Director defends convict movie after festival walkouts

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi stars in the chilling convict-era movie The Nightingale.

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi stars in the chilling convict-era movie The Nightingale.

The director of a new Australian movie starring Irish actress Aisling Francioisi has defended the film after a number of patrons walked out of Sydney Film Festival screenings.

The unhappy film-goers singled out the film’s graphic depictions of rape and murder but director Jennifer Kent said The Nightingale, set in colonial-era Tasmania, was “not ‘about’ violence”.

"The Nightingale contains historically accurate depictions of colonial violence and racism towards our Indigenous people," she told the ABC.

"Both Aisling Franciosi and myself have been personally contacted by more than a few victims of sexual violence after screenings who are grateful for the film's honesty and who have drawn comfort from its themes,” she added.

"I do not believe this would be happening if the film was at all gratuitous or exploitative.

"We've made this film in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders, and they feel it's an honest and necessary depiction of their history and a story that needs to be told.

"I remain enormously proud of the film."

At the Sydney premiere on Sunday at the Ritz cinema in Randwick, the ABC reported that one woman walked out during the early stages, shouting: "I'm not watching this. She's already been raped twice."

Set in 1825, The Nightingale tells the story of Clare, a young Irish convict woman, who chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.

Kent was determined that the violence in the film would be an honest and authentic depiction; that in order to respect those who suffered and died in this period, she wouldn’t shy away from the truth of what happened.

“Many Australians know what happened in certain parts of the country during that time, and other people don't,” Kent explains. “A lot of people outside Australia know nothing or very little about it. I couldn't go into this part of our history and water it down.”

“Like many other countries that have been colonized, the indigenous people of Australia were subject to horrendous treatment by the colonizers. The systems of power were brutal, and I wanted The Nightingale to reflect this.”

The film was awarded the Special Jury Prize, and Baykali Ganambarr received the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival.

Sydney Parade president has 2020 foresight

Thousands of revellers attended the Sydney St Patrick’s Day festivities in The Rocks this year.

Thousands of revellers attended the Sydney St Patrick’s Day festivities in The Rocks this year.

Planning for the 2020 Sydney St Patrick’s Day celebrations will begin in earnest this month when the new organising commitee is elected.

The annual general meeting will take place on Tuesday, June 18 at the Gaelic Club at which the current committee will stand down and new office bearers will be voted in.

Incumbent president Karen Murphy will again put herself forward to lead the organising committee.

“Yes I will be putting my hand up again for president,” Ms Murphy told the Irish Echo.

Moving the community celebration to The Rocks area had been a great succcess, Ms Murphy said, and it was important to continue working with all stakeholders to make it even better.

“The Rocks is the ideal location for the Sydney St Patrick’s Day Parade celebration,” she said.

“This year we elevated the profile of the event through different stakeholders in the Irish community along with Property NSW and Tourism Ireland. This will continue for 2020.”

Fundraising, she said, would be a key focus if she is re-elected

“We want to create a first-class event for the Irish community marking our nation’s heritage and culture.”

Karen Murphy wants to remain as president of the Sydney St Patrick’s Day Parade. The AGM takes place on June 18.

Karen Murphy wants to remain as president of the Sydney St Patrick’s Day Parade. The AGM takes place on June 18.

This year’s celebration attracted thousands of revellers to The Rocks but relentless rain during the day forced the early closure of the community concert at Dawes Point Park.

Ms Murphy said that the full impact of the early closure will be revealed at the AGM.

“We had a reserve fund for a rainy day but our performance this year was a little affected by the weather.”

Both she and the treasurer would report to the AGM, she said, but fundraising would remain a key priority.

“Fundraising is always needed as with any community group relying on the big hearts of volunteers,” she said.

“The committee will continue to organise regular fundraising events throughout the year, the highlight being our annual Christmas Ball which will be held late November or early December.

“The Mercantile Hotel is also organising a raffle whereby a $2,000 flight voucher is up for grabs with 100 tickets being sold for $50 each.”

Ms Murphy says if she is re-elected, she will also continue to devote her energy to “the parade, children and family culture activities, citizenship ceremony, great live music and possible international acts.”

Rebel Wilson pulls out of McDonagh play

Rebel Wilson choose the McDonagh play but will not now star in the STC production.

Rebel Wilson choose the McDonagh play but will not now star in the STC production.

Hollywood star Rebel Wilson has withdrawn from the forthcoming Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

The Australian actor was the most high profile and exciting casting for the 2019 season when she was announced for the role of Maureen Folan in the dark comedy but she will no longer be part of the show due to an “unforeseen scheduling conflict”.

When Sydney Theatre Company announced its 2019 season last year, artistic director Kip Williams said the McDonagh play was the actor’s choice.

Williams told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time: “We had a different play on the table. She came back to us and said, ‘Thanks, very interested in that but I would love to do Beauty Queen Of Leenane’.”

In a press release, the STC said: “Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict,Rebel Wilson has withdrawn from Sydney Theatre Company’s production ofThe Beauty Queen of Leenane. New casting for the Martin McDonagh comedy will be announced in the coming weeks.”

The actress, who lives in Sydney, is well known for her roles in Hollywood movies such as Bridesmaids and the Pitch Perfect film series. She can be seen starring alongside Anne Hathaway in The Hustle, a female remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The Beauty Queen Of Leenane runs 18 November to 21 December at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney.

The play was the first big hit for McDonagh who went on to pen the Broadway and West End hits The Pillowman andThe Lieutenant of Inishmore, as well as acclaimed films such as In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Gaelic Club board to step down as EGM called

The Gaelic Club occupies the top level of 64 Devonshire St in Surry Hills.

The Gaelic Club occupies the top level of 64 Devonshire St in Surry Hills.

The current board of Sydney’s Gaelic Club is to step down en masse after an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) was called by a group of its members.

The Gaelic Club, which is affiliated to the Irish National Association (INA), is based at 64 Devonshire St, Surry Hills and runs a range of cultural activities there including Irish music and language lessons.

It appears that the INA, which owns the site, has lost confidence in the Gaelic Club’s leadership team and wants to see change.

Sixteen members of the Gaelic Club signed a petition to request the EGM. Seven of the signatories are understood to be current INA committee members.

The petition said the purpose of the request was to “elect a new Board which will develop a business and management plan for the operation of the Gaelic Club and a Memorandum Of Understanding with the INA on the Gaelic Club’s use of premises.”

In a letter to members dated May 25, 2019, a clearly unhappy Gaelic Club president Alana Sheil said the Gaelic Club Board had received a letter from the INA President Karl Kinsella in December 2018 requesting that the Club enter a formal lease arrangement.

This request was rejected by the Board because, Ms Sheil said, “this would make Directors personally liable for any shortfall in income to pay agreed rent”.


The Gaelic Club is a not-for-profit entity and its directors are volunteers. According to its 2018 Annual Report, the club’s total income was $203,130 with a small operating loss of $345.

According to Ms Sheil’s letter, which was co-signed by the Club secretary Maria Hayes, “the [Gaelic Club] Board and the INA Committee did have two face-to-face meetings… to resolve these issues”.

“The current Board has tried everything in its power to negotiate a reasonable outcome,” Ms Sheil wrote.

A subsequent letter from the INA president, dated May 15, 2019, advised that the Gaelic Club will be “required to enter a commercial lease on 1 June 2019 for $20,000 per annum”.

Furthermore, according to Ms Sheil, the INA has declined “the long standing practice to split the electricity bill 50/50” and “rescinded their support to cover the cost of the annual insurance premium of $4,769.45”.

“These recent financial imposts will render our management of the Club unviable,” Ms Sheil wrote. “The Board … will be stepping down at this EGM. We cannot continue in good faith, to act in the interests of the members under these conditions.”

The Gaelic Club and the INA have endured a turbulent history at the Devonshire St premises.

The property was once owned outright by the Irish National Association.

However, twenty years ago, an audacious bid to redevelop and regenerate the club failed.

The financing of the redevelopment was provided by private individuals and the NSW GAA. The subsequent build was struck by delays and financial pitfalls. 

When the revamped Gaelic Club finally opened, two years behind schedule in March 2002, it was not as profitable as had been hoped. The ground floor bar and auditorium remained in Irish community ownership for just two more years before being sold off for $3.45 million to repay debts.

The INA, which is a registered charity, retains ownership of the upper floor which, according its most recent annual report, is valued at approximately $3,000,000. The INA reported a financial deficit of $62,000 in 2017/18.

The premises is now also home to the Irish Support Agency (ISA). During her recent visit to Sydney, Irish Minister Heather Humphreys officially opened the new ISA office at the Gaelic Club.

The Gaelic Club EGM will be held at 64 Devonshire St, Surry Hills on Monday June 17, 2019 at 7pm.

Sydney Irish actor on bail after alleged assault on police

Irish actor Kieren Noonan has been charged after an altercation with police on Saturday.

Irish actor Kieren Noonan has been charged after an altercation with police on Saturday.

An Irish actor, who has appeared in the hit Aussie soap Home and Away, has been charged with a string of offenses after a violent incident in Sydney’s Cargo Bar on Saturday night.

Cork native Keiren Noonan appeared before Parramatta Bail Court on Sunday via video link charged with assaulting police causing actual bodily harm, resisting arrest, offensive language and failing to quit licenced premises.

Noonan, 32, who appeared as Spike in five episodes of Home and Away, was granted bail.

NSW police say the Noonan became "intoxicated" and refused to leave the Darling Harbour bar.

It is alleged he got into a "physical altercation" with plain-clothes police who identified themselves to him as they asked him to leave.

Police said in a statement: "The officer immediately started bleeding from the nose, while other police arrested the man and conveyed him to Day Street Police Station."

Noonan - who travelled to Australia to work as an electrician before being spotted for a small role in the soap - said he was "really apologetic", according to the Daily Telegraph.

The 32-year-old actor said he will defend the charges.

The 32-year-old actor said he will defend the charges.

He told the court from his Surry Hills Police Centre holding cell: "Your honour can I give you my version of events. I would just like to say I’m really apologetic for what happened. I would never hit anybody especially not a female police officer."

His legal aid representative then stopped him, saying: "Mr Noonan if you could refrain from talking on the public record that’s in your best interest."

A NSW police spokesman said: "The officers, who were in plain clothes, identified themselves to the man who again failed to leave the venue.

"Police will allege that a physical altercation ensued when the man pushed one officer in the chest and punched another officer in the face."

The injured officer was conveyed to St Vincent’s Hospital where she was treated for a broken nose, swelling to the face and sore teeth.

Speaking to reporters outside the police station where he spent the night, Noonan said he would be defending the charge.

“I would never hit anybody, especially not a female and especially not a female officer,” he said.

A court date for his reappearance has yet to be set.

Mates make sure grieving fiancee gets 'Frankie's car'

Broc Nicholson pictured recently with her Irish fiancee Francis Shanley who died earlier this month.

Broc Nicholson pictured recently with her Irish fiancee Francis Shanley who died earlier this month.

Friends of an Irish tradie killed in the M4 crash worked round the clock to finish a car he was working on as a surprise for his heartbroken fiancee.

Francis Shanley’s colleagues from Vaughan Civil in Sydney worked in secret to renovate a Subaru WRX so they could present it to Broc Nicholson at a celebration of their mate’s life on Tuesday.

The 36-year-old’s fiancee was “over the moon” when she was surprised with the car which has custom Frankie plates in honour of her partner.

Francis Shanley, from Bornacoola, Co Leitrim died when his car was hit by a beer truck in a pile-up involving eleven cars on the M4 motorway in Sydney on May 9.

A-53-year-old man has been charged with dangerous driving causing death after police allege he changed lanes and then stopped causing the fatal crash that killed Frankie.

‘Frankie’s Car’ - The Suburu WRX which was presented to Broc Nicholson by mates of her late fiancee.

‘Frankie’s Car’ - The Suburu WRX which was presented to Broc Nicholson by mates of her late fiancee.

Jamie Morrissey said his mates at Vaughan Civil “worked round the clock for the past nine days” to get the car ready for today’s ceremony at Macquarie Park Cemetery where it was presented to Broc.

“All his close friends came together to work on it –people who knew nothing about cars came to work on it because they wanted to do it for Frankie.

“It was good for us as well –it kept our mind off things.”

Frankie loved to buy cars and fix them up and he was working on the Subaru WRX when he was killed.

The car was “fully stripped” in his work yard with hundreds of parts everywhere so it was no easy feat for his mates to fully restore it in nine days.

“Frankie was an outstanding person. He was a gentleman and that’s why we did it. If it was any one of us, he would be the first person to step in and help so we thought it would be a fitting tribute to Frankie.

“He would do anything for you. Today is a very sad day for Broc but we hope we can bring a smile to her face when we surprise her with the car,” Jamie explained.

Francis Shanley’s workmates from Vaughan Civil who restored the car.

Francis Shanley’s workmates from Vaughan Civil who restored the car.

Broc Nicholson said Frankie would be “so proud” that his friends had finished the car for her.

She said: “He would be so proud and so am I. I know he’s going to be so jealous when I’m driving it instead of him.”

Family and friends of Francis Shanley who gathered for a special celebration of his life at the Camellia Chapel were told that he lived life with “love, honour, integrity and a sense of humour.

Celebrant Brett O’Brien said: “He was alert and alive. He made people laugh. He had a fearless enthusiasm for life and our world is poorer without him.”

His Australian fiancee Broc paid a beautiful tribute to Frankie.

“You’ve touched our hearts beautiful…You always knew how to make me laugh, listen to my problems, make me feel better when I was sick,” she said.

She poignantly read the vows she had written for their upcoming wedding. The couple were due to get married in August.

“You are my world. You are my rock. You are the reason I am the person I am today.

“I will hold you, honour you, respect you, cherish you and most importantly love you.

“To the most charming, funny, handsome person – I will always love you.”

The Suburu before its transformation.

The Suburu before its transformation.

Frankie’s younger sister Ruth Shanley said his family in Leitrim were heartbroken to lose him but had “beautiful memories” of their time together.

She said: “Frankie always used to look after me – he always had my back.

“He always put a smile on my face with his silly sense of humour and his cheeky smile.”

His close friend Gary Hart was friends with Frankie for over 20 years after meeting in school in Leitrim.

“There was never a dull moment when Frankie was around. Frankie was horrid craic. He’ll be sadly missed in this country and in Ireland,” he said.

Frankie is survived by his fiancee Broc Nicholson, his parents Christine and Basil Shanley and his siblings Mark, Ruth and Catriona Shanley.

He is also mourned by hundreds of people from across the globe who loved him particularly in the communities of Co Leitrim, Western Australia, Darwin, Carmila and Sydney.

Animated Irish movie treat for Sydney, Melbourne

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen features the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McLynn and Tommy Tiernan.

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen features the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McLynn and Tommy Tiernan.

The forthcoming Children’s International Film Festival, be be held in Sydney and Melbourne, will feature an star-studded Irish animated movie.

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen, which was co-produced by Telegael (Ireland), Nukufilm (Estonia), Grid Animation (Belgium) and Calon (Wales), took out the Best Animated Feature award at the Schlingel Festival for Children and Young People held recently in Chemnitz in Germany.

Produced on a budget of €10 million, Captain Morten and the Spider Queen is the first feature length stop-motion film to be animated in Ireland.

The all-Irish cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McLynn, Ciarán Hinds and Michael McElhatton, stand–up comedians Mario Rosenstock, Jason Byrne, Tommy Tiernan and Neil Delamere as well as young up and coming Irish talent Cian O’Dowd and Susie Power who play the roles of Morten and Eliza.

The movie is focused on ten-year-old Morten who spends his days building a toy ship and trying to avoid the ire of his reluctant guardian – a mean ex-ballerina named Anna – while his father is at sea.

Morten hopes to one day be a Captain just like his dad. After a chance meeting with the inept magician Señor Cucaracha, Morten is magically shrunk down to the size of an insect and trapped aboard the deck of his own toy ship as the room around him floods! With a wicked Spider Queen and Scorpion Pirate already on board, being Captain is going to be harder than he ever imagined.

For screening details, click here.

Irish beauty blogger jets in for Bondi event

Irish beauty blogger Louise McDonnell.

Irish beauty blogger Louise McDonnell.

Top irish make-up artist and beauty blogger Louise McDonnell is on her way to Sydney for a one-off ‘masterclass’ event.

McDonnell, who runs LMD salon, is an established influencer in Ireland’s cosmetic industry with a robust social media following.

“I have been in Australia twice before and love the lifestyle there,” McDonnell told the Irish Echo from Ireland. “I have many friends who live there. With my large Australian following online, I decided it was time to bring one of my make-up masterclasses to Sydney.”

The masterclass event, to be held in Bondi Junction, will be unapologetically “girly”, she said.

“I love to create events which are a fun-filled girly days out. I provide lots of make-up expertise, tips and tricks along with a bit of craic. I cannot wait to come to Australia to sprinkle a bit of LMD magic on Sydney.”

McDonnell’s talents have attracted the attention of TV celebrities and she lists Katie Price, Chloe Ferry from Geordie Shore, Lauren Goodyear from The Only Way Is Essex and blogger Suzanne Jackson among her clients.

“I find celebrities very easy to work with, they are just normal people like me and you,” she said.

The masterclass event, which will be presented in association with the Irish-owned Headoffice hair salon, will take place at Easts Leagues Club on Friday, May 31 from 7pm. Tickets are $130. To book, click here.

Irish tradie killed in Sydney car crash

Image taken from the Nine News helicopter of the fatal M4 accident.

Image taken from the Nine News helicopter of the fatal M4 accident.

A 36-year-old Irish national has died following a major accident on Sydney’s M4 motorway this morning.

The man, a 36-year-old from Wentworthville, died after his citybound utility was struck by a light-rigid truck carrying beer kegs, about 5.50am (Thursday 9 May 2019), at the Church Street off-ramp at Mays Hill, NSW Police have said.

It’s believed 11 vehicles were involved in the crash, with five people taken to hospital for treatment to various injuries; however, only 10 vehicles stopped.

The man has not being named but his family is receiving Irish consular assistance.

Investigators believe a vehicle involved in the crash may have left the scene before speaking with police.

“While investigators are not suggesting the driver of the unknown vehicle caused the crash, they do believe they may have information which may clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident,” a NSW Police statement said.

Crash Investigation Unit Commander, Inspector Katie Orr, said police wanted to speak with the driver of the 11th vehicle to find out what they may have seen at the time of the crash.

“We want to speak with this driver to find what they know about the events leading up to the crash,” Inspector Orr said.

“We also want to speak with any drivers who may have witnessed the crash and left the area or have relevant dash-cam footage.”

All citybound lanes have now re-opened after being disrupted for more than five hours.

Sydney Irishman avoids jail over air-rage incident

Leroy Hyland took four times the recommended dose of sleeping pills on a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney.

Leroy Hyland took four times the recommended dose of sleeping pills on a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney.

A 26-year-old Irishman has avoided a jail sentence after pleading guilty to a range of charges associated with an air-rage incident in October.

Leroy Hyland took four times the recommended dose of sleeping pills before he covered his head in a blanket, pushed a flight attendant and tried to storm the cockpit on an Los Angeles to Sydney Delta Airlines flight. He had been in the US to attend the Conor McGregor fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov in Las Vegas.

Hyland, who lives in Randwick in Sydney's eastern suburbs and is on a temporary working visa, was carrying an 'unidentifiable black object' when he told the flight attendants he had been robbed of his wallet, passport and phone. The flight attendants offered to accompany Hyland back to his seat to find his supposedly missing possessions, Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court heard on Tuesday.

“At this time, using both of his hands, the defendant gave [one flight attendant] a hard shove to his shoulder causing the flight attendant to fall backwards onto [the second cabin crew],' a statement of facts said. “The defendant ran towards the cockpit door and began beating on the door with his fists.”

The banging was loud enough for the captain to hear and internal security procedures were activated.

United States air marshals were forced to restrain Hyland for the remainder of the flight.

“In an attempt to get away from the air marshal, the defendant turned and jumped over seat 6B into the adjacent aisle, stepping on the passenger seated in seat 6C,” the statement of facts said.

Eventually the air marshals were able to restrain Hyland and he spent the rest of the trip handcuffed next to them until the plan touched down in Sydney.

Hyland was deeply ashamed of his conduct, defence lawyer David Newham told the court.

“There's definitely been a lot of soul-searching for My Hyland after this very, very regrettable event that occurred last year,' Mr Newham said.

The court heard Hyland had taken two tablets of the over-the-counter sleeping pill Unisom, then when he felt no effect swallowed two more.

Magistrate Julie Huber said if Hyland had not taken the tablets it was unlikely the disturbance would have occurred.

“Of course, you took four times the recommended dosage,” Ms Huber said, according to the Daily Mail.

“You took it upon yourself to take four times the amount simply because you wanted to sleep. In many respects it is no different from having that extra glass of scotch or alcohol.”

Ms Huber noted Hyland's contrition and that the had co-operated with the air marshals once he was handcuffed.

“It would appear that this is an unusual event and that as far as personal deterrence is concerned the requirement is relatively low,” she said.

Hyland was facing a potential penalty of a $10,000 fine and two years in prison.

Ms Huber fined Hyland $4,000 for behaving in an offensive and disorderly manner and imposed two community corrections orders of two years and three years with a total of 550 hours of community service.

The Rocks to host St Patrick's Day festivities in 2020

Revellers at The Mercantile Hotel in The Rocks on St Patrick’s Day. Picture: PropertyNSW

Revellers at The Mercantile Hotel in The Rocks on St Patrick’s Day. Picture: PropertyNSW

The Rocks will again play host to Sydney’s St Patrick’s Day festivities in 2020, the Irish Echo has learned.

Despite more than 44mm of rain on St Patrick’s Day, thousands of revellers made their way to The Rocks for the official Irish celebrations.

The determination of the Irish community to celebrate the national day despite the appalling weather impressed Property NSW, who manage The Rocks area.

“Our vision to transform The Rocks into an Irish village was a great success, with our restaurants, bars and retailers, and the Sydney St Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival organisers worked hard to ensure visitors had the best experience possible, despite the weather,” spokeswoman Sarah Cleggett told the Irish Echo.

“The Rocks shares a rich history with the Irish in Sydney and we look forward to celebrating St Patrick’s Day here again next year.”

More than 600 people took part in the modified parade, which weaved its way through the narrow streets of The Rocks. Outside the Mercantile Hotel hundreds of revellers enjoying the live music cheered on the parade as it made its way up to Dawes Point Park, the festival site.

Karen Murphy, president of the Sydney Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival committee, was delighted that so many turned up to celebrate, despite the downpour.

Large crowds made their way to The Rocks on St Patrick’s Day despite the downpour.

Large crowds made their way to The Rocks on St Patrick’s Day despite the downpour.

“The Sydney St Patrick’ Day Organisation volunteers would like to thank the Irish, friends of the Irish and those who were Irish for the day who braved the rain, walked with the parade, splashed in the puddles and demonstrated that hail, rain or shine nothing stops the celebrations on St Patrick’s Day. We are so proud of you.

“We have come home to The Rocks and will return next year. A big thank you to Property NSW who manage The Rocks precinct for their help and support. They have now been adopted into the Sydney St Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival family. Looking forward to seeing everyone again next year.”

The rain eventually took its toll on the festival site at Dawes Point Park, which closed early, at 2pm.

The decision to go ahead with the volunteer-run event resulted in a big financial hot for organisers who are appealing for financial support from the community.

“Even though the day was a great success, the weather did mean that [we] took a financial hit,” Ms Murphy said. “The fact the park had to close early and the heavy rain meant that forecasted revenue and donations fell short. In order to make up for this the committee are planning a couple of exciting fundraising events. Alternatively you can donate using the donate button on the website.”

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

Irish boy Fox finds his voice in Australia

Entertainer Bobby Fox, who now calls Sydney home, was born in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford.

Entertainer Bobby Fox, who now calls Sydney home, was born in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford.

Bobby Fox had to come to Sydney to find his voice. And what a voice.

The Longford native is one of four featured singers in the new production of Saturday Night Fever, which opens at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney next week, the latest entry is his impressive showbiz resume.

Fox is now an established star of Australian musical theatre with credits ranging from Jersey Boys to Hot Shoe Shuffle to Spamalot to Assassins. But it was Irish dancing that originally steered him towards a life in showbiz.

“All my upbringing was Irish music and Irish dancing,” he tells the Irish Echo at Saturday Night Fever rehearsals in Sydney. “When I first came to Australia I wanted to expand my horizons as a dancer but I absolutely needed a break from Irish dancing.”

He had performed and toured internationally with Riverdance as well as a number of spin-off shows.

“I was a champion dancer up to the time I joined Riverdance in 1998 but that was when I became passionate, that’s when the passion went ‘click’ and I just wanted to perform.”

Fox relished his time with Riverdance and describes the ensemble as “the very best”. He went on to join a show called Dancing On Dangerous Ground, in which he performed in London and in New York, at the Radio City Music Hall. He then joined To Dance On The Moon, a smaller Irish dance show. It was this production that first brought him to Australia in 2002. But he knew it was time for a change.

“I was doing a performing arts course in Sydney and one of the elements was song ‘prep’. So I had to put a song together and perform it for the class. Everyone around me was saying ‘you have to come back to Australia’.”

He says he owes a debt of gratitude to the couple who ran the course, Elena and Mario De Cinque of ED5 International, who helped him apply and ultimately secure his residency.

“They researched the visa pathway and gave me the money to pay for it. They just said ‘pay us back when you have the money’. Three weeks after I got my residency I got a call to say I had a part in the Sydney production of Mamma Mia. As soon as I had my first couple of paychecks I said ‘thanks lads’ and I was on my way.”

Bobby Fox at rehearsals for Saturday Night Fever in Sydney.

Bobby Fox at rehearsals for Saturday Night Fever in Sydney.

If Mamma Mia was the springboard, Jersey Boys was the splash hit.

The stage musical, which dramatises the remarkable real-life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, premiered in Sydney in 2010.

The show had won Tony and Olivier awards in New York and London as well as a Grammy for best recording of a musical so expectations were high for the Australian production.

The Edgeworthstown man’s ability to master Frankie Valli’s trademark falsetto was key to him securing the role and he was given the nod by the singer himself.

“I had sung falsetto before but I didn’t think it was that special,” he says. “I could sing before Jersey Boys but Jersey Boys taught me how to sing. I learned how to do it safely, how to clarify it, how to expand the sound, how to take it from just hitting the note nice and sharp to it being something that bellowed through walls.”

Fox went on to perform the role almost 1,000 times around Australia leading to other musical theatre roles in Blood Brothers, Oklahoma and the Australian musical Ladies in Black, which toured nationally and for which he received a Green Room Award nomination. In 2017, he performed in Assassins for which he received a Helpmann Award nomination. On screen, Fox’s credits include Upper Middle Bogan, It’s a Date, Tricky Business and House Husbands. He also appeared in the feature film The Cup. He is also one of Australia’s most in demand corporate and event entertainers.

He admits to creative restlessness and says likes to expand his musical resume along the way.

“I know there’s always something more to me. If I was doing the same thing all the time I would explode.”

In Saturday Night Fever, he is one of four star vocalists along with Paulini, Marcia Hines and Nat Conway, performing songs like How Deep Is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive and More Than A Woman. His involvement, he says, came about through his girlfriend.

“My partner Mel [actress, singer and model Melanie Hawkins] who plays Stephanie, was auditioning for the show so we watched the movie together. That was the first time I had actually seen it. I was obviously familiar with the music and I’m such a big fan of disco. The craftsmanship of the tunes is second to none.”

Fox, whose sister Lisa is an accomplished actor and performer in Ireland, will soon get a chance to

channel his Irish heritage in his own show, The Irish Boy, in which he will sing, dance and reveal his other musical skills on the button accordion and the bodhrán.

“What I want to do is take the traditional and combine it with what’s happening now. I want to replicate that session feel like when the craic’s on and the tunes are good..”

Dubliner Enda Markey, who is producing the show, said, “Bobby is one of the most charming and charismatic performers in the country, and it’s been a real labour of love to be able to develop The Irish Boy with him to create a unique celebration of our home country, showcasing Bobby’s incredible talents.”

It will also give Fox a change to dance again. Last year, while performing Assassins at The Sydney Opera House, he fell on stage during his big number on opening night, breaking his foot.

“It will be a year in June since that happened,” he says. “I’m keen to get the feet moving again.”

Cider brand sues GAA over Sydney Irish Festival

An ad for last November’s Sydney irish Festival which ran into problems over poor ticket sales.

An ad for last November’s Sydney irish Festival which ran into problems over poor ticket sales.

The widely-criticised Sydney Irish Festival, which took place in November, is now part of a legal claim against the GAA.

The manufacturer of Bulmers is suing the GAA in Ireland’s High Court, claiming it reneged on a deal to put the cider brand on tap in Croke Park, according to The Times.

In its action Bulmers, owned by C&C Group, is claiming it had an agreement for “pouring rights” in GAA headquarters. But the liquor company also wants to recover sponsorship money it claims it is owed relating to the Sydney Irish Festival, a GAA event in Australia last November, because the event did not go ahead in the way it had been presented to the cider company.

It is understood that C&C Group believed that sponsorship of the festival was linked to securing “pouring rights” in Croke Park.

The two-day festival in Sydney, which was sponsored by Magners, as Bulmers is known in Australia, was reduced to a one-day event due to lower than expected ticket sales. Held in the Sydney Showground, the festival included a hurling match on November 11 between league champions Kilkenny and Galway, the All-Ireland champions of 2017.

Plans for a “family fun day” on November 10, featuring hurling clinics, amusement rides, player autograph sessions, activities for kids and a Guinness World Records attempt to make the world’s biggest Irish stew, were all cancelled just five days before the event.

Galway revellers at the ill-fated Sydney Irish Festival.

Galway revellers at the ill-fated Sydney Irish Festival.

Well-known ballad singer Mary Black, urban folk performer Damien Dempsey, electro-folk outfit Saint Sister and enduringly popular trad band Lúnasa had been scheduled to perform on the first day of the weekend festival. The announcement of the change was met with disappointment and rancour, especially from those who had booked travel from other states and/or time off work. The late change left them out of pocket on air fares and accommodation.

Many patrons who attended the event were quick to criticise the organisation of the day with long queues for the bars. When some reached the top of a long queue, they were further frustrated to find out they could only get two drinks per person.

Paul Sergeant of Paul Sergeant Events, who was the local organiser of the festival, told The Irish Echo that the hurling had been a huge success but “we were deeply disappointed that we had to make the difficult decision to cancel the Saturday events and we apologise for the inconvenience it will have caused.

“There has been plenty of positive feedback about the day but it was spoilt for some by their experience at the bars. The venue operator has to adhere by RSA [responsible service of alcohol] requirements specific to every event, hence the drinks limit and bar closure times,” Paul Sergeant said.

“We have discussed the issue of lengthy queues with the venue operator and they apologise for being unable to meet the huge demand.”

Asked if another festival is planned for the coming years, Mr Sergeant replied: “The 2018 event was very much a test event. A thorough de-brief will be held … and that will determine what happens in the future.”

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.