History

Statue of Irish-born NSW Premier gets green light

Thousands of passers-by will soon have the chance to refresh their knowledge about the Irish namesake of Sydney’s Martin Place.

A lifesized bronze statue of the immigrant turned three-time NSW Premier Sir James Martin will be erected in the pedestrian mall after the City of Sydney art committee’s decision to decline the proposal was overturned.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Planning Minister Rob Stokes intervened to encourage Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the committee not to throw out the project.

Prolific Australian sculptor Alan Somerville completed both the Parramatta and Martin Place renditions of James Martin as a boy.

Prolific Australian sculptor Alan Somerville completed both the Parramatta and Martin Place renditions of James Martin as a boy.

James Martin was born in 1820 in Midleton, Cork, where there have been have been similar demands for his recognition with local historian Ged Martin (no relation) calling for a plaque to honour the expatriate.

Cork-born James Martin, after whom Martin Place in Sydney is named.

Cork-born James Martin, after whom Martin Place in Sydney is named.

After sailing to Australia in 1821 Martin grew up in a cottage adjacent to Old Government House, where his father was employed as a stable boy, and despite the family’s poverty sacrifices were made to send him to the prestigious Sydney College.

He would go on to become a journalist, editor, author and attorney before his political career took off, initially seeing him become the member for Cook and Westmoreland.

After two stints as attorney-general, Martin became Premier for the first time in 1863.

Despite his ministry losing power in 1864, Martin would have two more chances to hold the position, during which he pioneered the establishment of a branch of the royal mint in Sydney.

Raised by strongly Catholic Irish parents, Martin’s personal faith wavered over the years, yet he fought for a society based on Christian principles throughout his political life.

He retained his parents’ family focus, having 15 children with wife Isabella Long.

The bronze will replace an existing plinth in Martin Place, while there is already a statue in Parrammatta recognising Martin’s formative years spent there.

Both artworks were completed by sculptor Alan Somerville, famed for the soldiers that stand proudly on the ANZAC bridge.

Victoria Cross returns to heroic Irish-Australian's homeland

A Victoria Cross medal awarded to an Irish-Australian soldier will be put on display at Dublin’s National Museum of Ireland.

The medal has been returned to the homeland of its Irish-born recipient Sergeant Martin O’Meara for 12 months, marking the first time an Australian VC has been loaned to an international museum in over 60 years.

The Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said O’Meara’s heroic actions in France during the First World War “undoubtedly saved many lives”.

“Showing utter contempt for danger, Sergeant O’Meara is a true representation of the ANZAC spirit,” Minister Reynolds said.

Changes made to Australian legislation surrounding cultural heritage in 2018 have allowed for the temporary export of the treasured artefact.

The Head of Museums at Australian Army Headquarters, Neil Dailey (centre left) holds the Victoria Cross with Marty Kavanagh, Honorary Consul of Ireland Western Australia along with the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia’s Manager, Major Henry Fijolek (left) and Mrs Leith Landauer during the official ceremony of the loaning Sergeant Martin O’Meara's Victoria Cross to Ireland at the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia in Fremantle.

The Head of Museums at Australian Army Headquarters, Neil Dailey (centre left) holds the Victoria Cross with Marty Kavanagh, Honorary Consul of Ireland Western Australia along with the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia’s Manager, Major Henry Fijolek (left) and Mrs Leith Landauer during the official ceremony of the loaning Sergeant Martin O’Meara's Victoria Cross to Ireland at the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia in Fremantle.

Just four years after arriving in Australia in 1912, O’Meara joined the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front.

O’Meara faced a barrage of German artillery and machine gun fire while he retrieved his wounded fellow soldiers from No Man’s Land over a four day period during the Battle of the Somme, his bravery rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

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The medal, awarded by King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1917, has been housed at the Army Museum of Western Australia.

O’Meara was promoted to the rank of Sergeant before returning to Australia in 1918, spending much of the rest of his life in mental hospitals haunted by what he had seen during the war.

Martin O’Meara was congratulated by fellow wounded patients following the announcement of his Victoria Cross. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Martin O’Meara was congratulated by fellow wounded patients following the announcement of his Victoria Cross. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

He was celebrated as a hero during a visit to Ireland when the residents of his hometown of Lorrha raised funds to recognise his courage.

In yet another display of his character, O’Meara donated the funds towards the town’s historic Abbey.

More than 80 years after his death, the returned soldier will once again be honoured in his home-country when the symbol of his service and gallantry goes on display.

Famine monument remembrance event marks 20 years

The glass panels of Sydney’s Famine Memorial feature the names of Irish orphan women settled in Australia between 1848 and 1850.

The glass panels of Sydney’s Famine Memorial feature the names of Irish orphan women settled in Australia between 1848 and 1850.

The 20th annual commemoration at the Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine takes place later this month.

Due to a major refurbishment and upgrade of the exhibition spaces at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum and installation of a lift, the Museum is closed until late in 2019.

This means that the annual event will be different this year, starting with a symposium entitled Looking Forwards And Remembering commencing at 10am at the nearby Mint Building in Macquarie Street.

Afterwards, attendees will congregate in front of the Hyde Park Barracks’ Famine Memorial for the annual commemoration.

Historian and genealogist Dr Perry McIntyre said the Irish community were the driving force behind building the monument in 1995.

“It reminds them of their roots and historical connections to Ireland,” she said.

The monument is dedicated to over 4,000 Irish orphan girls and women who were resettled under a transportation plan during the Great Famine.

The National Monument to the Great Irish Famine was completed in 1995.

The National Monument to the Great Irish Famine was completed in 1995.

Unmarried women and girls, left alone and destitute by the catastrophe, arrived in Australia between 1848 to 1850 under former British Prime Minister Earl Grey’s Orphans scheme.

The girls and women came from all 32 counties to meet Australia’s need for both female labourers and mothers in the male-dominated colony.

Dr McIntrye said these women remained influential in the cultural heritage of the Australian community today.

“We are in contact with at least several thousand descendants and my estimation is that there would be at least 500,000 people descended from these 4,114 girls, even if they don't know about this aspect of their genealogy.”

The Annual Commemoration usually commences at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum on Macquarie Street, the site where orphans who were sent to Sydney were housed.

For this year’s Commemoration on August 25, descendants of the orphan immigrants are invited to wear a lapel label indicating their ancestor’s name, home county, and the ship they journeyed on.

Symposium attendees will hear from both the Vice Consul-General of Ireland Rory Conaty and Dr McIntyre, giving insight into how the story of the young women rescued from the Famine continues to influence Australia’s cultural landscape today.

Fenian jailbreak revisited in new FitzSimons book

The incredible story of the daring rescue of six Irish political prisoners from ‘the most remote prison on earth’ has been retold in a new book.

The Catalpa Rescue recounts how Irish republicans in Ireland and America hatched a complex plan to free six inmates from Fremantle Gaol in Western Australia in 1876.

The prison was dubbed ‘a living tomb’ by inmates because it was virtually impossible to break out of.  

But according to author Peter FitzSimons, this did not deter loyal Irish patriots in the US from coming to the rescue of their fellow countrymen who had been sent there by the British crown.

The daring rescue inspired a whole new wave of Irish rebellion after it made headlines all over the world and left England humiliated by its audacity.

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According to Sydney Morning Herald journalist FitzSimons who is also chair of the Australian Republican Movement, the rescue “showed those seeking independence could triumph, that Great Britain was not unbeatable.”

He explained:  “The Catalpa Rescue was really the first major success for the Irish republican movement –it was the first black eye Ireland gave England.

 “The Irish snatched six of their soldiers from the most remote prison on earth and the story of how they managed to pull it off is just incredible.”

Peter FitzSimons’ new book bring the story of The Catalpa Rescue to a new audience.

Peter FitzSimons’ new book bring the story of The Catalpa Rescue to a new audience.

The rescue mission was spearheaded by charismatic republican John Devoy who was a leading member of the Fenians in Ireland before he was arrested and forced into exile in America.

Devoy received a letter from one of the six Irishmen rotting in Fremantle prison begging for help and immediately started fund-raising for a rescue.

He recruited an unlikely hero to lead the mission –an experienced Quaker sea Captain George Anthony who had no connection with the Irish cause but who he convinced “it was right thing to do.”

The plan was to disguise the American ship as a whaling boat and sail close to Fremantle where the prisoners could row out to meet the boat in international waters.

But according to FitzSimons, like all good plans “things got pretty hairy” on the day of the rescue.

“The six prisoners got away from their work detail, jumped into buggies and raced to Rockingham beach.  They jumped into a boat and rowed from the shore when three troopers charged onto the beach and started shooting at them but luckily they were far enough out that the rifles couldn’t reach them,” he explained.

Having survived this attack, the men faced further danger as a storm raged that night and they risked being sunk in a long boat that was heavily overloaded.

 “They could very easily have been swamped by huge waves but somehow managed to survive the night,” FitzSimons added.

After a tumultuous night at sea, the inmates still needed to row a considerable distance out to the Catalpa which was waiting for them in international waters.

Peter FitzSimons says writing the book has ‘reawakened’ his own Irish roots.

Peter FitzSimons says writing the book has ‘reawakened’ his own Irish roots.

“As they finally neared The Catalpa, they see the coastguard heading for them and it’s a race against time to reach the ship –the prisoners won the race by a 100 yards.”

But the drama didn’t end there as the coastguard pulled up alongside The Catalpa with cannons ready to fire on the ship.

Captain Anthony had raised the American flag on-board and defiantly told the Coastguard if they fired on an American ship in international waters it would be viewed as an act of war.

The coastguard went back to shore to seek advice and The Catalpa escaped with the six Irishmen safely aboard. It took them six months to sail back to New York where 300,000 people turned out to welcome the Fenians with open arms.

Author Peter FitzSimons said writing the book “was a re-awakening of my Irish roots.”

Peter’s grandfather James B FitzSimons was from Donaghadee in Co Down but left for Australia in the 1880’s. 

He explained: “I went there (Donaghadee) when I was doing my memoirs to get an understanding of where my people came from.

“It was really haunting.  I was looking at this village on the stunning coast of Ireland and I thought how bad things must have been for them to leave this place and go to the other side of the world.”

FitzSimons said his family still have the pistol which his grandfather James brought with him from Ireland –not knowing what awaited him in Australia.

He added: “I remember at my grandfather’s funeral, a man telling me: ‘he was a very fine man but I never understood a word he said.’   It had never occurred to me how strong my Irish roots are.”

The Catalpa Rescue by Peter FitzSimons is published by Hachette Australia and is available to purchase in book shops and online in Australia.