An 86-year-old Sydney man became the first Australian to be given a certificate of Irish heritage recently.
Irish Consul General, Caitríona Ingoldsby, presented North Shore resident Jim Edwards with the certificate at a special ceremony at Hyde Park Barracks on December 9.
His great-grandmother Hannah Rafferty, from Co Roscommon, was one of more than 4,000 young Irish orphan girls sent to Australia between 1848 and 1850 in the aftermath of the Irish Famine, and whose lives are celebrated and remembered by the Irish Famine Memorial at Hyde Park Barracks, where the girls were housed when they first arrived in Sydney.
Mr Edwards said he was delighted with his certificate.
“I’m overwhelmed because I never expected anything like this. I only got it as far as I’m concerned because I’m a representative of the [Rafferty] family,” said Mr Edwards.
“[Hannah] was orphaned during the Famine,” explained Jim. “She came out on the Digby in 1848.”
After being sent to Bathurst, Hannah met Jim’s great-grandfather. The pair married and had seven children. But when tragedy struck and left Hannah widowed, she raised the children on her own. She later remarried.
Asked what he admired about his Irish ancestors, Mr Edwards said it was “their attitude of self-sufficiency, even though you had lost the bread-winner, you still survived”.
Mr Edwards’ daughter, Sue Donald, 59, accompanied her father to the ceremony.
“He’s put a lot of work into the family tree. So it’s great to get that recognition,” she said.
Ms Ingoldsby, who presented the certificate on behalf of the Irish Government, said she was struck by Jim’s “extraordinary story”ß¡.
“Behind this apparently ‘ordinary’ Australian man was an extraordinary story of Ireland and of Australia, and of a young Irish girl who, like many emigrants before and since, had the courage to embrace the opportunity this wonderful country gave her.”