Tag Archives: Australian Irish

Waltzing Matilda. A tale of love and murder?

A small village in the north-west corner of Ireland, the U.S  Marines, a dead sheep, mighty battle maidens! An unlikely combination, yet they are inextricably linked in the oddest of forms – an Australian bush ‘ditty’ that has become known and recognized the world over. The ‘ditty’ is Waltzing Matilda,the unofficial National Anthem of Australia, sung very proudly on many occasions, and one of the most recorded songs worldwide.


Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

Waltzing Matilda was written by Andrew Barton Paterson, (1864–1941). Otherwise known as ”Banjo” Paterson, he was a prolific Australian poet, journalist and author.The nickname ‘Banjo’ came from one of  his favourite horses – he wrote bush poems under the pseudonym ‘The Banjo’ for some time. Banjo’s great-great grandfather was General Charles Barton of Waterfoot, near the small village of Pettigo, Co Donegal, Ireland. The Bartons were a well-to-do family with a record of military service. General Charles Barton’s son Robert, had a daughter Rose Isabella who married Andrew Paterson and Banjo was their son, the ‘Barton’ part  of his name coming from his mother’s family.

Banjo Patterson was engaged to Sarah Riley for about 8 years. On a visit to the Dagworth sheep farm in Western Queensland  in January 1895, Banjo met Sarah’s friend, Christina MacPherson. Christina introduced Banjo to the tune ‘The Craigielee March’ which was a variant of a Scottish song , and he then wrote the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda to fit the tune.

The song that is familiar to us is something like this:

”Once a jolly swagman (a travelling worker who carried his possessions in a swag, or cloth) camped by a billabong (a water hole)
Under the shade of a coolibah tree, (a type of  Eucalyptus tree)
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy (a tin can) boiled:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Down came a jumbuck (sheep) to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker (food) bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me”,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Up rode the squatter (land holder), mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers (police), one, two, and three.
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me”,
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me”,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

‘Swagman’, ‘billabong’  ‘coolibah’ ‘jumbuck’ – such strange words yet they trip off our tongues the world over. ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is probably derived from the German ‘auf der walz’ which means ‘to take to the road’, while ‘Matilda’ was the name  given to female camp followers who accompanied soldiers during the Thirty Year wars in Europe. ‘Matilda’ came to mean ‘to be kept warm at night’ and later to refer to great army coats or blankets that soldiers used. These were rolled into a swag and tossed over a shoulder while marching. The meaning of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ evolved into going  walkabout with the tools of your trade.

The song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ tells the tale of a swagman and petty thief  who stole a young sheep and to avoid capture  jumped  into a billabong.  In the 1890s there was widespread industrial unrest among Australian sheep shearers,reportedly akin to civil war in some places. Having no fixed abode and  unable to vote, trade union membership  gave the shearers a voice. When improved pay rates were demanded, sheepowners  brought  non-union labour in to replace them and widespread trouble erupted, with shootings and burning of buildings. In 1894 at Dagworth Station in Queensland, sheds were burned down and sheep were burned alive. Hoffmesiter was found dead and the story was that he had committed suicide. Some months later, in January 1895, Banjo Patterson visited Dagworth Station, owned by the MacPherson family . His fiancée Sarah accompanied him – she was a close friend of Christina MacPherson.

In his book, ‘Waltzing Matilda – the secret history of Australia’s favourite song‘ author and songster Dennis O’Keeffe tells us that 20 years of research have led him to believe that Waltzing Matilda is a song with 2 stories: political comment on the Shearers strike on one hand, while  the chorus is a flirtatious reference to Christine as the pair had become romantically involved during the visit.


Waltzing Matilda manuscript. Image Wikimedia Commons.

In this manuscript, the lyrics  have ”Matilda, my darling.” O’Keeffe says that this is a reference to Christina. Another manuscript he has inspected has the line ‘Who’ll come roving Australia with me’, and the words  ‘roving Australia’ have been crossed out and replaced with ‘waltzing Matilda’. The love affair between Banjo and Paterson, in the presence of Sarah,caused a great scandal and caused heartache and deep embarrassment to all three of them. Paterson  had to leave Dagworth in disgrace. O’Keeffe goes so far as to say that it  ‘ruined the lives’ of the two women, who never married. The scandal also caused Paterson to distance himself from the song for many years afterwards.

O’Keeffe has researched the events at the billabong on the Dagworth sheep farm and has discovered that  Hoffmeister , who was a union shearer, torched a sheep shed at Dagworth resulting in the deaths of about 150 sheep.  The following day Hoffmesister’s body was found near a billabong. He had gunshot wounds. The inquest brought in a verdict of suicide  but O’ Keeffe  thinks that he was  more than likely murdered by policemen and that  there was a cover-up.  The theory is contested, but in general there seems to be agreement that the song is a political commentary on the shearers strike at that time.

Notwithstanding the darker side of the story of Waltzing Matilda it is a rousing song  that is sung with great gusto.  The lyrics were altered in 1903 when it was used in an advertising campaign for Billy’s Tea. It was this advertising campaign that led to it becoming widely known.

Waltzing Matilda became an anthem and battle cry in  the 2nd world war . The story is told of a platoon of Australian soldiers who were pinned down by the Japanese, but in a last corageous act he Australian soldiers sand Waltzing Matilda as they charged to their deaths. After  a 6 month-long struggle against the Japanese at Guadalcanal and Tulagi, and after taking over 3,000 casualties, the 1st Division  US Marines were sent to Australia for rest and recovery. It was here that they heard ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and immediately adopted it as their marching song. To this day ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is  played as the US marines are being shipped out.

A jolly ditty, a stirring marching song, a national anthem, a tragic love story, industrial turmoil,  a political comment, a murder story or a suicide, – regardless of  its origins Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda is loved the world over and its true meaning has probably been lost in the mists of time.

References :

Waltzing Matilda – the secret history of Australia’s favourite songby Dennis O’Keeffe.

http://www.waltzing matilda.com/wmbirth.html



Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Australian

Derryveagh Evictions III: The Scattering

The 10th of April 1861 was the third day of the brutal evictions ordered by the cruel landlord John George Adair, on his estate at Derryveagh, Co Donegal. By 2 o’clock in the afternoon of that day, the work was done. The Deputy Sheriff, Crookshank, and his 200 men had changed the landscape and changed the lives of a group of unfortunate and powerless people who were already living in hardship. Liam Dolan in his ‘Land War and Evictions in Derryveagh’ states:

”By two, Wednesday afternoon, the terrible work had been accomplished and a deathly silence fell over the whole area”.

This third post in the series marking the 150th anniversary of the Derryveagh evictions looks at the fate of the dispossessed.

A Derryveagh Family- From an article by Paul J Mc Geady, Donegal Genealogy Resources.

The names of these people and the townlands where they lived, live on in lists. Unfortunately as there are differences in family names and numbers in particular townlands, it is hard to know which list is the definitive one. However, at the end of this post, I have included the names of the families and the townlands, according to one such list, from the Londonderry Standard.

So what became of these unfortunate families? Where did they end up?

Records from the Workhouse in Letterkenny list the people who went there and provide information on their occupations, their townland of origin and their date of entry. Many of these would have left the workhouse when their prospects changed – if work became available, to go to live with relatives, or perhaps to emigrate.

Others who had been offered temporary shelter, in Cloughaneely for example, may well have stayed in the area, as perhaps would those who found shelter with relatives and friends. May McClintock suggests in her publication that many may have indeed stayed in the general area, around Creeslough, Glendowan and Churchill.

A third tranche, mostly younger people, and many probably children of the people evicted, took advantage of the Donegal Relief  Committee Fund and availed of assisted passage to Australia. The Donegal Relief  Fund had been set up in Australia in 1858  for the assistance of people from Donegal who were in dire circumstances. The geography of the county in the bleak and cold north west with its barren, mountainous terrain, together with the decision by land owners to end the practice of allowing tenants to graze their sheep on the upper slopes in summer, gave rise to an annual famine lasting about three months. Following supplications from the local clergy in Donegal, the Donegal Relief Committee in Australia raised funds to help with immigration. The relief fund appears to have operated from 1858 when large numbers of people from Gweedore, Cloughaneely and Tory Island availed of the opportunity for a new life ‘down under’. Following the Derryveagh evictions, new pleas for help were made by the local clergy with the result that many young people had an opportunity to leave for a new life in Australia. And so in January 1862, 143 persons from Derryveagh joined 130 Gweedore people who departed Plymouth on a sea voyage of 3 months or more. That more family members  left Ireland is a certainty. England and Scotland were close to home and were accessible relatively cheaply. It is known that many went to Australia, some ended up in New Zealand and a number also went to America. The nature of the records at the time – where addresses recorded on ships lists often state the county of origin and not the townland, together with the preponderance of similar family and first names provide a challenge for researchers.

One researcher in particular stands out in the telling of the story and tracing of the families of Derryveagh. She is Lindel Buckley, a direct descendant of a family from Glendowan. Her great great grandmother who lived in Stramore, just to the south west of Altnadogue, and whose sister had married a Sweeney from Derryveagh, emigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s. Lindel has located and transcribed hundreds of  historical records from Donegal and of relevance to Donegal, and has made them available without charge on her website Donegal Genealogy Resources. Her extraordinary compilation has been and continues to be an inspiration to many. Through her work and her enthusiasm, she is one of the people who keep the Derryveagh story alive.

A new book, written by local school teacher Christy Gillespie and his pupils, documents the personal stories of the people who were evicted in Derryveagh and was launched last Saturday by the Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Bruce Davis and the local historian May McClintock. Aptly named “A Deathly Silence” this new book will hopefully interest a new generation and give  new insights into the people who are the key figures in this story,the people of Derryveagh.



Hanna M’Award (Widow) and 7 children. – evicted and house levelled.

Joseph M’Cormack, wife and 5 children – restored to possession as caretaker.


Hugh Sweeney ( Widower) and 2 sons – evicted and house locked.

James Sweeney, wife and 8 children- evicted and house locked.

Owen Sweeney, wife, mother and 8 children – evicted and house locked.


James M’Monagle, wife and 6 children- readmitted as tenant until November.

John Brady, wife and 5 children- readmitted as weekly tenant.

Francis Bradley, wife and 5 children -readmitted as weekly tenant.

Patrick Bradley, wife and 4 children -evicted and house levelled.

John and Fanny Bradley, a brother and sister, both deaf and dumb – allowed to retain possession.

Roger O’Flanigan, wife, brother, mother and 4 children- evicted and house levelled.

James Gallagher, wife and 7 children – evicted and house levelled.


Daniel Friel, wife, mother, brother, and 1 child- evicted.

William M’Award, wife and 2 children- evicted and house levelled.

James Doherty, wife and 1 child- evicted and house levelled.

James Lawn, wife and 9 children – readmitted as tenant until November.


John Bradley, wife and 3 children – evicted and house levelled.

Michael Bradley, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled.

Catherine Conaghan (Widow), sister in law, brother in law, and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.


Edward Coyle,wife and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Knocker Friel, wife and 6 children – evicted and house levelled.

Knocker Kelly and two servants – evicted and house levelled.

William Armstrong (Widower), and 3 children-evicted and house levelled.

Rose Dermot, Orphan – evicted and house levelled.


Daniel M’Award, wife and 6 children- evicted and house levelled.

Charles Doohan, wife, son and  2 grandchildren – evicted and house levelled.

William Doohan, wife and 4 children- evicted and house levelled.

John Doohan, wife and 5 children -evicted and house levelled.

Connell Doohan, wife – retained as weekly tenants.

Patrick Curran, wife and 5 children – evicted and house levelled.


Owen M’Award, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled

Mary M’Award (Widow) and 3 children -evicted and house levelled.


Bryan Doherty (Widower), mother, sister and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Hugh Coll, wife and 4 children – evicted and house levelled.

Patrick Devenney, wife and 2 children -evicted and house levelled.

John Friel, wife and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

Michael Friel and 1 child – evicted and house levelled.

Robert Burke, wife – evicted and house levelled.

Charles Callaghan- evicted and house levelled.

John Moore, wife and 2 children – evicted and house levelled.

Manus Rodden, brother and two sisters – orphans- evicted and house levelled.

Bernard Callaghan, mother and brother – evicted and house levelled.


Edward Sweeney and 3 children – evicted and house levelled.

Daniel Doherty, wife, father and 2 children -evicted and house levelled.

Bryan Doherty, wife and 4 children-evicted and house levelled.

– From the Londonderry Standard, Glenveagh, April 10th 1861.


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

Families evicted from Derryveagh

Donegal Relief Fund- Australia. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources


Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish_American, Oral History, Social Justice