Irish Australia

New memoir celebrates the life of Irish Australian cellist

The late Maureen O’Carroll, who played cello with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The late Maureen O’Carroll, who played cello with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

A NEW memoir has been published that celebrates the early life of Irish Australian cellist Maureen O’Carroll, who died in 2012.

Born in the Sydney suburb of Balmain to Irish immigrant parents, John and May O’Carroll, Maureen carved out a very successful career as a professional musician.

She and her nine siblings all showed a gift for music and their parents saw this as the path out of poverty.

Six of them, including Maureen, attended the NSW Conservatorium of Music High School and went on to become professional musicians.

O’Carroll was drawn to the cello at a very young age, and would prop her brother Robert’s violin on a jam tin and play it like a cello.

At 17, she joined the New Zealand National Orchestra and went from there to New York, where she performed with Frank Sinatra, among others. In 1974, she returned to Australia as a single mother of three. She played a blind audition behind a curtain (to avoid gender discrimination) and was accepted into the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The O’Carroll clan. Six of the children attended the NSW Conservatorium Of Music.

The O’Carroll clan. Six of the children attended the NSW Conservatorium Of Music.

Being a child of two rebels who had fought for Irish independence, Maureen was deeply patriotic about Ireland. At one Sydney Symphony concert, she noted Rule Britannia was on the program and refused to play it. She placed her cello down and marched off stage, only returning at its end.

The new book, A Musical Memoir of an Irish Immigrant Childhood, has been written by her daughter Leora although Maureen is posthumously credited as a co-author.

“Even though her family endured hardships and poverty, my mother always had an optimistic outlook and her humorous takes on her childhood is what makes her recollections so enchanting,” Leora told the Irish Echo.

“As an adult, I was working in New York City as a television writer and producer and decided to move to Seattle where my mother lived, so that we could finally work on this memoir.

Maureen, aged 12, practicing her cello.

Maureen, aged 12, practicing her cello.

“We sat side by side for many months to write the book. It was important to us to authentically capture the memories as seen through the eyes of a child. During the writing process, I learned much more about my mother’s life, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with her to capture these memories.”

In this extract, Leora writes about her father’s barber shop in Balmain which was called The Anchor. While hairdressing certainly took place at The Anchor, John O’Carroll ran other enterprises from the shop, which was set up in the family home on Darling Street.

“The most popular feature of the Anchor, however, was not the barbering, but Dad’s other business – his lending library. Housed in a partitioned area at the back of the barber shop, was a small collection of books which included volumes of Macaulay’s History, The Complete Works of Benjamin Disraeli, and The Novels of Lord Lytton, all undoubtedly purchased as a lot by my father at an auction.

“They were dry and unreadable Victorian works, but they weren’t meant to be read. One of dad’s sidelines was bookmaking. He wasn’t binding more volumes for the library but taking bets on the horse races. Bookmaking was an illegal activity, but this didn’t stop many shopkeepers from engaging in it, and my father enjoyed maintaining a unique system to disguise the betting; a borrowed book would be returned with the bet and money placed inside, and another book would be checked out ready for the next bet.

“On Saturdays, the Anchor was a social centre for many local men, who were off work that day and would evade their share of household chores by insisting to their wives that they need a haircut or shave. But of course barbering wasn’t the main attraction. Saturday was the most important day for horse racing and consequently, a particularly busy one for the lending library.

Leora O’Carrollm, who wrote the memoir with her late mother.

Leora O’Carrollm, who wrote the memoir with her late mother.

“Clutching their Lord Lytton novels, the men would hover around the radio in the smoke-filled Anchor, engrossed by the announcer’s incessant monologue of race results from tracks around the country, and as this was thirsty work, they took turns carrying a billy can up the street to the London Hotel to be filled and refilled.

“The lending library was enjoying a burgeoning patronage when my father fell victim to an informer. It was suspected that the woman who ran the comic book shop a few doors away didn’t appreciate the competition, and one day two policemen came into the Anchor – “We’re sorry Jack, but we have to take in your account books.” They probably were sorry too, also being patrons of the lending library. My father didn’t say anything but looking unconcerned, beamed one of his cheeky grins and proudly handed over his ledgers. All of his records had been written in Gaelic.

“Gaelic was not a common written language in Australia and while many Irish people may have spoken the ancient Celtic tongue, there were very few who read it. An attempt was made by the authorities to find a translator. The search was unsuccessful, and even if there was someone who could translate Gaelic, no self-respecting Irish person would have ever agreed to be employed in such a fashion.

“Without the required evidence, the case was dropped and my father resumed his concerns at the Anchor, congratulated by all the eager literary members of his lending library.”

Maureen O’Carroll: A Musical Memoir Of An Irish Immigrant Childhood is available via Amazon

Podcast series gives voice to Irish Australian emigrant tales

Ciarán O’Raighne has spoken to a wide range of Irish emigrants for his podcast series Lucky Country.

Ciarán O’Raighne has spoken to a wide range of Irish emigrants for his podcast series Lucky Country.

Lucky Country is a brand new podcast and national community radio series in which Irish immigrants tell their stories in their own words.

Produced by Dubliner and long-time Sydney resident Ciarán O’ Raighne, the series seeks to get to the kernel of the Irish emigrant experience in Australia.

“Lucky Country is all about Irish voices,” O’Raighne explains.

“Why they came, their trials and tribulations. Men and women from all provinces. Catholics, Protestants and everywhere in between.

“Aged in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and even an 82-year-old who worked on the Snowy Mountains scheme. Some grew up in the six counties at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Others came in more recent years after the Celtic Tiger imploded nine years ago.

“The storytellers come from the island of Ireland and work as semi-professional soccer players, business owners, graphic designers, television producers and even a boxer who holds NSW and Australian titles.”

Harry Cummins, 83, from Dundrum came to Australia more than 50 years ago and lives in the Snowy Mountains area. He is one of the subjects of Lucky Country.

Harry Cummins, 83, from Dundrum came to Australia more than 50 years ago and lives in the Snowy Mountains area. He is one of the subjects of Lucky Country.

Putting the podcast together has been a labour of love for O’Raighne, who presents a twice-weekly show on Celtic FM under his broadcasting name, Jack Murphy.

“The Irish are known for their storytelling,” he says. “Perhaps it dates back to pre-electronic media device days, when village storytellers went from house to house to tell stories to the locals in exchange for a bite to eat and something to drink. Oral story telling was also a critical way to keep Irish Gaelic culture intact under British colonial rule.”

The Irish, O’Raighne says, also have a particular affection for radio.

In an address to the United Nations in 2016, President Michael D Higgins spoke of Ireland’s affection for the spoken word.

“Irish people spend more time than most nations listening to the radio. Our national, local and community radio stations are invaluable resources.”

The father-of-two has been in Sydney since the late 1980s and recently celebrated 25 years on the air.

Before leaving Ireland he presented arock music show on a Dublin radio station. He also worked as a news announcer in his university days.

In the late 80s, O’Raighne got his US Green Card but decided to first go on an adventure to Australia on the fledgling Working Holiday Visa. He has called Australia home since then.

He continued his passions of playing rugby and was selected to play for the Western Australian state squad and, later, played first grade for Northern Suburbs in Sydney.

He has also worked as a freelance broadcast journalist with ABC radio, BBC and RTÉ.

“The series has been made possible with the assistance of many volunteers and I’m grateful to everyone who worked on Lucky Country,” O’Raighne told the Irish Echo. “We also received some help from the Irish government’s Emigrant Support Programme together with the Australia’s’ Community Broadcast Fund.”

To access the Lucky Country series, just click here.

Expat businessman's fairytale castle project complete

KING OF THE CASTLE: Killeavy Castle’s owner Mick Boyle with key players in the renovation, Jason Foody, Clare Clarke and Gary Flynn.

KING OF THE CASTLE: Killeavy Castle’s owner Mick Boyle with key players in the renovation, Jason Foody, Clare Clarke and Gary Flynn.

A Sydney Irish businessman has completed a fairytale project in his old hometown.

Mick Boyle, who was born in South Armagh, and his wife Robin have restored the 180-year-old Killeavy Castle to its former glory.

In doing so, they have also launched a new hotel business, creating 85 jobs in the border region.

“Robin and I wanted to change the way people think about South Armagh,” said Mr Boyle, who runs a successful construction business in Sydney.

“We want to create a destination venue where tourists and local people can come to and enjoy great dining, access the beautiful mountain walks and feel very connected with their natural surroundings.

“We want Killeavy Castle to be a world-class destination where people can escape the busyness of modern life and get closer to what’s important.”

It was 2013 when Mr Boyle first became aware that Killeavy Castle was on the market.

The old building, originally designed in 1836 by architect George Papworth of Dublin, had fallen into disrepair after sitting derelict for more than a decade. The Boyles bought the property for £1.3million in 2013 and set about restoring it.

The £12 million renovation involved more than 90 local contractors, from design to construction and landscaping companies, with the expertise to undertake the extensive renovations with painstaking care and to ensure the 19th century building has been fully restored to its former glory.

Killeavy Castle now has four luxury bedrooms, a formal dining room, a cellar bar and private function facilities, all with period features that have undergone significant restoration. Behind the castle there is a permanent marquee for weddings, retreats and corporate events.

An underground tunnel once used as a servant’s passageway now links the castle to the newly built 45-bed boutique spa hotel, a Grade 2 listed building that was once a coach house, a mill and farm buildings.

Mr Boyle says the renovations will put a modern twist on the traditional charm of the castle.

“What makes us unique is our location and heritage. We are situated at the foot of the mighty Slieve Gullion, with unrivalled natural beauty and incredible views. Our heritage and provenance are at the heart of everything we do.

The restoration includes a luxury hotel with five-star wedding facilities.

The restoration includes a luxury hotel with five-star wedding facilities.

“Our food will be sourced locally or grown in our walled garden; our 85 staff [mostly] live locally, and we have incorporated the beauty of the countryside into the design and interior of the castle and hotel. We also have a working farm with Cheviot sheep and longhorned cattle.”

Asked what the impact of Brexit might have on his new venture, Mr Boyle replied: “I haven’t a clue. I don’t think anyone has a clue.”

Mr Boyle and his family are well-known to the Irish community in Sydney.

Mick senior and Pauline Boyle

emigrated from south Armagh in the 1960s. Young Mick was just five when the Boyles settled in St Mary’s in Sydney’s western suburbs.

“My father was active for many years in Penrith Gaels and was president for several years at around the time the new club opened up,” he recalls.

In the 1990s, Mick junior set up his company Abergeldie, which provides complex infrastructure like roads, bridges, dams, shafts, tunnels, rail and water infrastructure. The firm now employs more than 500 people and has offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland and now, Newry, Co Down.

The general manager of Killeavy Castle Estate, Jason Foody, said the new hotel was already attracting business from across Ireland and overseas.

“There has been a great demand for our unique facilities, with 50 events already booked in, from fairy-tale wedding ceremonies to glamorous receptions. We have had inquiries from all over the world, with people excited to visit the estate and take in the breath-taking scenery.”

The castle and hotel are located at the foot of Slieve Gullion in south Armagh

The castle and hotel are located at the foot of Slieve Gullion in south Armagh

Congratulating the owners on the development, Gary Flynn, business acquisition manager at First Trust Bank, which helped finance the project added: “We are incredibly proud to have played a part in the restoration of Killeavy Castle. The exceptional attention to detail at every step of the project has resulted in the creation of one of the most stunning venues on the island of Ireland.

“Mick’s passion for South Armagh is infectious. It’s clear he is committed to creating hospitality excellence and showcasing the beauty and charm of the local area on a global stage.

“The castle itself still has so many of its quirky period features, sympathetically restored to its former glory.

“So often we see investments of this scale taking place in our cities, so it’s great to see such a high-quality development of this kind enhancing our rural communities and is testament to the potential that is there to be harnessed,” Mr Flynn said.

Grieving Mayo family grateful for 'unbelievable generosity'

Amy Gill, 23, from Mayo was killed in a car accident in Victoria on February 6.

Amy Gill, 23, from Mayo was killed in a car accident in Victoria on February 6.

Amy Gill (23) from Coolacht, Co Mayo arrived in Australia on January 14.

On February 6, she was a back seat passenger in a car with four occupants which collided with another vehicle in the small town of Euston near the New South Wales/Victoria border.

Ms Gill and her friends were on their way to work on a farm when the accident took place. Ms Gill and another backseat passenger lost their lives.

Her friend Catherine Langan from Bohola, Co Mayo was injured in the crash but is expected to make a full recovery, according to the Mayo News.

The tragedy led to a massive online fundraising campaign to cover repatriation expenses for Ms Gill’s remains. Although the initial target was only €15,000, nearly three times that amount was raised – €44,461 before the family stopped donations on February 11, only two days after launching the appeal. Her funeral took place on Monday, February 25.

Her grieving Mayo family has thanked everyone who donated to the online fundraising drive.

“It is with great relief that we can say we have raised enough money to get Amy home to Mayo,” Amy’s cousins wrote. “We, on behalf of Amy’s family, do not know where to begin in thanking everybody for their generous donations. The unbelievable support and generosity from all of you has given Amy’s parents and sisters some comfort in knowing they will have Amy home as soon as possible now.“

A large congregation attended her funeral mass at St Colman’s Church in Claremorris.

Parish priest Fr Peter Gannon, said it was a very difficult time for the community.

“Words can never relay the depth of grief of the family and friends and community,” Fr Gannon said, according to a report in the Mayo News.

“Not alone is there a numb feeling but there can also be a feeling of being cheated and being robbed of a beautiful life. On behalf of us all we express our deepest sympathy to family relatives, neighbours and friends,” he said.

“Amy was a beautiful girl in every respect of that word. Her life, far too short, gave pleasure and brought blessings to so many people, most especially her parents John and Ann and all the family. She was loved everywhere she went and she brought a quality to life through her warmth and personality. Tragic death is like a black-out, one minute the sun is shining and the next it is dark night. In the space of a minute our whole words can be turned upside down. Nothing can prepare us for something like this,” Fr Gannon told the congregation.

Colin Bell of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust told The Irish Echo: “Whenever tragedy hits like that and the word comes back to the families, who do they turn to? They don’t know what they’re going to do and how they’re going to get the loved one home. One phone call to us can change all that.

“There are so many young people out in Australia at the moment and accidents do happen and unfortunately, it can happen to anybody. It’s tragic.

“Tragedy is tragedy no matter where it happens but when it happens on the other side of the world. You’re pretty helpless here at home and that is where we can come in and help.”

The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, established in 2013, has now repatriated the remains of 659 loved ones to Ireland from all over the world, including 72 from Australia.

For more information, search for the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust.

Leinster's Aussie flanker sees no Irish rugby crisis

Australian flanker Scott Fardy in action for Leinster

Australian flanker Scott Fardy in action for Leinster

Scott Fardy, Leinster’s superstar Australian flanker, has sought to calm Irish rugby fans fears over a pre-World Cup form slump.

Fardy, who has extended his Leinster contract by a year, said he thought Ireland were still in good shape to have a tilt at winning the Rugby World Cup which begins in September.

“I wouldn’t be overly worried about things happening before [the World Cup]” Fardy told The Irish Times. “You’ve got seven games to win the thing. Sometimes you have small dips but I don’t [see an Irish crisis].

“So many things that go in that seven-week tournament. Things can go completely wrong for teams. You saw that with Ireland [in 2015] with injuries.”

Fardy signed with Leinster in 2017 and has made 37 appearances since.

In his first season in Dublin, Fardy helped the province to a Heineken Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 double in a campaign which saw him make 22 appearances and score four tries.

“I’ve re-signed so I’ll be going again for another year,” the 34-year-old told reporters.

“I made that decision a while ago, just things had to get sorted out. I’m really happy to be here for another year and continue to go after trophies.

“We’re enjoying it, my wife’s settled in well and the young fella’s growing up pretty quickly. We’re enjoying our time here in Dublin.

“With the squad you’ve got and the leaders here and the staff as well, no one’s really selling you anything. With the senior players and junior players here, it’s easy to get caught up and enjoy your rugby.”

Opera House to go green for St Patrick's Day

Sydney Opera House will be illuminated green for St Patrick’s Day this year.

Sydney Opera House will be illuminated green for St Patrick’s Day this year.

The Sydney Opera House will be one of a number of Australian buildings and landmarks lit green for St Patrick’s Day this year.

Apart from the Sydney’s most iconic building, the Big Kangaroo Border Village in South Australia, The Big Banana Fun Park in Coffs Harbour, the State Library of New South Wales and Sydney Town Hall will adopt a green hue for March 17.

The Bell Tower, Council House and Elizabeth Quay in Perth as well as the National Carillon and the Embassy of Ireland in Canberra will also be lit in green.

For Sydney, it will be an extra special St Patrick’s Day this year.

The St Patrick’s Day Festival has moved back to The Rocks, marking the 40th anniversary of the first Irish parade through the area in 1979.

The area will be transformed into an Irish Village for the day, a sea of green - offering something for everyone; live music, street artists, a parade, children’s activities, a citizenship ceremony, and live music and dancing. Kicking off with a street parade at 11am, the celebrations will be at Dawes Point Park, with the iconic Sydney Opera House as a backdrop.

Sydney St Patrick’s Day Organisation’s President Karen Murphy said “The St. Patrick’s Day Festival is delighted to partner with Tourism Ireland in turning the sails of the Opera House green! What a stunning setting to celebrate our proud Irish roots globally.”

Other new sites and buildings taking part in Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening 2019 include: Victoria Falls, The Eden Project in Cornwall, The Cotton Tree in Freetown, Sierra Leone; and ‘Niki’, a Cathay Pacific DC-3 airplane on display in the Cathay Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong.

Sydney Town Hall will be lit in green to celebrate the city’s Irish heritage.

Sydney Town Hall will be lit in green to celebrate the city’s Irish heritage.

These new sites will join some ‘old favourites’ which have gone green in previous years – including the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Niagara Falls, the ‘Welcome’ sign in Las Vegas, the Sky Tower in Auckland, Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland Paris, Burj Al Arab, Christ the Redeemer statue, the London Eye and many others.

Sofia Hansson, Manager Tourism Ireland, Australia and New Zealand said, “This is the tenth year of Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative which has now grown to become a significant worldwide reminder of both St. Patrick’s Day itself, and also of Ireland and its appeal as a visitor destination. Many Australians have ancestral links to the island of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day is a truly unique opportunity to reconnect them with their heritage.”

Irish Australian women honoured on St Brigid's Day

Winners of the 2019 Brigid Awards pictured with Senator Deborah O Neill (patron, Irish Friends of Labor) and Kaila Murnain (general secretary of NSW Labor). From left to right: Deborah O Neill; Kaila Murnain; Pam O’Mahony; Mary Yaager; Genevieve Kelly; Patricia Amphlett (“Little Pattie”); Anne Murnain; Geraldine Murray; Catriona Barry and Fiona Nix.

Winners of the 2019 Brigid Awards pictured with Senator Deborah O Neill (patron, Irish Friends of Labor) and Kaila Murnain (general secretary of NSW Labor). From left to right: Deborah O Neill; Kaila Murnain; Pam O’Mahony; Mary Yaager; Genevieve Kelly; Patricia Amphlett (“Little Pattie”); Anne Murnain; Geraldine Murray; Catriona Barry and Fiona Nix.

The fourth annual Brigid Awards took place in Sydney on February 1, with singer Little Pattie among the award-recipients.

The awards, named in honour of the eponymous Irish saint, recognise the contribution of women of Irish heritage to Australian society and span the business, community, political and social justice spheres.

Singer Little Pattie (aka Patricia Amphlett) received the Bridget Whelan Award for a career that saw her shoot to fame in the 1960s and perform across Australia and the US, including on Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show.

She has been an advocate for social change and sang the iconic It’s Time TV commercial during the 1972 Australian federal election when Labor reformer Gough Whitlam became prime minister. 

Senator Deborah O’Neill, patron of the Irish Friends of Labor and federal senator for NSW, said she hoped the awards would “continue to grow in the future, and in particular to reach out to the many young Irish who have made New South Wales their home in recent years”.

“Politically, the world faces many challenges in the coming decade, and it is incumbent on Labor to step up and meet the challenge of delivering a fairer and more equal Australia.”

Pam O’Mahony received a Community Hero Award for her work on behalf of the Irish community in Sydney and NSW through the GAA, the St Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and through the long-running Ireland Calling Radio show.

Genevieve Kelly received a Community Hero Award for her work on social justice through the trade union movement; as a founding member and first NSW President of the Australian Social Welfare Union; through education, as a lecturer and president of the NSW Lecturers’ Association; and in the political sphere, as mayor. With roots in Cork and Kilkenny, she was the first mayor to make a formal apology for the Aboriginal genocide a commemoration of Captain James Cook’s first landing in Australia at Kurnell. 

 Fiona Nix received an award for her contribution to the business community as founder of Australia’s leading independent film and entertainment agency NixCo, which has been involved in movies such as Moonlight and Hacksaw Ridge.

Other award recipients include: Anne Murnain, who has campaigned to raise awareness on poverty in rural Australia, particularly among Aboriginals; Catriona Barry, board member and chairperson of 3 Bridges, a community organisation that helps disadvantaged people; Mary Louise Yaager who has been involved with the St Vincent de Paul, the Sydney Archdiocese and the Right to Home Campaign; and Geraldine Murray, nominated for contribution to the Megalong Valley Pony Club as the club’s treasurer and fundraiser.

Singer Meg Mac cherishes Irish heritage

Meg Mac is a star on the rise with a national tour in April.

Meg Mac is a star on the rise with a national tour in April.

Irish Australian artist Meg Mac announced herself as a talent to watch out for when her song Known Better was selected for Triple J’s Unearthed progamme in 2013.

Accolades were soon coming her way. She was named Unearthed Artist of the Year while Marie Claire Australia chose her as an Artist to Watch and she received a nomination for Rolling Stone Australia’s Best New Talent award.

The ARIA Music Awards in 2015 saw her up for Best Female Artist and Breakthrough Artist while she was yet to even release her debut album. When her debut Low Blows landed in 2017, it went straight into the ARIA Chart at No 2 and won critical acclaim.

Now Meg has returned with GIve Me My Name Back, the first single from a new EP set for release in April when she also tours around Australia. The song is described as a ‘rallying cry, imploring girls to stand up, speak up and assert themselves’ and is about reclaiming identity, dignity and self-worth.

“It kind of means something different to everyone,” Mac told the Irish Echo.

“I’ve been getting literally hundreds of messages from people telling me what the song means to them and it’s completely different from what it means to me. Everyone can relate to what it feels like to lose who you are or your identity or feel like you’re not your full self anymore and that’s what I wrote it about but being able to see how it is relating to people is really amazing.”

The Irish Australian, who was born Megan Sullivan McInerney, has been writing material for her new EP and the next album to follow. She says she is now conscious of the pressure of producing a good follow up record.

“I think the first time you make something, that pressure isn’t there and then ever since then the pressure’s been there so I kinda just have to ignore all the pressure because if you focus too much on it you’re not going to make meaningful music,” she said.

Her powerful voice often sees her compared to Adele and Amy Winehouse but her earliest and strongest influences come from her Irish background. She was born in Sydney to parents from Donegal (Ballyshannon and Letterkenny) and Cork (Adrigole).

“Mum was always singing Irish songs. I realise now I know them and can sing along just from hearing them as a kid,” she recalls.

Meg Mac was born in Sydney to Irish parents from Donegal and Cork.

Meg Mac was born in Sydney to Irish parents from Donegal and Cork.

“My mum’s dad played accordion, bagpipes and violin, but my mum still has his button accordion and she often gets that out but she usually ends up getting really emotional and has to put it away. And he’s like in the folds of the accordion, he’s handwritten all the names of his favourite songs in all the folds. I never met him because he died before I was born.

“And my dad loves The Pogues and the Fureys, he’s always playing them so it was always around. My sister did Irish dancing.

“I think it is a strong influence. When my mum would sing a lot, she was just singing without any accompaniment. I’ve always loved being able to sing without music, you can just sing the song. When I’m writing as well, I love to be able to sing just the song and have a song be able stand up on its own, have a melody strong enough and pretty enough to seem like all those songs my mum would sing. Often, I’ll just write away from the piano, just singing.”

You will more than one member of the McInerney family on her records as sister Hannah often joins Meg on backing vocals.

“It’s easy, she knows how to sing with me. If I’m at home and I’m writing and I want harmonies, I’ll just call out to my sisters and they’ll come in and then straightaway I can hear what I wanna hear. It’s easy. And you can tell them that it sounds wrong or they’re doing it wrong and they’re not gonna be offended.”

The 28-year-old has fond memories of visiting her family in Ireland.

“Yeah, I’ve been a few times. I still have family there although I haven’t been in a few years.

“I always remember driving all the winding roads and having to stop for sheep to come across the road and then into my auntie’s house and she’s like, ‘go and dig out potatoes’. I’d never done that before: Go outside, pick the potatoes that we were going to eat for dinner. The most important memories are of my cousins, my grandparents. Living so far away, didn’t get to see them that much.

“It’s that weird thing where it feels like home but it’s not actually your home. That’s where both my mum and dad are from and I’m Australian but really I’m not Australian so it feels familiar. Whenever I meet Irish people, it feels like family.”

Meg Mac tours Australia April and May. For information visit www.megmac.com.au

Many would be emigrants caught in visa limbo

Many Irish workers have been left in visa limbo.

Many Irish workers have been left in visa limbo.

Changes to Australian visas have people waiting for their 457 visa application to be processed worried that they could not only not be granted leave to stay in Australia but they could also lose the money they spent on their applications.

When the rules changed, many occupations were removed or downgraded and those who were eligible for a four year visa and to apply for permanent residency can now only get two years. A 457 application should take 5-10 months but applications have been taking longer to process since the changes were announced.

Australia scrapped its skilled 457 visa programme last year. The programme had allowed tens of thousands of Irish workers to enter the country legally since 1996. The visa changes were announced in 2017 by then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull who said he wanted “to put Australians first.”

Turnbull alleged the 457 visa was being misused by employers to import cheaper workers and not to fill genuine skill shortages.

For individuals who have a 457 application in progress with the department, it is open to them to wait until a decision is made on their application
— Department of Home Affairs

The 457 visa was replaced with the Temporary Skill Shortage Visa (TSS) 482 but the list of occupations that qualify for the 482, is significantly reduced. The new visas has been described as limited, expensive and with an intimidating amount of paper work.

People can apply for a refund of their visa fees but there are no guarantees. The employer's nomination fee of $330 is not refundable.

A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told The Irish Echo: "The Department assesses all valid visa applications unless the application is withdrawn. For individuals who have a 457 application in progress with the department, it is open to them to wait until a decision is made on their application. Refunds are only available in limited circumstances and does not include circumstances where an applicant has withdrawn their application due to change of mind."

The people affected by the situation are often in Australia on bridging visas. They may no longer be entitled to a four year visa. If they have to apply for a 482 visa, they may not be entitled to work rights under any new bridging visa while they wait for the application to be processed.

The Home Affairs Spokesperson continued: "The bridging visa held in association with a 482 visa application will remain valid until the 482 visa application is finalised. Applicants holding a bridging visa with no work rights may apply for permission to work. Each request is assessed on a case by case basis."

People who applied for 457 visas before 18th April 2017, when the new rules were announced by Malcolm Turnbull, were to be protected by the old rules and still avail of permanent residency applications, shorter temporary transition periods before applying for permanent residency and the higher age bracket. But these may not apply if they have to make a new application for a 482.

The Department fo Home Affairs says: "Transitional arrangements were put in place in March 2018, in relation to certain requirements for people who held or applied for a subclass 457 visa before 18 April 2017.

Changes to the visa rules have made it more difficult for many skilled workers.

Changes to the visa rules have made it more difficult for many skilled workers.

"People who held a 457 visa before March 2018 and meet the various requirements, including being nominated in an eligible occupation, can apply for permanent residence through the Direct Entry (DE) stream of the subclass 186 or 187 visa.

"People who held a subclass 457 visa on 18 April 2017, or had applied for a subclass 457 visa on 18 April 2017 that was subsequently granted, are able to access certain existing provisions under the Temporary Residence Transition (TRT) stream.

"Eligible overseas workers will need to lodge an application for permanent residence within four years, by March 2022."

Thousands of Irish availed of the 457 following the economic crash ten years ago.

The new visa has also limited availability and is only obtainable as a short-term visa, for a maximum two years, or a medium-term visa up to four years.

Brian (not his real name) is one of those caught in an immigration no-man’s land.

He came to Australia with his wife and two children. He has been on a 457 since 2014 as a carpenter. His first employer nominated him for permanent residence. Brian spent $7,000+ agents' fees on the permanent residence application. Then his employer went out of business before the PR was granted. As a result, Brian’s PR visa was not granted. He lost the $7,000+ and had to start again.

Brian then had to move his 457 visa to a new employer, but his visa only had a few months left so he had to then apply for a new 457 visa. He paid new 457 fees of $2,700. He applied for his second 457 visa in December 2017. The employer’s part was granted in October 2017 so expired in October 2018. Brian’s second 457 visa cannot now be granted.

Brian will be forced to re-apply for a 482 visa. The 482 visa costs are more than double the fees he paid for the 457 visas. 482 visa fees will be $5,500.

Brian's employer lost $330 on the first application, but will now be forced to pay the new Skilling Australians Fund (SAF) levy of $7,200 to lodge the new nomination. A huge cost that will surely deter a lot of employers from even agreeing to proceed.

It was also reported in October that more than 630 Irish people had been deported from Australia over the last two years according to figures released by the Australian Department of Home Affairs.

Overstaying a visa, having a visa cancelled or invalid visas were the most common reasons for their deportation.

'I thought he was going to change', says accused killer

David Walsh and his killer, former fiancee Cathrina Cahill who is now awaiting sentencing.

David Walsh and his killer, former fiancee Cathrina Cahill who is now awaiting sentencing.

A Wexford woman who killed her fiance in Sydney has told a judge she did not leave the "controlling and fairly unpleasant" man as she loved him dearly.

David Walsh said he would change but would revert back to his bad behaviour, Cathrina Cahill, 27, told her sentencing hearing.

She was giving evidence on Tuesday in the New South Wales Supreme Court after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Walsh, who she stabbed once in the neck in the early hours of February 18, 2017, at their home in Padstow, south-west of Sydney.

"I honestly thought he was going to change. He was someone I did love and adore," she told the court.

Cahill, whose guilty plea was based on diminished responsibility due to an abnormality of the mind, previously gave evidence about repeated violence by Mr Walsh.

This included punching strangers and biting her all over her body, while he also accused her of her sleeping with other men and deleted texts from her phone, the court heard.

She had packed her bags many times to leave him, but Mr Walsh would tell her everything was going to be different, Cahill told the court.

She said: "He would be making me dinner, buying me flowers, buying me a teddy bear, but after two to three weeks it would go back to the way it was."

She agreed with Justice Peter Johnson that her evidence revealed a "pretty stormy relationship" and that Mr Walsh might be seen to be a "controlling and fairly unpleasant person".

But she said she stayed with him as she "loved him very dearly".

The fatal attack occurred when an intoxicated Mr Walsh launched an unprovoked attack on a man invited into the home by Cahill and the two other female housemates.

Cahill, who also had been drinking, was punched by her fiance when trying to stop the attack, before she took out a "large, very sharp, bladed knife" from the cutlery drawer and stabbed him.

Cahill's barrister James Trevallion said there was no evidence his client had ever struck Mr Walsh without any provocation and noted she was smaller than him.

He submitted she had no intention to kill, the stabbing had involved a single blow and Mr Walsh was the one who initiated the violence.

Justice Johnson, who said the case involved "unusual features" such as a "type of two-way domestic violence", will sentence Cahill on December 12.

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.

Australian visa slump slammed by business groups

Australia is making it harder for skilled migrants to get permanent residency.

Australia is making it harder for skilled migrants to get permanent residency.

Migration to Australia has been slashed to its lowest level in more than a decade after the federal government put tough new hurdles in place.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has claimed that the fall in numbers was a consequence of the government meticulously going through applications to weed out unsuitable claims.

“We’re making sure that people who do become part of our Australian family are coming here to work, not to lead a life on welfare,” Mr Dutton said.

But business lobby groups, migration agents and representatives of ethnic groups have criticised the cuts, warning of economic damage if the numbers are allowed to fall further. 

Groups representing more than 60,000 Australian businesses have criticised the Turnbull government’s cuts to skilled and family migration.

Australia took in 20,000 fewer permanent migrants than in the previous financial year, mostly becasue of a 12,000 drop in skilled visas and an 8,000 drop in family visas.

The Australian Industry Group, one of the nation’s leading business groups, said the cut was disappointing.

“We are strong supporters of the migration program and to see it drop so significantly below the 2017-18 intake ceiling is disappointing,” AIG’s chief executive, Innes Willox, said.

Mr Willox said it was to the government’s credit that skilled visas still made up the same percentage of the intake, at about 68 per cent.

However, he encouraged the government to “get closer to reaching the ceiling” of 190,000 places this financial year. The official cap is still set at 190,000, despite real numbers falling short this year.

“Skilled migrants generate the greatest economic benefits to the Australian community, through their direct contributions to our national employment and skills base,” Mr Willox said. “Many also bring specialist attributes that provide even bigger benefits, by deepening our entrepreneurship, innovation and international linkages.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry blasted the cuts, arguing employers were paying the political price for the government’s failure to keep up with infrastructure demands in growing cities. 

“This is a real crisis,” the chamber’s CEO James Pearson said. 

“This is a problem right now, particularly for regional businesses serving regional communities. Politicians have failed to plan properly for the population growth in Sydney and Melbourne and regional Australia is now paying the price because of this cutback in our skilled migration by stealth.”

Both sides of politics have praised the lower numbers with Labor leader Bill Shorten vowing to clamp down on the number of temporary work visas. 

“No temporary visa worker should be here for a day longer than it takes to train an Australian,” Mr Shorten told the Australian Financial Review.

Are you reconsidering your future in Australia because of the visa clampdown? Tell us your story. Email editor@irishecho.com.au