, was returning  to continue his exploration after dropping me back to my hotel.

Not just Ned - Catalogue
The highlight of the day was when my friend called me over to see the exhibit on The Irish Memorial at Waverley Cemetery. He knew that he was a direct descendant of an Irish Rebel from Wicklow called Michael Dwyer (a cousin now deceased had given him this information) but did not know where he was buried; he discovered at the exhibition today that his ancestors Michael Dwyer and his wife, Mary, are buried in that monument and that "it was the largest funeral Sydney had seen with 400 horse-drawn carriages following the hearse in a procession of 10,000 people watched by 100,000 others." (Source)

I would have liked more time at the exhibition but am pleased that I was able to have a couple of hours there. The beautiful catalogue of the exhibition that I purchased will ensure that I can revisit and read about the event for years to come. If only it had a picture of Father Therry's chalice it would be perfect.

I would recommend this exhibition to anyone irrespective of their heritage, it is a must for those with a connection to Ireland  who should head for Canberra before the exhibition closes on July 31.


A O'Brien said...

Thanks Geniaus for sharing your experience at the "Not Just Ned" exhibition. I had been hoping to take a trip up to Canberra to see the exhibition but I don't think I'll be able to get there before it finishes in July. I know Archbishop Daniel Mannix features, he was apparently a 'cousin' of my 2nd great grandmother Cathrine Mannix but I can't prove that yet. I was interested to see your friend is a descendant of Michael Dwyer. Another family story is that my 4th great grandmother (Mary Breen/O'Brien nee McAllister) was a sister of Sam McAllister, who died at the battle of Derrynamuck in 1799 after taking the full force of the bullet fire to allow Michael Dwyer and others to escape. But again, this is another relationship I can't confirm and I'm not sure any records would exist in Ireland at that time to help (However, I did came across a 'snippet view' of a book through Google Books which had a chapter titled 'Sam McAllister and his mother' - probably the full copy of that book would be very interesting!)
Thanks again for sharing your experience of the exhibition.

Sharon said...

I knew I would be disappointed to miss this exhibition. Unfortunately when I was in Canberra earlier this year with 100 16 year olds there wasn't time to visit this exhibition. Father Therry married my ggg grandparents in 1828, so now I am doubly disappointed. No chance of a return visit.

GeniAus said...

Aillin and Sharon, You both would have enjoyed the exhibition.
Sharon, The book is beautifully produced and good value for $29.95. Although it skips Father Therry it is a great resource

Pam Beveridge said...

Thanks for sharing this.


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