Barnaby Joyce

Barnaby Joyce's Irish roots

Barnaby Joyce treasures his Irish heritage but not his pale Celtic skin.

Barnaby Joyce treasures his Irish heritage but not his pale Celtic skin.

Australia's deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is currently at the centre of a major political controversy.

The Nationals Party leader's marriage has broken down and his new partner, a former staffer almost 20 years his junior, is pregnant with his child.

Back in 2010, the then Senator for Queensland had no such concerns as he told the Irish Echo about his Irish heritage.

What is your Irish background?

My first Irish ancestor to come to Australia was Father Roach a Benedictine priest in 1842. His two brothers, one my direct ancestor Lawrence Roach, followed from County Kilkenny in 1853. On my maternal grandmother’s side the first was an Irish Orphan from the potato famine, Mary Troy, who arrived in 1849 from County Cork. name is noted on the memorial to the Irish orphans near Macquarie Barracks in Sydney. My father came from New Zealand after the Second World War. His grandfather Michael Joyce arrived from County Galway in the 1860s. My wife also has some Irish heritage.

What, in your view, have you inherited from your Irish background?

Obviously my religious conviction and faith. Also, robust but friendly engagement with the people you meet and resilience to go to areas where other people may be less likely to go.

Most importantly, respect for how lucky we are in Australia and, most unfortunately, fair skin which I am trying to breed out by marrying my wife who has an olive complexion.

Much is said about the strong connection between Ireland and Australia but what do you think the Irish legacy has been to Australia?

Bob Hawke said it most succinctly; the Irish colonised the world, not by military power but by character. Go to any pub in the county and you see the strong connection and ethos from the Irish. In Australian literature we borrow a lot from the immense depth and dynamics of Irish writers. Ireland has managed to create an affinity among the Australian people that no matter how dispersed and diminished the Irish blood is in the Irish Diaspora, people proudly claim their Irish connection and that’s a good thing.

Which character from Irish or Irish Australian history would you most like to have met? Why?
Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Not that I necessarily agree with everything he said, but he was one of the most  dynamic political figures in Australia even though  he was  never elected to office. Also, Les Darcy the boxer, because he came from a working class area in the Hunter Valley and then became so famous. It would have been interesting to meet the Kelly Gang to see if they were really ratbags.

Have you visited Ireland?

Yes, I stayed with my cousins in Co Cork. Even though we left in the 1850s we’ve been in communication for all that time. My distant but dear Great Grand Aunt used to send me books on how to speak Gaelic from Galway. She must have worried that I was losing the language, which of course I have. I visited Ireland in 1993, and I spent the whole time talking to cousins who seemed to be everywhere.

Do you have a favourite place in Ireland?

Galway. I never thought I’d have a sense of connection because of so much time and distance, but I did get a sense of something deeper there especially when I saw my family name written in Gaelic on the street signs.