Working holiday visa age limit increased to 35

backpacker.jpg

From today, the reciprocal age limit for Irish and Australian citizens to get a Working Holiday visa has been increased to 35.

Before today, applicants had to be no more than 30 years old to get a ‘backpacker’ visa.

The increased age limit for Australia in only available to Irish and Canadian citizens.

Australia’s Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman said the new arrangements will strengthen Australia's close and long standing ties with Ireland.

"Both Canada and Ireland have been part of Australia's Working Holiday Maker program since it began in 1975, so it is fitting that they are the first countries to become eligible for the extended age range," Mr Coleman said.  "Last year, more than 16,000 citizens from Canada and Ireland were granted Working Holiday visas for Australia, with many of them living and working in regional and rural areas during their stay."

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the change would “not only allow a more diverse group of people to avail of this scheme, but also help to strengthen those links between our two countries even further”.

Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, who is visiting Australia on official business, added: “Since the Working Holiday Programme began in 1975, it is estimated that more than 275,000 young Irish people have spent up to two years in Australia under this scheme. In 2017 alone, some 8,653 visas were issued to Irish citizens under the Working Holiday Programme. The agreement to extend the age eligibility on a reciprocal basis underscores the wide-reaching success of this programme to date.”

The Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) is a temporary visa for young people who want to holiday and work in Australia for up to a year. You must be outside Australia when you apply for your first Working Holiday visa and when the visa is decided. If you apply for a second Working Holiday visa, you must be in Australia when the visa is granted. If you apply outside Australia, you must be outside Australia when the visa is granted. You can generally only work six months with one employer but many Irish nationals use the visa as a stepping stone for employer sponsorship and eventually, permanent migration.
 

 

A victory for hope over fear, says re-elected president

President Michael D Higgins and his family celebrate his re-election.

President Michael D Higgins and his family celebrate his re-election.

Michael D Higgins has welcomed his re-election as president of Ireland as a vote for hope over fear.

The 77-year-old poet, professor and campaigner secured his second term in office with a landslide margin of more than 55% of the vote.

Speaking in Dublin Castle after he was re-elected, Mr Higgins said: "The people have made a choice as to which version of Irishness they want reflected at home and abroad.

"It is the making of hope they wish to share rather than the experience of any exploitation of division or fear."

He said his version of Ireland is one which draws on traditional genius and contemporary creativity.

"The presidency belongs not only to any one person but to the people of Ireland.

"I will be a president for all the people, for those who voted for me and those who did not.

"I am so proud of this country, I am proud to be a president for all of you and with all of you, and I look forward with joy and hope to all that we will achieve together."

Mr Higgins, who has served at almost every level of politics, is a fluent Irish speaker and a long-time campaigner for equality.

He made history in 2014 when he became the first Irish president to undertake an official state visit to the UK.

There were loud cheers as the father-of-four embraced friends and supporters as he celebrated his victory.

Ireland's premier Leo Varadkar hailed Mr Higgins's re-election as an "historic victory".

"You secured 822,566 first preference votes which is the highest first preference vote by any candidate," he said.

"That is an extraordinary endorsement of the last seven years of your presidency and a really strong mandate for the next term of office over the next seven years."

Businessman Peter Casey, initially an outside contender whose last-minute surge in the polls following critical comments about the Travelling community saw him propelled into second place, got 23% of the vote.

In his speech, Peter Casey congratulated President Higgins.

"It's been amazing, it's been a real experience the past six weeks or so," he said.

"I'd like to congratulate President Higgins and wish Sabina a wonderful seven years.

"I'm sure the sentiments you described so wonderfully there, I'm sure they are shared by everyone here - wishing you all the very, very best."

Gavin Duffy, who gained just 2% of the votes, said: "Was I disappointed? Yes. Did I have regrets? No."

Sinn Fein faced a disappointing result, with candidate Liadh Ni Riada gaining half of the support achieved by the late Martin McGuinness in 2011.

After receiving 6% of the vote, she said it was important the election was held, rather than allowing Mr Higgins to return to office unchallenged.

"The people of Ireland spoke today and spoke with a resounding yes to put Michael D Higgins back in office," she said, congratulating the president.

Mrs Ni Riada also said she hopes voters in Northern Ireland would soon be able to vote in Irish presidential elections. A referendum on the issue is anticipated next year.

In her speech, Joan Freeman, who received 6% of the vote, singled out the president's wife Sabina.

"I'm so happy for you Sabina," she said.

"The people who voted for me - thank you for that."

In the longest speech of any of the defeated candidates, Sean Gallagher, who gained around 6% of the vote, expressed pride in the campaign he and his team had run.

"Together we put forward ideas that can shape the future and today is not the end of those ideas," he said.

Mr Higgins has long championed an ethical Republic and has repeatedly addressed issues surrounding memory, commemoration, identity and the conflicting traditions on the island.

The refugee crisis in Europe and the plight of migrants has been a favourite topic, as well as the importance of the arts and Ireland's great literary tradition.

Murder charges against Irish woman downgraded

Cathrina Cahill and her fiance David Walsh who she has admitted to killing while under substantial impairment in February 2017.

Cathrina Cahill and her fiance David Walsh who she has admitted to killing while under substantial impairment in February 2017.

A Wexford woman has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her fiance in Sydney, after the charge was downgraded from murder.

Cathrina Cahill, 27, pleaded guilty in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday, on the basis of substantial impairment “by abnormality of the mind”, to the stabbing manslaughter of David ‘Daithi’ Walsh between February 17 and February 18 in 2017 at Padstow.

Her barrister James Trevallion referred to the need for the judge to be aware of the “extent of the provocation and controlling behaviour” by Mr Walsh, before her sentencing hearing was set down for November 1.

Cahill remains behind bars where she has spent the past 20 months. Members of her family were in the court to support her.

ABC Australia has reported that doctors’ reports tendered to the court indicate that she may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the incident. 

Cahill admitted to unlawfully killing David Walsh – who was also from Wexford – between 17 and 18 February 2017 in Padstow. 

David Walsh, who was a father of three young girls in Ireland, was stabbed to death at his home.

He was pronounced dead at the scene after emergency services were called to the house on Watson Road.

According to AAP, Cahill’s barrister James Trevallion said the abnormality of the mind was caused by Walsh’s conduct towards her, stating that the judge needed to be aware of the “extent of the provocation and controlling behaviour” by him. 

The crown prosecutor told the court, ABC Australia reports, that she would need time to allow Walsh’s brothers and three children, who are in Ireland, to provide victim impact statements to the court. 

Speaking outside the court, Trevallion said Cahill was “doing ok”.

Australia wants more immigrants to go bush

Most immigrants, including the vast majority of Irish nationals, settle in the larger cities.

Most immigrants, including the vast majority of Irish nationals, settle in the larger cities.

The Australian government is considering banning some immigrants from settling in big cities.

Minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population Alan Tudge said his government wants to cut the number of immigrants moving to Sydney and Melbourne in a bid to reduce congestion in Australia's two biggest cities.

Mr Tudge said placing conditions on visas that force immigrants to stay in less popular centres for several years would increase the likelihood that they would settle in those places permanently.

"Nearly every visa has conditions attached to it, so it wouldn't be unusual to have a geographic attachment to a particular visa," Mr Tudge told the ABC.

Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, but has long had a high proportion of its population - currently 25 million people - living in cities. Around two in every five Australians live in Sydney and Melbourne alone.

The government is considering banning immigrants from settling in Sydney and Melbourne for five years after they arrive in the country.

Australia has the fastest population growth of any advanced Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development country other than Canada, growing 1.6 per cent a year.

But the population of Melbourne grew last year by 2.7 per cent, while the population of the south-east corner of Queensland state around Brisbane and the Gold Coast grew by 2.3 per cent, and Sydney grew by 2.1 per cent.

The main driver of population growth in Sydney and Melbourne was overseas migration, with 87 per cent of skilled migrants to Australia and almost all refugees gravitating to those cities.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants a cut to visa numbers.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants a cut to visa numbers.

Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian, the daughter of Armenian immigrants, said that she believed Sydney needed “a breather” from high immigration numbers.

“It’s time to tap the brakes and take a breather on immigration levels to this state. We should return to Howard-era immigration levels in NSW,” she said.

“I’m the daughter of proud immigrants myself, but it’s clear that successive federal governments have allowed the rate of immigration to NSW to balloon out of control.”

Growth in the Brisbane-Gold Coast region reflected higher levels of population shift within Australia and a higher birthrate.

Mr Tudge said some categories of immigrants would be exempt from geographic blocks.

Migrants who were sponsored by employers - which is the visa pathway for many Irish - would be able to work where employers need them, and those on family reunion visas - typically a foreigner marrying an Australian - would also be free to live where they chose.

Sponsored employees make up 25 per cent of Australia's immigrant intake and family reunion visas make up 30 per cent.

Marion Terrill, an expert on cities and transport from the Melbourne-based Grattan Institute think tank, said governments need to improve infrastructure in major cities rather than curb population growth.

"People are voting with their feet, they want to be in cities and so I think the job for government is to ensure that cities work and that people can get around rather than to try to get people to go where they don't want to go," Ms Terrill said.

Melissa Montero, an immigrant advocate and chief executive of the Sydney-based community migrant resource centre, said immigrants need social support, language services as well as jobs to successfully resettle.

Carla Wilshire, another immigrant advocate and chief executive of Migrant Council Australia in Canberra, suggested the government should invest in services outside Sydney and Melbourne to make smaller towns more attractive to immigrants.

Mark Morey, secretary of Unions NSW, which represents trade unions in New South Wales state, said the government's plan would leave immigrants isolated, with fewer job options and with less pay than they could hope for in big cities.

Irish-born Sinead Diver wins Melbourne marathon

Sinead Diver

Sinead Diver

Mayo-mum Sinéad Diver has won the Melbourne Marathon in record time.

Diver, who moved to Melbourne in 2002 and now calls Australia home, set a new course record with a time of 2:25:19 making her the fastest ever Australian female athlete to complete the 42.195km distance in Australia.

It’s also the second fastest marathon ever run by an Irish woman after Catherina McKiernan’s record of 2:22:23.

“Today was the best marathon experience I’ve ever had. It’s really special to get a PB in my hometown. Finishing in the ‘G’, with all my family and friends cheering me on was so emotional,” said the Irish Australian.

Diver is a three-time World Championship representative, and has a spate of wins to date including the Launceston 10, where she broke a course record and ran the fastest 10km road race by an Australian since 2006. 

Diver’s best performance came at the Sunshine Coast Half Marathon where she ran 1:09:20, the fastest time by an Australian in eight years and second fastest ever recorded in Australia. 

She now sets her sights on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Sinead Diver crosses the finish line at the MCG.

Sinead Diver crosses the finish line at the MCG.

Melbourne to host global Irish famine event

Dr Val Noone next to the Famine Rock at Williamstown.

Dr Val Noone next to the Famine Rock at Williamstown.

The famine monument at Williamstown in suburban Melbourne will host this year’s International Commemoration of the Great Famine, the Irish Government has announced.

It is the first time Melbourne has hosted the event which takes place in a different country each year.

The ceremony will take place on Sunday, October 28 and Melbourne Irish Famine Commemoration Committee’s chairman Dr Val Noone said he and his team were “honoured” to be chosen.

The Williamstown Famine Rock was erected 20 years ago to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of 191 Irish orphan girls into Hobson’s Bay aboard the Lady Kennaway.

The impoverished girls from Irish workhouses were brought out to Australia between 1848 and 1850 to become servants and wives under the Earl Grey Emigration Scheme.

Dr Noone said descendants of the orphan girls’ will attend this month’s commemoration which will also include Irish music and song, flower-laying and speeches.

“We pass the microphone around and give them a chance to tell us who they are descended from, what age they were when they came, and what ship they came on,” he said.

“When you think of what it was like for those girls, many of them only 14 or 15 years of age, to step ashore in Melbourne, 20,000 kilometres from home facing a terrific challenge.”

Irish Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan said some 1700 of the 4000-plus young Irish women who came to Australia under the Earl Grey scheme first landed in Melbourne.

“This year’s commemoration represents an opportunity to not only honour the work of the Irish community in Melbourne in preserving its history but also to pay special tribute to the memory of those young women and their contribution to their adopted homeland,” she said.

Sadly when the girls first arrived, some of the local press whipped up anti-Irish feeling. 

The Melbourne Argus newspaper was particularly harsh, describing them as “ignorant creatures, whose knowledge of household duty barely reaches to distinguishing the inside from the outside of a potato”.

Dr Noone said they would have needed “courage and determination” to deal with the discrimination, prejudice and racism they encountered.

“It is moving to think that those girls, scorned and libelled by the local press when they arrived, are being remembered and honoured,” he said.

Irish studies Professor Elizabeth Malcolm is a great-great granddaughter of Margaret Cooke from Co Kildare who came to Australia on the Earl Grey scheme when she was just 16.

“I have often taught the Famine to students, so I am very familiar with its horrors,” Prof Malcolm said. “When I discovered I had an orphan ancestor, it was exciting at first, but, on reflection, I found it very sad. Margaret must have had a pretty terrible early life.”

Dr Noone said they’d been having annual community commemorations at Williamstown since the memorial was first erected 20 years ago.

Expat Dub’s Grandpa yarn a big hit with little readers

Children’s author Paul Newman.

Children’s author Paul Newman.

A DUBLIN author living in Sydney has followed up his best-selling debut children’s book with a second story which aims to help children deal with fear of the dark. 

Grandpa’s Space Adventure by Paul Newman sees a grandad teaching his young grandson that he does not need to be afraid of the dark, with the help of some ‘tall stories’ brought to life by award-winning illustrator Tom Jellett. 

Paul Newman, originally from Portmarnock, told The Irish Echo: “The first book is a grandfather trying to get his grandson to swim and he just tells some real tall stories in order to get his grandson into the pool. 

“It was amusing to me but I went off to work that day and I came in that evening and read it again and thought, ‘this is not a bad little idea’.

“In the second book, the kid is afraid of the dark. Grandpa says: ‘we’ll go camping in the backyard tonight. You have to have the dark, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see the stars or the moon and if you can’t see the moon, you can’t go to the moon’.” 

Grandpa’s Big Adventure became a bestseller in Australia and was last year shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award. It also attracted praise in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards.

“I think one of the reasons that the schoolteachers like it is because they can ask kids: ‘Is there anything you are afraid of? Are you afraid of swimming?’  It is nice when you hear that it is used as a teaching aid. Reviews are all saying it’s nice because it’s not sentimental and adults will get something out of it reading it for kids. 

“There’s always a little line in there for the grown ups or maybe something thrown into the illustrations.”

Newman has lived in Australia for 30 years and now calls Sydney home. He is the father of 16-year-old twins and says his experience of being a parent informs his writing. He is also the author of the novel, Fin Rising, a mysterious, dark Irish comedy.

He says he is very keen to continue his series but “that’s entirely up to the people at Penguin”. 

Grandpa’s Space Adventure and Grandpa’s Big Adventure are both published through Penguin.

Magpies sign Mayo GAA star for AFLW

Sarah Rowe will play for the Magpies in the AFLW competition.

Sarah Rowe will play for the Magpies in the AFLW competition.

Mayo forward Sarah Rowe has signed a deal that will see her join Collingwood in the forthcoming AFLW season. 

The 23-year-old follows long term Mayo team mate Cora Staunton (Greater Western Sydney Giants) and Laura Corrigan-Duryea of Cavan who played with Melbourne Demons for the AFLW’s first two seasons before being delisted recently. 

Rowe has represented Republic of Ireland at soccer and has declared her intention to return to Mayo after her five months in Australia to help her county in their bid for the All-Ireland. 

Rowe travelled to Australia in April, meeting with several clubs before choosing the Magpies. 

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she told the Irish Echo. “I don’t know exactly what to expect. It’s a complete new challenge for me, a new sport, a lot to learn but really looking forward to that aspect of it as well and putting myself out of my comfort zone.

“Football is what I grew up doing so instinct tells me what to do next and I would be able to help people around me whereas now I’m going to need a lot of help off other girls on the team and going to the manager with a lot of questions and stuff. It’s going to be a different role for me completely. You want to try prove yourself in one way but you need to learn all the skills first. It’s just gonna take time.”

Sarah had never been to Australia before she also visited the clubs Carlton, Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Geelong and North Melbourne. 

“Collingwood was the first club I saw. I was extremely impressed, I thought they were so professional with their presentation. They made me feel very much at home very quickly.”

Rowe and Mayo were defeated by Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland Ladies final. This campaign saw them exit to Galway at the quarter-final stage: 

“Hopefully I learn stuff that I can bring back to Mayo. It’s always been my dream to win an All-Ireland so I would never turn my back on that but it’s great that I get to do both. Going professional is hopefully going to stand to me big time. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s very appealing for Irish girls at the minute.”

Sarah herself has spoken about the inequalities between men’s and women’s sport in Ireland. She was encouraged by what she saw in Australia in this aspect: “The girls get as much of an opportunity as the boys to be in an environment where they can excel so I really liked that side of it. In Ireland at the minute it’s improving an awful lot, things are looking up but it’s still not there yet.”

Sarah will arrive in Australia ahead of pre-season training with Collingwood on November 1. 

Eighteen other Irish women have arrived in Melbourne to try their luck at the Australian game.

Electro-folk duo on first Australian tour

Saint Sister have won praise in Ireland for their ‘atmosfolk’ sound.

Saint Sister have won praise in Ireland for their ‘atmosfolk’ sound.

The Irish Times says, “their haunting performance is impeccable”, while Hot Press laud their “tremendous vocal depth and vulnerability”. 

They once sang with world conquering Hozier at Trinity College and now, Irish electro-folk duo Saint Sister are headed to Australia for their first tour which will include Sydney Irish Festival and Mullum Music Festival. 

Described as a mix of early harp traditional, folk and electronic pop or simply ‘atmosfolk’, Saint Sister is made up of Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre, who first came together in 2014. Their first trip down under comes immediately after the October release of their debut album, Shape of Silence, produced by Alex Ryan (Hozier’s bassist). 

“I’ve always wanted to come and see Australia and we definitely weren’t expecting to be able to go this soon,” Doherty tells The Irish Echo.

MacIntyre adds: “It’s a dream come true to be able to get to go to Australia at this stage. We’re really looking forward to it.”

The band will join big names like Damien Dempsey, Mary Black and Lunasa for the Sydney Irish Festival that takes place over the weekend of 10-11 November and also includes a hurling match between Kilkenny and Galway. 

Gemma says: “It’s very exciting. I came from a very traditional Irish background so it’s where a lot of our influences come from, maybe they don’t come directly out on the surface but that’s kind of the world I grew up in so it’s really lovely to be able to cross over into that more traditional Irish folk world sometimes. I’m really excited about that line-up.”

MacIntyre believes expat audiences will relate to Saint Sister’s sound with its innate sense of longing.

“I think Irish music in general has a lot of nostalgia and longing and yearning,” she says. 

“Every kind of Irish music somehow has that innate sense of longing. I think it’s just the make up of us as a country and because we have such a big diaspora, that longing is exacerbated and exaggerated in those forms (music, literature).  

“Music is such a big connector as well. I think we’re lucky as Irish musicians that when we’re travelling around the world , we have this ready made group of people that understand us and it’s probably not the same for other people whose nationalities doesn’t have as big a diaspora. 

“I think that makes it very easy to relate to and it makes it easy for touring musicians from Ireland because you can go away and know you’ll be understood and that your sense of identity and longing and all that stuff that comes with being an Irish person will translate.”

Doherty adds: “It’s incredible to be going to the other side of the world and having a huge bunch of people who have already come from where you’ve come from. Hopefully there’s a connection there already.”

From Derry and Belfast respectively, Doherty and MacIntyre moved to Dublin in 2010 to study at Trinity College where they met. They sang in the Trinity Orchestra together with Hozier before deciding to join together for their own project. Their sound can be described as dreamy, a feeling that is created by their atmospheric sound and beautiful harmonies.  

Their album title, Shape Of Silence, comes, MacIntyre says, from their interest in “the idea of space and what can be said and what can be felt in the gaps, whether it is gaps in the lyrics or the music.  And what can be said when you’re not saying anything. 

“Silence is quite a deadly thing and quite a powerful thing. We thought it was interesting to think about it as something you can touch and hold and that had weight and was very heavy, so that’s where Shape of Silence came from. It seemed to suit the kind of world we were going for.” 

The album has slowly come together over the last three years as the offers to gig kept coming in, disrupting what could have been writing or recording time. However, this suited them as they still were able to put out material such as their Madrid EP or Tin Man single, both tracks that feature on the album. 

Saint Sister play Sydney Irish Festival on Saturday November 10, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne on Sunday November 11, The Lansdowne in Sydney on Tuesday November 13 and Mullum Music Festival on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November. For more information, go to www.saintsisterband.com

Irish soul singer keen to reconnect with Aussie fans

Damien Dempsey has a huge following in Australia.

Damien Dempsey has a huge following in Australia.

One of Ireland’s most distinctive voices and passionate performers returns to Australia this November.

Since the release of his debut They Don’t Teach This Shit in School in 2000, Damien Dempsey has earned the admiration of performers as diverse as Sinead O’Connor, Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen.

His style has been called ‘urban folk’ but he prefers to call it ‘Irish soul’ and the Dubliner is never inhibited about weighing into political debates and championing community causes.

He returns to Australia in November to headline the Sydney Irish Festival which will also feature Mary Black, Lunasa and Saint Sister (see page 6).

“I never performed with Mary but I would know her kids well,” Damien tells The Irish Echo. “You never know, we might do something at the end of the night if she’s into it. With Lunasa and that, get a bit of a singsong going. I always stick in a few of the old Irish songs because they have such great memories, the songs of our ancestors. They’re just like old ghosts and you just have to breathe new life into them and they come alive.

“I want to get everyone in those showgrounds to feel on cloud nine, make them feel as high as they can. A natural high. Get them all singing. Singing is a great way to get people high. To get them all singing in unison, it releases endorphins. It’s great.”

Dempsey is no stranger to playing to huge Irish crowds abroad and has played to St Patrick’s Day crowds in Australia before.

“Years ago, [playing to large crowds] might have frightened me but I’m kind of ready now for big venues. It took me a while, the nerves used to kill me but I’m ready now. I’m kind of ready for anything now, I think.”

Damien Dempsey lends his support to many community causes. In 2014, he and Glen Hansard performed at a protest against water charges. Picture: Niall Carson

Damien Dempsey lends his support to many community causes. In 2014, he and Glen Hansard performed at a protest against water charges. Picture: Niall Carson

He recalls a memorable night in Sydney in 2013 when he played the Opera House on St Patrick’s Day.

“The Sydney Opera House have never seen a crowd like it. They were up on the seats with the tops off, arm in arm, singing the songs and they drank the bar dry in about 40 minutes. They had to close the bar because they drank every bit of alcohol, everything was gone so the Opera House (officials and staff) were just going around with their mouths open, just ‘what the hell?’

“They had never seen an audience like it but they were no trouble, just everybody in great form and singing the songs. I’ve done a couple of Paddy’s days there (Australia) and it’s always very emotional.”

The Dubliner’s music resonates very strongly in emigrant communities and he empathises with those who may have been forced to leave home.

“A lot of them have had to leave Ireland and maybe leave old parents behind that they’re worried about, but they’ve no choice. My parents are in their seventies and they wouldn’t be in great health, the thought of having to live abroad and not be around for them, I would find it very hard. I feel for the guys who have to be away.”

Having lived in New York and London as well as elsewhere in Dublin in spells, Damien now lives in his native Donaghmede: “I was always being told by people during the Celtic Tiger: ‘Buy a house now, get on the property ladder now. It will never go down’. I kind of felt there was a recession coming so I waited and then when the market was rock bottom, I had some savings and got a house in Donaghmede.”

Two recent Irish TV appearances have thrown him into the public spotlight even more than usual. He appeared on the Tommy Tiernan show where he spoke about battles with depression and his ancestry was explored on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?.

“I had ancestors in the Irish Citizen Army that fought with James Connolly and it went in depth into stories of other people who fought during the famine and were imprisoned with Daniel O’Connell.

“Then there was protestant blood on one of the sides which was a shock for a lot of people. Not to me, I don’t go in for all that really.

“Then my family went to America working in cotton mills over there in horrendous conditions. Some of them disappeared and some of them came back. I was in the school in Letterfrack getting the story of what happened to the children. I was in prisons in Dublin where Fenians were sent and City Hall where my great aunt took the building in 1916. Fairly interesting.”

His Australian tour coincides with the release of his ninth album, Union.

“It includes collaborations that I’ve done with people like Maverick Sabre who is a great singer. Imelda May is on it, Seamus Begley, Finbar Furey and John Grant. I think they’re all fairly powerful (songs),” he says.

Dan Sultan, the Irish-Australian indigenous singer, also joins him on the song, It’s Important.

“Dan wanted to come to Ireland, to Mullingar to see where his people came from. They asked me would I bring him on tour with me around Ireland. I hung out with him down there and he taught me a lot about Aboriginal culture. He’s a great old friend. I’m looking forward to seeing him when I get to Melbourne.”

Rebel Wilson to star in Beauty Queen Of Leenane

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids) will play the female lead in Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen Of Leenane for the Sydney Theatre Company next year.

The star of movies like Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids returns to the Sydney stage in the ink-black modern classic by Academy Award-winning writer McDonagh who wrote and directed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Wilson’s appearance in this Sydney Theatre Company production is sure to generate plenty of interest when it premieres next November.

The play is part of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy alongside A Skull In Connemara and The Lonesome West.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is one of my favourite plays,” Wilson said.

“It’s a fascinating look at a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, written by my favourite playwright, Martin McDonagh. He writes such dark and comedic characters – I've always been drawn to his work.

“I am really excited to come back to STC to be in this play. The Beauty Queen of Leenane was the first professional play that I ever saw and I saw it at STC when I was 19 years old. I was just blown away by how talented the actors were and how great the play was. Then I performed in that same theatre a few months later in my first proper play, Spurboard, for ATYP and STC Education. So, to me, the play holds a lot of significance – I hope I can do it justice."

Set in a small Connemara town, Maureen Folan lives a lonely existence with Mag, her aged mother. Their relationship is more arm wrestle than warm embrace. Right now, when Maureen stands the chance of having her first romantic relationship, Mag’s cantankerous presence is simply unbearable.

This play was the first big hit for McDonagh, whose films also include the hugely popular In Bruges.

Rebel Wilson said she is excited by her return to live theatre.

“There’s something very special and very magical about seeing theatre. I can’t get enough of going. I love that it’s an immediate experience. The cool thing is that every theatrical performance is different and it depends on the audience and the energy in the room. Just those people there share that one, live, personal experience. You can’t get that from a movie or a TV show, it’s such a particular experience. That’s why, despite all the technological advances in entertainment, people still go to the theatre – and have for hundreds of years. You just can’t beat the shared experience of theatre.”

The play is part of the Sydney Theatre Company's 2019 Program.

Limerick band Hermitage Green eager for Australian return

Hermitage Green return to Australia in November.

Hermitage Green return to Australia in November.

Limerick folk/pop outfit Hermitage Green have developed a strong affection for Australia, which is why they are returning down under for the second time in 12 months. 

Guitarist Darragh Griffin said the reception they received last year was motivation enough for a quick return.

“When we were there last November, we kind of said, ‘We need to do this regularly; this can’t be a once every three years kind of thing’,” Griffin said.   

“What we’ve tended to find as well is you have to do a bit more work to win the crowds over but that can be kind of an enjoyable challenge.” 

Darragh shares vocal and guitar duties with the Murphy brothers Dan and Barry, the latter of which had a successful career with Munster rugby before taking up music as a serious pursuit.  

The band have been coming to Australia since 2013.

“Our first time going to Australia was a surreal stand-out experience for us. We played a couple of weeks in Perth and had built up a bit of a reputation and people got to know us and enjoyed us and then we did the east coast. 

“We were coming back (to Perth) for one gig at the end of it and for that last gig, there was literally this enormous queue of people up the road where they couldn’t get any more people into the pub so we ended up actually going out and playing to the fewer [number of] people who were waiting, because we knew they weren’t going to get in.

“When you see that kind of hype being built up in the space of two weeks, that’s all it was, and I suppose that news had spread from coast to coast literally between the community and it was absolutely amazing. It’s something we weren’t expecting to happen on that sort of scale at all.”

The Limerick band’s Australian preoccupation is not just about audiences. They’re travelling with a didgeridoo as the instrument features in the song The Lion’s Share.

“I can tell you it’s not the easiest thing to travel with,” Griffin joked.

The Limerick five-piece played at a special memorial concert for The Cranberries Dolores O'Riordan earlier this year.

The Limerick five-piece played at a special memorial concert for The Cranberries Dolores O'Riordan earlier this year.

How did an Australian crowd react to seeing an Irish band with the quintessentially Australian instrument? 

“It definitely raises the eyebrows. I think you can recognise if someone is doing something from an angle of a gimmicky thing but it’s essentially the foundation the rest of the song is built on top of. You couldn’t have a bunch of Australians coming over to Ireland and jumping around with a fiddle on stage. That wouldn’t be appreciated [just as] it wouldn’t be appreciated in Australia to be disrespectful to the didgeridoo.

“As soon as people recognise that it’s an integral part of The Lion’s Share, I think they appreciate what are trying to do with it; we’re trying to incorporate it into our own sound.” 

The band’s last tour got off to a disastrous start when some band members couldn’t get into the country in time, meaning that their Prince Bandroom gig, the first of their tour, had to be cancelled. They won’t repeat the same mistake again.

“We’re going to Melbourne a week and a half early this time to make sure. A monumental mess-up was what it was and a little bit of naivety on our part. 

“We were just really devastated that people had been coming from far and wide and then suddenly the gig was cancelled. We were just really, really gutted. We do not cancel gigs, it’s got to be something absolutely monumental to cancel a gig because we know the effort people make to go to gigs because we make it ourselves. It’s devastating when it’s called off. We 100 per cent will not be making that mistake again. Hermitage Green will be there on stage as planned.” 

All of Ireland was shocked by the sudden death of Dolores O’Riordan in January and nowhere more so than in her native Limerick. Hermitage Green paid tribute to one of Limerick’s most famous daughters at a special gig in King John’s Castle when they played the famous Cranberries’ songs Dreams and Zombie.

“It was phenomenal, I’m getting [the] shivers thinking about it. 

“There were 2,000 people screaming these lyrics back at us and we ended Zombie and the crowd just kept singing it and it wasn’t really planned out like that. They kept singing the end of Zombie and we had that 15 seconds where we all just stood at the front of the stage and looked over 2,000 people, over the wall of King John’s Castle and onto the city and the Shannon and it was just really, really emotional. It was an incredible moment. It’s a hard one to top. We’re going a few years and that’s a stand-out moment. I’m emotional talking about it. It was incredible.  

“Noel Hogan [Cranberries guitarist] was at the gig, so knowing he was in the audience watching this, on top of everything else, really kind of brought it all home. It was absolutely amazing.”

Hermitage Green kick off their tour in Perth on November 10 before gigs in Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney and Thirroul.