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