Family history, I am learning, is full of surprises, not least that one branch of ours stretches back to Ireland – news to us all. Aiming to tackle my total ignorance about the Irish in Australia, I picked up a battered book called just that by Patrick O’Farrell. By the time I finished the second paragraph of the introduction, I had to collect my breath: what an intellect! Here are a few of the excerpts that had my head spinning:
… ‘Precisely who, and what, shall be called up from the ranks of the dead? Those Irish and that Irishness that came to Australia? that Irish Australia they found and made there? their descendants?’ … ‘an elusive complexity rules …’
… ‘The Ireland of 1900 was a whole creation away from that of 1800’ … ‘these were ambivalent, ambiguous people, thinking Irish, talking English; hating the tyranny, serving the tyrant’ … ‘each arriving Irish generation brought a new phase of Irish experience, its Ireland frozen for it at the moment of departure’ …’within Australia a procession of Irish histories, Irish comprehensions, proceed at once’ …
Rich reads are not always easy reads, and Professor O’Farrell’s history is no exception. This is a book to be savoured, certainly not skimmed.