Category Archives: Irish diaspora in Australia

WW1 Victoria Cross begins a journey back to Ireland.

Richard Bennett, Curator, Army Museum of Western Australia with Martin O’Meara’s V.C.

This morning in Fremantle, at the Army Museum of Western Australia, a short ceremony took place to farewell the Victoria Cross of Martin O’Meara, who was the only Irish born winner of the V.C. in Australian service in World War 1. The medal is making a journey back to Ireland on loan to the National Museum of Ireland for 12 months. This is the first time any V.C. in public ownership in Australia has been permitted to leave the country. A truly remarkable co-operation between the two countries!

The Tipperary man won the Victoria Cross because of his astonishing acts of bravery over a number of days at the height of fighting at Pozières, France, in August 1916, saving the lives of 20 men. Martin had emigrated to Australia around 1912 and there he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in 1915 and ended up in France. He was awarded the V.C. by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21, July 1917. He subsequently visited his family briefly in Tipperary before returning to the front.

The war never ended for Martin, as following his return from service in 1918, he spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals, with much of it in straitjackets. His torment ended with his death some 17 years later in 1935.

Marty Kavanagh, Honorary Consul of Ireland with Maj. Henry Fijolek and Neil Daley of the War Museum at the Museum in Fremantle.

This historic event, happening just 102 years after the King honoured him, is yet another fascinating chapter in the story of Martin O’Meara. It will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland by the end of this week and a truly significant homecoming is guaranteed.

These images were taken by my friend Leith Landauer this morning. Leith, fascinated by this Irishman, researched and shared and promoted Martin’s story over the years. It is very fitting that she too is making her way back to Ireland, having attended the leaving in Fremantle she will be here for the welcome in Dublin and to see it proudly displayed at Collins Barracks.

My earlier posts on Martin’s story can be seen here and here

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Irish V.C. honoured in Western Australia

The Irish tricolour flutters in Perth Western Australia. (Image ©thesilvervoice)

Something very special happens when you turn a corner 15,000 kilometers from home to see the Irish tricolour fluttering in a stiff breeze! Such was my experience yesterday as I attended a wreath laying event at Western Australia’s State War Memorial in King’s Park in Perth.

Regular readers will be aware of my journey of discovery of tragic Co.Tipperary man Martin O’Meara, winner of a Victoria Cross while in the service of the Australian Imperial Force in World War 1. See earlier posts here and here.

The Western Australia State War Memorial is dramatically located on Mount Eliza which overlooks Perth Water and consists of a main obelisk and a Court of Contemplation that includes the Eternal Flame.

A series of plaques surround the Eternal Flame. These commemorate V.C and George Cross Recipients (Image. ©Thesilvervoice)

Irishman Martin O’Meara V.C is included on these plaques.

The plaque dedicated to Martin O’Meara V.C (Image ©thesilvervoice)

The Irish Minister of State in the Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton was over from Ireland for St Patrick’s festivities and joined members of the RSLWA  (Returned & Services League of Western Australia) in honouring the State’s War Dead by laying a wreath at the eternal flame. This was followed by the laying of a wreath at the plaque in honour of Martin O’Meara V.C.  Minister Stanton,who was accompanied by Mr. Marty Kavanagh – Honorary Consul of Ireland, Western Australia, co-incidentally is the public representative for my constituency of East Cork, Ireland.

The beautifully simple ceremony was attended by people with an interest in matters Irish, and was facilitated by the former soldiers of the RSLWA, many of whom I believe had served in Vietnam. They looked resplendent in their medals and uniforms.

Minister Stanton paid tribute to the many Irish who served Australia and other nations across the globe.

Minister Stanton lays a wreath of laurel from the Government of Ireland on the plaque dedicated to Martin O’Meara. (Image Ⓒthesilvervoice)

 

The Last Post is sounded…always a poignant moment!

It is really heartwarming that so many emigrants from Ireland and their descendants remain very proud of their roots and celebrate, commemorate and honour  fellow countrymen whenever the occasion arises. The Irish Community in Western Australia is particularly active in this way!

References

http://www.bgpa.wa.gov.au

 

 

 

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The boy ‘full of frolicsome fun’ who went mad: Martin O’Meara V.C.

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Martin O’Meara

One hundred years ago, less than four months after Ireland’s Easter Rising, a 30 year-old Irishman from County Tipperary was caught up with tens of thousands of others in the bloody Battle of the Somme. This was Martin O’ Meara, whose tragic and sad story has captivated many. My personal story of discovery is here: Discovering Martin O’Meara V.C. & The Psychological Cost of World War One. Martin O’Meara had left the small rural farm in Co Tipperary where he was raised and eventually ended up in Western Australia. Not far from Perth, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was sent to France. The very first action the encountered by the 16th Battalion  was on the killing fields of the Somme, at Mouquet Farm near Pozières, France. On these days a century ago, between Wednesday the 9th and  Saturday 12th August 1916, Martin O’Meara astonished his Australian Expeditionary Force officers with acts of daring bravery and courage. His military records contain eye witness accounts of his actions during battle as follows:

“On the night of 8/9 August, I saw Private O’Meara go out into ‘No Man’s Land’ where it was being severely shelled and remove wounded to places of safety where he rendered first aid and subsequently assisted to carry them down to the Dressing Station. I personally saw him remove not less than 6 men, mostly of the 15th Battalion, A.I.F. and the Suffolk Battalion. One of the wounded whom I saw him remove in this is Lieut. Fogarty of the 15th Battalion . A.I F.”  – Captain Ross Harwood.

“Late in the afternoon of the 12th instant, after my Company had been relieved in the front firing line, I noticed Lieut. Carse of the No.4 Machine Gun Company, lying wounded in a sap which was at that time out off from the rear by a very heavy barrage. In order to go to the assistance of this officer No. 3970 Private O’Meara with great gallantry and utmost fearlessness went through the barrage and subsequently assisted to bring him down to the Regimental Aid Post”  – Captain A McLeod.

“On the morning  of the 11th August, O’Meara was on scouting duty in ‘No Man’s Land’. At this time some three machine guns were firing over the section of ground which he was examining, and it was also being very heavily shelled with H.E shells.  About ten minutes after I saw him going over the parapet into ‘No Man’s Land’. I saw him return carrying a wounded man whom he had found lying in a shell hole in ‘No Man’s Land’. Having dressed the wounds of this man he returned to ‘No Man’s Land’ in pursuance of his duty as a Scout. My notice was again drawn to this man on the morning of the 12th when the section of  trench occupied by my company was being heavily bombarded by H.E and Shrapnel. I withdrew the garrison to either flank from one portion that was in process of being completely obliterated which subsequently happened; one man failed to get out in time and was buried. O’Meara, despite the overwhelming fire, at once rushed to the spot, extricated the man concerned and thereby undoubtedly saved his life. During the advance of the Battalion, on the night of 9/10th a number of men were wounded and left lying on the ground over which the advance had been made and subsequently on the 11/12th runners and carriers who had occasion to cross this area were wounded there. I saw O’Meara on many occasions on the 10/11/12th August search the ground for wounded to whom he rendered first aid, and whom he subsequently brought in or assisted to bring in  “  – Major P Black.

“I saw O’Meara on a number of occasions attending to or bringing in wounded men from an area over which the Battalion had advanced and from ‘No Man’s Land’. I estimate that the number of men rescued by him is not less than 20. At times when he was carrying out this work of mercy, the shrapnel and machine gun fire was intense beyond description. I cannot state who these men were – they were mostly members of the 15th Battalion, A.I.F  and the Suffolk Battalion , but I am able to identify Lieut. FOGARTY of the 15th Battalion , A.I.F to whom he rendered first aid and whom he subsequently brought into trench.This officer had been wounded and had been lying in ‘No Man’s Land’ for about 4 hours: the enemy fire at this point was so dense that it had been impossible to make a search for wounded, but such conditions did not deter O’Meara “ – Lieutenant F. Wadge.

”I respectfully beg to draw your attention to the conduct of No. 3970 Private O’MEARA, M., during the recent operations of this Battalion. Private O’Meara is the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen; besides doing the very arduous duties imposed on him, by reason of his being in the Scouting Section, efficiently and cheerfully, this man used to fill in his time bringing in wounded under all conditions. Private O’Meara is always cheerful and optimistic, will volunteer for any job, and can be trusted to carry any duty through with the utmost certainty. During Friday night’s operations I required more ammunition and bombs on the left Sector, most of the reserve stocks having been buried owing to there being no communication saps, and the perfect hail of shells that were blowing the parapets to pieces, I would not detail anyone for this job. O’Meara went on his own initiative to the Battalion Dump twice, returning with S.A.A. and Bombs; on his second return he managed to guide a fatigue party across and relieved us of our shortage. During these trips he located wounded men and carried 3 of them back to the Dressing Station. This man has been responsible for the evcuaton of at least 20 men under conditions that are indescribable.’‘ – Lieut. W. J. Lynas

”On the night of the 11/12th August, that section of the Front Line occupied by ‘D’ Company was intensely shelled. All communication trenches were blown in as well as  cosiderable portion of the Front system of trenches. It was discovered that the supply of S.A.A. was very short, and that all bombs and flares for signalling purposes had been buried: An Infantry assault was expected to succeed the barrage. O’Meara volunteered to go down to the Regimental Dump and procure ammunition, bombs and flares. He made this trip twice and on both occasions staggered back under a very heavy load of the munitions required” – Lt. R.S Somerville 

On the evening of the 12th instant, after my Battaion had been relieved I met O’Meara near CHALK PITS going in the direction of POZIERS. He has previously been sent down as a guide to ‘D’ Company. When I asked him where he was going he informed me that he had just heard of 2 wounded men from the Battalion who had no been brought in from ‘No man’s Land’. He was subsequently seen by Lieut. Cook in the front trenches. The following day the attached note was received from him by my Scout Officer. During the latter stages of the relief of the Battalion a very heavy German artillery barrage was put down over the Communication trenches south of POZIERS. In order to carry out his mission of mercy this man voluntary returned through the barrage referred to after having reached a position of comparative safety.” E Drake Brockman, Lieut-Colonel, Major-General, Comdg, 4th AUSTRALIAN DIVISION

The terrible fighting that took place at Pozières and Mouquet Farm over less than seven weeks resulted in 23,000 Australian casualties, with 6,800 dead. Charles Bean, an Australian war historian described some of the horror ..

The reader must take for granted many of the conditions – the flayed land, shell–hole bordering shell–hole, corpses of young men lying against the trench walls or in shell–holes; some – except for the dust settling on them – seeming to sleep; others torn in half; others rotting, swollen and discoloured. 

Add to this the deafening noise, the exhaustion, the sights and sounds of screaming men, the rats, the trenches – this was a scene of horror that must have impacted all those who were there.

The image below was photographed on August 28 1916, at  The “Gibraltar” bunker, Pozières. A fatigue party laden with sandbags heads for the fighting at Mouquet Farm. and shows the total devastation caused by the barrage of shells that rained down on the area.

Heading for the fighting at Mouquet Farm (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Martin O’Meara was awarded a Victoria Cross, the citation for which was published in the Supplement to the London Gazette of Friday 9, September 1916:

No. 3970 Pte. Martin O’Meara, Aus. Infy. For most conspicuous bravery. During four days of very heavy fighting he repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from “No Man’s Land” under intense artillery and machine gun fire. He also volunteered and carried up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches, which was being heavily shelled at the time. He showed throughout an utter contempt of danger, and undoubtedly saved many lives.

I was delighted to have had the opportunity to see first hand the actual Victoria Cross presented to Martin O’Meara by  King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21 July 1917.

Martin O'Meara's Victoria Cross

Martin O’Meara’s Victoria Cross

O’Meara was wounded and was returned to England for treatment. Meanwhile news of his Victoria Cross award had reached Tipperary and there was great jubilation in the area. The local newspaper, the Nenagh Guardian of Sept 30, 1916, described him as ‘a bright lively boy full of frolicsome fun and a keen lover of sport’. He was welcomed back to Tipperary in October and on the 24th of that month he attended a meeting at nearby Borrisokane and thanked the gathering for their congratulations and for agreeing to take up a collection in his honour.

He rejoined the ANZACS but returned again to Tipperary in October 1917, where his demeanor was described as ‘strange’. He had failed to attend an event in Lorrha where his sister accepted a gold watch purchased from proceeds of the collection and the balance of £150. As a serving soldier he was not permitted to accept the money but it was held in trust for him. Martin was wounded three times during the war. He was  returned to Australia in November 1918 before the end of the war and almost immediately was hospitalized suffering from a mental breakdown. At what stage did the breakdown happen? Was it after the Mouquet Farm actions for which he won the V.C.? Was it a slow process that began to overcome him while on active service?  Reading the accounts above given by the officers in the field, one would wonder what drove him to be so courageous and to put himself in such danger to carry out the deeds in the first place. Did the breakdown happen before he returned to Australia? Was that the real reason he was sent home early? There are many unanswered questions regarding Martin and his mental illness. Shellshock was a relatively new phenomenon and was often seen as ‘malingering’ when displayed in regular soldiers. Treatment was in its infancy and there is no doubt but that his condition was both misunderstood and treated in a very basic fashion, certainly in the early days.

The  bright lively boy full of frolicsome fun who ran and played  in the green fields of Tipperary, the efficient,cheerful and optimistic soldier who went into battle, had gone mad.  Martin O’Meara, the hero of Pozières was incarcerated in mental institutions for the rest of his days, often restrained  in a strait jacket, often violent, often hearing voices. He died after 17 years in torment on 20 December 1935  and lies in this lonely plot in a vast graveyard in Western Australia.

Martin O Meara, the once bright lively boy full of frolicsome fun, lies in this lonely grave in Western Australia.

Martin O Meara V.C.  lies in this lonely grave in Western Australia.

After his death, the Catholic parish priest in Lorrha Co Tipperary went to court to have Martin’s bequest for the restoration of the old Abbey  in the village set aside and instead used to provide a pair of confessionals in the Church with the balance to be used for the building of Redwood school. An ironic enough situation given that the local clergy did not attend the event held in Martin’s honour many years earlier. The £150 pounds had become £370. 9 shillings and 1 penny by 1939. £60 pounds was expended on the confessionals and after expenses of £8. 8 shillings the balance of £362.1s.1d was allocated to Redwood school. This was a substantial sum in 1939 – equivalent to about €18,400 in modern currency. It is to he hoped that the pupils of that school are familiar with the story of the local hero, Martin O’Meara who played sport in the area just as they do and who loved having fun, who so courageously looked after his comrades in terrible circumstances. It is to be hoped that he is more to them than a name  inscribed on a local memorial in Lorrha village and on a small brass plaque in the Catholic church.

In Western Australia Martin O’Meara is well and proudly remembered nowadays by the Irish community, in particular Fred Rea of ‘The Australian Irish Scene’ and Ian Loftus and he is commemorated in Collie where he enlisted, as well as at the State War Memorial in Perth’s Kings Park on an annual basis. My good friend Leith Landauer who is a  guide at Kings Park first introduced me to Martin’s story. She has done trojan work to highlight the sacrifice he made for fellow Australians.

Martin O’Meara V.C.

November 6 1885 – December 20 1935

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

Oh, The Pity of War.

Wilfred Owen – Mental Cases

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, – but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands’ palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

– These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them, 
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable, and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense 
Sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.
– Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
– Thus their hands are plucking at each other; 
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness

References

National Archives of Australia Records

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Charles Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume III, p. 728

War image is from the Collection Database of the  Australian War Memorial ID Number: EZ0098

https://ianloftus.com/martin-omeara-vc/the-most-fearless-and-gallant-soldier-i-have-ever-seen/www.awm.gov.au

http://www.seamusjking.com

Army Museum of Western Australia

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Remembering Derryveagh Evictions 9 April 1861

Yesterday on 8 April I  reposted a blog commemorating the 1st day of evictions from Derryveagh County Donegal on this day in 1861. This post, Derryveagh Evictions 1: Shattered homes, shattered lives, can be seen here. Today I  the continue the series with the events of day 2 of the evictions on 9 April 1861.

Derryveagh Evictions II: Shattered Hearths

On April 9th 1861, the second day of the Derryveagh Evictions, the Deputy Sheriff and his 200 men, armed with battering rams and crowbars made their way through the townlands of Derryveagh. Their purpose was to clear the land of men, women and children to make way for the flocks of sheep that landlord John George Adair had imported from Scotland. Convinced that one of his stewards had been murdered by his tenants, and vexed that the murderers had not been identified by police, he set in train a legal process to evict all of them from his lands.

The townlands of Derryveagh where the evictions took place. Click to enlarge. Compiled from Historic and OSI maps – With many thanks to Sara Nylund.

According to the official report, 37 Husbands, 35 Wives, 159 Children and 13 ‘Other Inmates’ were evicted – a total of 244 people. Of these, 31 people, representing 4 families, were readmitted into possession as tenants, and a further 28 people, representing 6 families, were readmitted into possession as caretakers. These numbers include children. Eventually however, only 3 of these families were permanently reinstated, the rest were removed in the months after the main evictions. In Derryveagh, on those 3 terrible days, 28 of the 46 houses were either levelled or had the roof removed.

Accounts of the evictions and the effects on the families concerned make for harrowing reading. The first house to be levelled was that of a 60-year-old widow, Hanna Ward (Award), her 6 daughters and one son. Eyewitness accounts tell of the wailing and deep distress as they were forced from their home. When the ‘crowbar brigade’ began to demolish the house, the family ”became frantic with despair, throwing themselves to the ground; their terrifying cries resounding along the mountains for many miles”. It was said that ”those who witnessed their agony will never forget the sight”. This scene was repeated over and over again during the following few days. It was reported that the scenes were so harrowing that the policemen carrying out the evictions were moved to tears. In one house, an elderly man was repeatedly told by the sheriff to leave the house, and “the old man in doing so, kissed the walls of his house and each member of his family did the same”. There was no regard for individual circumstances  – no mercy was shown to Rose Dermott, an orphan, whose house was levelled just the same as those of 3 of her close neighbours, although a brother and sister who were both deaf and dumb had their house spared.

Such unimaginable terror was in itself bad enough, but the evicted families and their children had to find someplace to live. In the townland of Altnadogue for example, three Sweeney families with 18 children between them, were locked out of their homes. They moved to nearby Glendowan, away from Adair lands, and built sod houses for themselves. Hearing of the evictions, people in nearby Cloughaneely provided temporary shelter for some of the families. One family in Staghall, a man his wife and two children,were found to still be living in the ruins of their house some time later. The family had lived there for generations. A further group of five men were discovered huddled around a fire with no shelter as they were unwilling to move away. A month after the evictions, 14 families were still unaccounted for or were wandering through the ruins of their homes.

Six families found shelter with or near to, relatives and friends, but 13 families had to take refuge in the Workhouse in Letterkenny. In the Workhouse it was reported that the Derryveagh people sat in a huddle weeping, and were so distressed that they were unable to eat. The elderly John Doherty of Castletown died only days after being admitted to the Workhouse and Michael Bradley is said to have gone insane.

News of the evictions and the desperate plight of the dispossessed reached Irish people across the world. In Dublin, in France and in Australia  money was collected. The Donegal Relief Committee assisted young people from Derryveagh in making new lives in Australia. On January 18th 1862, emotional and heart-rending scenes once again broke the hearts of the people of Derryveagh as parents and friends bade farewell to 68 young men, 70 young women and a young married couple with their 2 small children, as they left Derryveagh forever on the long journey to Australia, probably never to return.

Over the next few years, many mostly young people emigrated from this locality – they headed to America, to Australia, to New Zealand.

References:

Dolan, Liam. 1980. Land War and Eviction in Derryveagh, 1840- 65. Annaverna Press.

McClintock, May. After the Battering Ram- the trail of the dispossessed from Derryveagh, 1861- 1991. An Taisce Pamphlet

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Official Statistic Report of the Evictions

Donegal Relief Fund- Australia. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources

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The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia

DSCF6392I discovered this beautiful building on a recent trip to Perth, Western Australia, when on a mission to find out about an  Irish bishop who had fallen foul of the powers that be in Rome in the mid 19th Century. Somehow I seem to have missed St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth,officially the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on earlier visits. This is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, which is ever so slightly off the beaten track in that relatively small city. It certainly ranks among the most fascinating buildings I have visited as it has a fascinating story.

The history of this magnificent building spans three centuries. Officially opened in 1865, it has been a work in progress almost ever since, as it was only finally completed and officially reopened in December 2009. I engage with architecture at a very superficial level – if I like it, I will look at it – but I do know that this is a special place,unique because of the distinctive way architecture from various eras has been beautifully fused together to make a remarkable whole. Not unsurprisingly, at least to this layperson, this building has won an architectural award for the brilliance of its design. These are a few of my snaps which I hope might give a feel for this beautiful structure.

The original cathedral was begun in 1863. Bishop Serra went to Rome and secured donations in the form of money and marble for the altar, which arrived in Western Australia in 1862. The foundation stone was laid in 1863 by Bishop Salvado. Masons from the Benedictine monastery in Subiaco walked each day to the construction site, but progress was determined by the flow of funds, or lack of them from a small catholic congregation of about  5,000.  Eventually the cathedral was blessed and officially opened in January 1865.

The foundation stone of the original structure

The foundation stone of the original structure

 

The original building  was relatively simple with a square bell tower.

The Cathedral in 1865 on the left, with Mercedes College on the right

The Cathedral in 1865 on the left, with Mercedes College (Catholic Girls School) on the right

Between then and 1910 alterations were carried out, including the addition of a spire to the bell tower and the addition of two porches. As the catholic population continued to grow Archbishop Clune, the first Archbishop of Perth, (an Irishman – more in next post), set about fundraising for the enlargement of the cathedral. The foundation stone for the new addition was laid in 1926.

Archbishop Clune lays Foundation Stone in 1926

Archbishop Clune lays Foundation Stone in 1926

Stained glass windows were manufactured in Birmingham, England and beautiful mosaic floors based on the Book of Kells were modelled by an Australian company. However,it became impossible to raise funds to complete the envisaged building and work was halted due to the Great Depression. The Gothic style sanctuary and transepts were grafted on to the existing 1865 nave. The incomplete cathedral was blessed in May 193o with thousands in attendance.

Huge crowds attended the opening in 1930

Huge crowds attended the opening in 1930

The original plain building  and its nave to the front with the bell tower and two porches, has been attached to a new more elaborate extension – much more reminiscent of a cathedral. The outbreak of World war 2 after the great depression meant that plans to complete the cathedral were put on hold indefinitely due to lack of funds.

The structure was a protected heritage building and the need for repairs became clear in the 1990s. The bell tower was crumbling and there was extensive rising damp. Fundraising began and following a bequest of 2 million dollars plans to complete the cathedral could finally be brought to fruition.  Still short of funds, the state stepped in with a contribution of 2 million dollars, and a further 3 million from the federal government. Finally the cathedral was closed in 2006 and building began.

The story of the construction is great reading in itself as the bell tower had to be moved a considerable distance and of course there was always the danger that the entire structure could collapse with the ground excavations going on.  In effect the 1865 nave was taken out and a huge hole dug in the ground for parish facilities below with the new cathedral part above. During construction remains of earlier bishops were uncovered so it was decided to incorporate a crypt  beneath the new altar. Costs soared to over 32 million dollars by the time the building was completed in 2009. (Those interested in the technical construction details may read more here)

The result is remarkable with the modern part sitting in the middle of the earlier structures. Perched on a hill, it is indeed an imposing and beautiful building.

 

A most spectacular building on the outside, but inside it is a wonderful  space.

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The modern central aisle leading to the circular altar, with the 1930 stained glass window beyond

It looks like a traditional church from the entrance, but with wonderful light that spills in from the high windows that open to help deal with the heat of the Perth summer. The modern Stations of the Cross are remarkable in that they are two strips of three-dimensional images, and each face has been modelled on a real person.

The mosaics are behind the main altar in the 1930s section. Clearly based on the Book of Kells, the floor was split from one side to another during an earthquake on 14 October 1968.

The stained glass windows and  side altars from the 1930s building also survive.

The is an amazing trinity of buildings, each having its own characteristics, yet all blend beautifully to form this wonderful space. A fabulous feat of architecture and well worth a visit!

 

 

Further reading

Technical details of the construction

A wide angle professional photo of the interior

 

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The sun never sets …on Donegal places?

 

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Sun setting over Bushland in Australia

In James Joyce’s Ulysses,Mr.Deasy asks Stephen Dedalus what an Englishman’s proudest boast is. Stephen replies:“That on his empire..the sun never sets”. The saying came to mind on a recent trip to Australia as I came across a brand new development of some 250 houses in a relatively remote area.

The phrase ‘the sun never sets’ is familiar to many. Early reference was in relation to the 16th Century Spanish Empire that had extended well beyond its own borders and included vast tracts of Europe,North Africa,the Philippines and the Americas. Francis Bacon wrote :both the East and the West Indies being met in the crown of Spain, it is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them which, to say truly, is a beam of glory”. In the 19th Century it was the British Empire on which the sun never set.

Fast forward to more recent times, we now speak of globalization, emigration, diaspora.These concepts have largely replaced the might of empire,of conquest and supremacy. We Irish have down the centuries, spread out across the globe with tens of millions now claiming Irish descent.We have become people of influence in far-flung places and communities. Historically, invaders and conquerors applied their own placenames to their new lands – for example New York, Norfolk Island, San Francisco. Nor is there anything new about places being named from areas where immigrants settled, whether they arrived there involuntarily or otherwise. New York State has an Ulster County,Pennsylvania has a Dublin and Limerick is to be found in about 10 different locations in the USA.

In Western Australia the school attended by my grandchildren is at the edge of bushland, on the outskirts of a small village nestled under the Perth Hills, about 45 kilometers north of Perth City. Here kangaroos roam in the evenings,emus wander about and parrots make their noisy presence felt. Part of the bushland near to the schoolgate has now been cleared to make way for a housing estate. Not just any housing estate,but a housing estate whose roads and streets are named after villages I know well in my native Donegal, Ireland, some 10,000 miles away! Where snakes emus, cockatoos, scorpions, ants and a huge diversity of species roamed and foraged in a rich scrubland of eucalyptus, acacia, and tussocked grasslands, there now will be Donegal Entrance,Ballybofey Loop,Fintown Street,Killybegs Street,Doochary Street,Letterkenny Road, Ardara Road,Bundoran Street,Lifford Street,and Narin Loop! (Narin I presume began life as the correctly spelled ‘Nairn’)

 

While I do wonder that indigenous and local names might be more appropriate, I can’t help but also wonder if the residents will ever know the origins of their street names and the beautiful places they represent. Will they ever know that  Fintown sits on the shores of the dark waters of Lough Finn; that the beach on Narin is one of Ireland’s most beautiful; that Killybegs is famous for its fishing fleet; that Donegal refers to an entire county in the north-west of Ireland,as well as a town,and that the town has a castle; that Ballybofey sits on the banks of the River Finn; that Doochary is derived from the Irish language and means ‘the black weir’ and that here Irish is the spoken language; that Ardara has one of the most amazing views in the world at Glengesh Pass; that Bundoran is spectacularly situated on Donegal Bay on the world famous Wild Atlantic Way; that Lifford is the county town and dates from the 16th century; that Letterkenny is County Donegal’s largest town and is perched on a series of hills and has one of Ireland’s largest Celtic Crosses?  Probably not! And in all probability too the new local pronunciation will make the street names unrecognizable to anyone from Donegal.

I am assuming that the developer has a connection with Donegal or at least with Ireland. He has ensured that the names of these Donegal beauty spots will become part of the lives of  over 200 families,and perhaps even some from those very places, some 10,000 miles away.

Is this a ‘beam of glory’ for Donegal people? Should we be proud that our global reach is such that we now influence naming of places,without having had to conquer,or intimidate,or arrive as convicts. Instead we are just settling in and settling down in places where we have actually chosen to live? Before long perhaps, the sun will never set on Donegal placenames!

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish diaspora in Australia

C. Y. O’Connor, a tragic genius

C.Y.O'Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port

C.Y.O’Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port

At the entrance to Fremantle Harbour, south of Perth, is an imposing statue some 12 feet high, of a man who changed the face of Western Australia during a period of ten years or so at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is Charles Yelverton O’Connor, Engineer-in-Chief in the colony from 1891 to 1902. At the base of the statue are plaques depicting his most notable engineering achievements – Fremantle Harbour, the Darling Scarp Railway Tunnel, and the Mundaring Weir, the starting point for the world-renowned Goldfields water supply.

Adjacent to the statue is a further tribute from his Engineering peers and the Port Authority.

Revered for his genius, he is commemorated, respected and admired particularly in Western Australia, yet is practically unknown in his native Ireland, his home for 21 years, and a land that remained close to his heart for all of his life.

Gravelmount,Co Meath. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Gravelmount, Co Meath. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Born on January 11, 1843 at Gravelmount House, Castletown, County Meath, Charles Yelverton O’Connor was named after his maternal grandfather Charles O’Keefe, and his grandmother’s family, the Yelvertons of Cork and Tipperary. His father John farmed around Castletown where the family enjoyed country living in  their beautifully appointed three storey residence. John, working both as a magistrate and a farmer, saw the deprivations brought about by the Famine in his locality. It is said locally that he mortgaged all he had to buy grain and food for his deprived and hungry neighbours. He seems to have run out of money as a result of his benevolence, so in 1850 he moved to a small house in County Waterford. Charles was now aged 6 but it is understood that he, together with his younger sister, stayed in Meath with an aunt, John’s sister, Mrs Martha Garnett of Summerseat, near Clonee. When Charles was older he rejoined his family in Waterford where, according to his biographer Merab Tauman, he attended Bishop Foy’s School in Catherine Street. This is disputed in a more recent work by A.G.Evans who says that he was probably educated at the Waterford Academy. In any event, at the age of 17 Charles expressed an interest in civil engineering and was articled to the engineer John Chaloner Smith who was at that time building railways in Ireland. Between 1859  and 1864, Charles was involved in the construction of various rail links, including the Nenagh Extension, and was Assistant Engineer in charge of the construction of several weirs on the River Bann in the North of Ireland. In 1898 he was to write a letter in which he stated it was here on the Bann that he had ”exceptional opportunity of realising the conditions and forces which had to be dealt with in flood time”

On Christmas Eve 1864, C.Y. O’Connor emigrated to New Zealand where immigration and gold discoveries created a demand for big engineering projects. For the next several years C.Y. as he was known, was involved in identification of routes, constructing roads, bridges and railway lines. He created routes up over steep mountains, across raging rivers and deep gorges ,opening up access to the recently discovered goldfields. One of his first projects was the Otira Gorge section of the road to the West Coast goldfields. He was also responsible for several harbour improvements on the rugged west coast, facilitating  increasing coal and timber exports from New Zealand. During some twenty-five years in New Zealand he acquired a reputation as a brilliant engineer who understood the wild and challenging terrain. He also enhanced his reputation as an imaginative organiser and leader. Meanwhile, in 1847, C.Y. married Susan Laetitia Ness from Christchurch and together they had eight children, one of whom, a son, died tragically following a scalding accident in their family home. By 1883 C.Y. had become under-secretary for public works, a position he held until 1890 when he was apparently demoted in a reorganization, becoming marine engineer for all of New Zealand. Disgruntled by this, he began to look elsewhere for employment.

C.Y and Susan OConnor  in 1865

C.Y and Susan in 1865 (State Library of Western Australia)

In 1891 C.Y. O’Connor was invited by John Forrest the first Premier of Western Australia to become Engineer in Chief  for the colony and General Manager of government railways. Western Australia occupies about 1/3rd of the entire vast Australian Continent and at this time had a population of about 50,000. Forrest himself had been an explorer and surveyor. He had a grand vision for the emerging colony with its vast mineral resources,that included a major rail terminus in Perth,the development of Fremantle as the port-of-call for all overseas mail and passenger services and provision of water supplies and essential services to the emerging  agricultural communities. C.Y O ‘Connor was the man who would make this vision a reality.

At Fremantle, up to then served only by a long timber jetty, O’Connor carried out meticulous research and calculations and decided that the stone bar obstruction at the mouth of the Swan River could be removed and a large sheltered deep water harbour could be created within budget. The harbour dredging began in 1892; the stone barrier was blasted, land was reclaimed to allow for the quays and warehousing. On May 4,1897 the harbour was officially opened with  the SS Sultan, a 2,063 ton steamer steaming into port, marking the beginning of a new era in Western Australia. On July 23rd, 1897 the Prince of Wales, on behalf of Queen Victoria invested O’Connor with the insignia of the order of Companion of St.Michael and St.George, principally in recognition of his outstanding Fremantle Harbour construction project. Since these early days the harbour has seen some changes and has been extended but the basic structure as designed by C.Y. O’Connor remains largely unaltered to this day.

When ‘The Chief’ as he became known, took over as Engineer for the state and General Manager of Government Railways, less than 200 miles of rail was in public ownership and it was operating at a loss. Gold was being discovered in the interior and there was a great need to deliver people and all their needs to remote areas. During the five and half years that he had charge of the railways he oversaw the construction of new lines, standardized and upgraded existing ones, invested in new rolling stock, restructured the maintenance and repair depots and returned the railway to profit. It was while working at the rail maintenance sheds that he became aware of the tough working conditions and poor pay of the men here. While in New Zealand he had also been known for his concern for workers and his leadership abilities. It was said that he was patient and encouraging of new men starting out on their careers, but that while compassionate and understanding he was rigorous in his standards. One of the new young men he appointed as assistant surveyor in Western Australia in 1893 was W.H.Shields, a fellow countryman, who was tasked with identifying water availability (needed for steam locomotives) along the planned railway routes to the parched interior. The discovery of gold in particular at Coolgardie in 1892 and Kalgoorlie in 1893 led to an unprecedented influx of prospectors to these dry arid regions. At this time water was more precious than gold in the goldfields, with thousands of miners often being rationed to a small amount each day, for which they had to pay huge sums of money. Water for washing was simply not available.The problem for The Chief was to supply water to these areas that was fit for human consumption and keep the steam train infrastructure open and performing at full capacity.

C.Y came up with a brilliant and radical plan to supply water to the goldfields. His idea was to dam the River Helena at Mundaring near Perth, lift the water 390 metres over the Darling Range, and pump 5 million gallons a day overground for 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) to the goldfields. By laying the pipe along the railway line and overground, costs could be kept to a minimum and any problems such as leaks could be dealt with rapidly. His spectacular plan was met with disdain and disbelief. Mine owners and local representatives in the goldfields joined with state level politicians in heaping scorn on the plan. Most people thought it sheer madness as it would be the longest pipeline in the world and in any event, the gold might run out and there would be no need of a permanent water supply. Some newspapers were particularly scornful of the proposed cost of 2 million pounds as well as the madness of the scheme, and of  O’Connor himself. However, the meticulous O’Connor discussed and shared his plans with his engineer peers in England who commended it. His own engineering credentials and the political prowess of Forrest obtained international investment funds and work commenced. In 1898 a railway line was completed connecting the main Eastern Railway line to the Mundaring Weir site on the Helena River. The dam was built in an age without modern machinery, using the strength of hundreds of men with wheelbarrows and pickaxes, who dug down some 30 metres to create the weir.

John Forrest departed Western Australian politics and became Defence Minister in the federal government. With a change of government in Western Australia, politicians continued to attack  O’Connor’s scheme in Parliament at every stage of construction and with increasing hostility. In effect, he became a political football. Enquiries and Select Committees were set up about the caulking or joining of the pipes, whether or not it should be done by hand or by machine, by public workers or private sub contractors. O’Connor – fastidious, meticulous and cost conscious –  a sensitive man and a man of honour was deeply troubled by the endless criticism. Newspapers were suggesting that the dam would collapse and inundate all of Perth. The Western Australian Sunday Times was particularly virulent and suggested that he was lining his own pockets from the scheme. In a very nasty article about him in the Sunday Times on February 9, 1902 it was written – ” ..and apart from any  distinct charge of corruption this man has exhibited such gross blundering or something worse, in his management of great public works it is no exaggeration to say that he has robbed the taxpayer of this state of many millions of money…This crocodile imposter has been backed up in all his reckless extravagant juggling with public funds, in all his nefarious machinations behind the scenes by the kindred-souled editor of The West Australian.”

On January 22 1903, just  five years after work commenced, Pumping Station Number 1 at the Mundaring Weir on the newly created Lake Helena was started up and, with the help of 7 further pumping stations along the route, two days later fresh water flowed into the reservoir at Kalgoorlie. O’Connor’s brilliant plan had worked and not only provided water for the mines and towns along the route of the pipeline and for the steam locomotives that hauled goods and supplies to the area, but also met the needs of a generation of farmers, the pioneers of a new ‘wheat belt’ between the west coast and the eastern goldfields. O’Connor had estimated a cost of 2.5 million pounds for the project and the scheme was delivered at a cost of 2.6 million.  The pipeline is still in use to this day, and is one of the great heritage projects of the entire continent.

Missing from the grand opening however was the man himself, for 10 months earlier on March 10,1902 O’Connor penned the following note:

”The position has become impossible

Anxious important work to do and three commissions of enquiry to attend to

We may not have done as well as possible in the past but we will necessarily be too hampered to do well in the  imminent future

I feel that my brain is suffering and I am in great fear of what effect all this worry will have on me – I have lost control of my thoughts

The Coolgardie scheme is all right and I could finish it if I got a chance and protection from misinterpretation but there’s no hope for that now and it is better that it should be given to some entirely new man to do who will be untrammeled  by prior responsibility

10/3/02

put the wingwalls to Helena Weir at once”

He then rode his horse out  to Robb Jetty in Fremantle and there rode into the sea and shot himself.

A subsequent government enquiry into the scheme exonerated him from any wrongdoing and found no basis whatsoever for political or press accusations of corruption or misdemeanour.  When his will was published it showed that he had not enriched himself with his brilliant schemes – It showed assets of 298 pounds,which included two horses and a  cow valued at 47 pounds, books, jewellery and furniture valued at 215 pounds and salary due to him of 36 pounds. He had liabilities of 189 pounds mostly to merchants for produce and coal.

Charles Yelverton O’Connor is buried in Fremantle Cemetery under a fine Celtic Cross. Those who knew him spoke of a character who was subtle and often aloof, but who was deeply considerate of others, who was fun-loving and witty, gentle and amiable. According to his daughter Kate, ”he was devoted to Ireland and carried Ireland with him everywhere and he was acutely sensitive to the unhappy state of Ireland and the distress of many of his countrymen.” She said he helped many a young Irish lad start a new life in the colonies and always had Irish boys from farms in Ireland to look after his horses, and they lived-in, as part of the family.

The grave of Charles Yelverton O'Connor, proud Irishman

The grave of Charles Yelverton O’Connor, proud Irishman

A genial, generous giant of a man, sometimes difficult, but  whose legacies of the Goldfields Water Supply and Fremantle Harbour in particular stand testament to his brilliance.

One wonders what other ingenious schemes C.Y. O’Connor might have designed had he not been hounded and libeled by press and politicians alike. And isn’t it a shame that the Irish man who conceived and largely implemented one of the world’s greatest engineering projects is relatively unknown in Ireland?

References/Further reading

There are some excellent photographs of the construction of the Pipeline at the website of the National Trust of Australia, Education and Learning site at http://www.valuingheritage.com.au/learningfederation/the_pipes.html
 
The Chief C.Y. O’Connor (1978) Tauman, Mereb, University of Western Australia Press
C.Y. O’Connor : his life and legacy. (2001) Evans, A.G., University of Western Australia Press.
Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand accessed at tp://www.teara.govt.nz
The Australian Dictionary of Biography accessed at http://adb.anu.edu.au/
National  Trust of Australia
National Library of Australia
Trove Newspaper Archive accessed at http://trove.nla.gov.au
State Library of Western Australia
 
 
 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish diaspora in Australia, My Travels