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National Folk Festival to honour Irish Australian history in song


The much-anticipated Not just Ned: a True History of the Irish in Australia exhibition, at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra is being augmented by a special concert Sinners Saints & Settlers at the 45th National Folk Festival, which takes place at Exhibition Park in Canberra from April 21–25.

Not Just Ned provides a unique, historic insight into the story of the Irish who, with about 40 per cent of Australia’s population being of Irish descent (approximately 250,000 Irish citizens), formed the majority of the early settlers in Australia.

Speaking to the Irish Echo, Antrim-born Dr Richard Reid, senior curator at the National Museum of Australia, and curator of the exhibition, said the story of the Irish stretches back to the day the first European settlers arrived.

“It is a huge story going from 1788 to the present day and it will be a story told in its entirety,” Dr Reid said.

The exhibition is displaying artefacts that symbolise the Irish contribution to Australia, but the collection also tells the story of some of the many influential Irish people who have settled in Australia.

With almost two million people living in Australia who have Irish ancestry, according to the 2001 Census, Australians with Irish ancestry form the second largest migrant group after the 6.3 million people with English ancestry.

The first convicts formed the initial Irish human cargo to Australia. Many of those who were transported as convicts were rebels.

Some 30,000 men and 9,000 women were transported from Ireland to Australia. The next wave of Irish immigration to Australia was during the Gold Rush of 1851–1861.

In addition to the fascinating range of cultural artefacts on display at the exhibition, the hardy emigrants of Ireland will find a very real voice before an audience of 3,000 people at the National Folk Festival’s Sinners Saints & Settlers concert in the Budawang Pavilion at the festival over Easter.

It is the Irish people’s sadness over departure from their homeland that makes this music so poignant.

Songs such as Luka Bloom’s classic City Of Chicago, perfectly capture the essence, with the line “In the city of Chicago, as the evening shadows fall, there are people dreaming, of the hills of Donegal.”

Alongside displacement, Irish music and song speaks of love, loss, tragedy, patriotism, rebellion and defiance against injustice.

Manning Clark, in his Short History Of Australia, describes how, in 1798, an Irish convict who worked in a gang at Toongabbie, threw down his hoe and gave three cheers for liberty.
He was rushed off to the magistrate then tied up in the field, where his ‘delusions’ had first overwhelmed him, and flogged so that his fellow Irishmen might ponder on the consequences of challenging the English supremacy.

The Irish laments, dance tunes and songs of a land whose people have experienced intense hardship and upheaval will be presented in a concert line-up that features the doyen of Irish song and something of an honorary Aussie himself: Andy Irvine – singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, traditional musician and advocate for social justice.

Andy has been a founder member of many of the significant ensembles that have led the way in the development of Irish music since the 1970s.

From Sweeney’s Men in the mid-60s, to his groundbreaking recordings with that other giant of Irish song, Paul Brady, to the enormous success of Planxty in the 70s and then from Patrick Street to Mozaik with Donal Lunny, Andy is established as a world music pioneer and an icon for traditional music.

Andy’s repertoire consists of Irish traditional songs, dexterous Balkan dance tunes and a compelling canon of his own self-penned songs.

As a soloist, Andy fills the role of the archetypal troubadour with a show and a travelling lifestyle that reflect his lifelong influence, Woody Guthrie.

Significantly, much of this travel in recent years has been in Australia.

Also featuring in the Sinners Saints & Settlers concert line-up will be rising ABC Classics Celtic recording stars Sunas with their luminous traditional and contemporary Celtic flavoured songs and tunes, on flute, fiddle, guitar, Irish bodhran drum and bouzouki – with female harmony voices.

There will also be a unique performance by members of the Kelly family, one of the families that have dominated Irish instrumental music in the past century, especially in the realm of Irish traditional fiddle playing.

The Sinners Saints & Settlers concert takes place at the National Folk Festival, Exhibition Park in Canberra, April 21–25, 2011.

Bookings: www.folkfestival.asn.au or Tel: 1300 235 849

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Major exhibition on Irish Australia to open in 2011


Antrim native Richard Reid is the curator of a major new exhibition on Irish Australia which will open in 2011.

The story of the Irish in Australia is to be told at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra next year.

The exhibition, which will open on St Patrick’s Day, 2011, will showcase the fascinating and tumultuous tale of Irish Australia over 225 years.

Speaking to the Irish Echo, Antrim-born Dr Richard Reid, senior curator at the National Museum of Australia, said the story of the Irish stretches back to the day the first European settlers arrived.

“It is a huge story going from 1788 to the present day and it will be a story told in its entirety,” Dr Reid said

“There has been a lot of pressure from the Irish community over the years to have their story told and now that day has come,” he said.

The Irish and their stories will take centre stage at the country’s national museum.

The exhibition will display artefacts that symbolise the Irish contribution to Australia but the collection will also tell the story of some of the many influential Irish people who have settled here.

“Daniel Mannix [the Cork-born former Archbishop of Melbourne] was given a wonderful Cross of Cong that was sent out by the Irish and that will be on display,” said Dr Reid

“The National Museum of Ireland and the National Museum of Northern Ireland have also provided some relevant material.”

Archbishop Mannix is just one of many prominent Irish characters who have left their mark on this country.

Dr Reid is determined to assemble as many relics as possible to help him tell this huge story.

Famed Irish Australian bushranger Ned Kelly will be represented, as will the man who sentenced him to hang, Redmond Barry, an Anglican who was also the first chairman of the board of trustees at Melbourne Library and the first chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

“Culturally, Barry was hugely significant and famous for more than just the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly,” said Dr Reid.

The exhibition will be very broad, examining every aspect of Irish society Down Under.

Dr Reid has, for instance, secured the original silks worn by Michael Kinane aboard Vintage Crop to win the Melbourne Cup for Ireland in 1993.

With about 40 per cent of Australia’s population having Irish roots, the exhibition is set to be a huge success.

“One only has to look through the phone book to see the Irish heritage here. There are a huge number of Gaelic names listed.”

The widely anticipated Irish in Australia exhibition has taken curators at the museum more than two years’ research and will take another year to compile.

The exhibition, the first of its kind around the world, will open at the National Museum of Australia on March 17, 2011.

It will enjoy a four-and-a-half- month stint in Canberra before touring the country.

Dr Reid is hopeful that the exhibition will also be displayed in Ireland at some time in the not-too-distant future.

The exhibition will also be accompanied by a comprehensive online and schools programme which, it is hoped, will assist in awakening interest among young Australians in the Irish inheritance.

by Debbie McCann

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