Shane MacGowan and a Martin headstone

November 21, 2021

It’s over eight years since I’ve posted anything on this site and it took Shane MacGowan to get the words flowing. I’ve just watched a brilliant film festival documentary, ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan 2020’, in which the former Pogues frontman and songwriter opens up about his life and Ireland’s tumultuous history.

Shane MacGowan was born on Christmas Day, 1957.

‘Opens up’ probably overstates it because after a lifetime thrashing himself with drugs and alcohol, MacGowan is bloated and barely audible. His words are sub-titled. But the spark still glows inside the man Clash leader Joe Strummer described as ‘Ireland’s greatest songwriter of the 20th century’.

Under the influence of punk, MacGowan sought to ‘kick Irish music up the arse’, as he put it, and drag it into the twentieth century. But Crock of Gold’s most striking section is MacGowan talking about childhood holidays running wild at his extended family’s Tipperary farm, not far from where my Martin forebears come from. I wrote about this in an earlier blog after reading his biography but the doco with its animated graphics, old video and film clips, photos and music brings it alive.

At age five, his Aunty Nora showed him how to place a bet and introduced him to cigarettes, Guinness and stout. All of which were fine so long as he went to Mass. From his big clan MacGowan gained a love of music and a mystical sense of his Irish heritage. He loved the old people, the ritual of the Mass and tales of faeries and Irish folk heroes. Family stories included his great-grandparents in the Land League in the late 1800s and sheltering IRA men from the Black and Tans in the 1920s.

In the Pogues’ song, ‘Broad Majestic Shannon’, MacGowan writes about Glenaviegh and Finnoe and hearing ‘the men coming home from the fair at Shinrone, their hearts in Tipperary wherever they go’. It could be an anthem for the Martin diaspora. These places are down the road from the village of Terryglass where our Irish great-great grandparents, Michael and Mary Martin (nee Boland), once lived. Had they never left, I may have shared an upbringing as poor and riotous as MacGowan’s.

At the time Michael and Mary sailed for New Zealand, Catholics—that is, most of the Irish—were forbidden to own the land they had inhabited for centuries. English settlers had begun clearing Tipperary’s woods, filling the bogs and building farms after Cromwell’s conquest. Catholics had to rent. Michael was a tenant on George Cornwall’s farm. Mary’s father, Gabriel Boland, was a tenant on the Saurin brothers’ four-acre farm.

Ireland’s population had exploded to over eight million in 1853 from 2.5 million a century before. Landholdings were tiny and tenancies short with Tipperary known for the ruinous system of conacre, the renting of farmland for just one season or less than a year. Farmers who resisted and tried to consolidate scraps of land into viable plots were tossed out of their homes.

Landless labourers and small tenant farmers banded in secret societies to fight evictions, tithe gathering and excessive rents: the Whiteboys, Rockites, Oakboys, Houghers, Rightboys, Defenders, Threshers, Caravat Whiteboys, Ribbonmen. The Rockites were named after ‘Captain Rock’ and his skill at hurling rocks at bailiffs; the Whiteboys wore ghostly white smocks on night time raids to attack homes and beat or kill the occupiers. Catholic farmers were sometimes targets, usually for taking land from an occupying tenant at the end of a lease.

In 1822, a farmer named Boland in Terryglass, most likely a relation, had his cattle driven out under an eviction decree: ‘The constables were attacked by the peasantry, the cattle rescued, and one of the men named Larkin was killed!’ reported the London Times. In 1844, 254 cases of rural violence were reported across Tipperary. Michael and Mary lived amid this chaos for 50 years, through the Famine and beyond.

Their eldest son, Anthony, was the first to go, making his way to Yorkshire and working as a farm labourer. In March 1863, aged 21, he boarded the Metropolis in London, along with his sister, Ellen, 19, and his aunty, also Ellen, 31. They arrived in Lyttelton on 16 June 1863, the first of the Martin clan to step ashore in New Zealand.

From the passenger list of the Metropolis, 1863.

They saved, sent money home and wrote urging the rest of the family to join them. A year later, Michael and Mary and their five other children, John, Julia, James—my great-grandfather, then 10-years-old—Michael junior and Mary, arrived in Lyttelton and walked the steep Bridle Path over the Port Hills to their new home in Christchurch.

On the ancestral trail in 2004, I easily found Michael and Mary’s plot at Linwood Cemetery from cemetery records. But there was no marker, just a patch of dry grass and weeds. I later heard that a headstone had been placed on the site and, sure enough, when I visited again early in 2021, a simple plaque sat on a fresh concrete base among crumbling old gravesites. I don’t know who put the plaque there but, on behalf of Martin descendants around the country, thanks.

Michael and Mary gave the clan a flying start—when Mary died in 1890, she had 23 grandchildren. One was my grandfather, Bill Martin. He helped pass on the name of the trailblazer, Anthony[1]. Dad was John Anthony, Bill having named him in classic Irish fashion after two of his own father’s brothers, including the eldest. ‘Anthony’ was handed on to me and is also my middle name.

According to a Press obituary on 3 May 1890, Mary was ‘an old identity of a kind and amiable disposition’. She lived in Caledonian Road on the corner of Keoghs Lane in St Albans for over 26 years. The Caledonian Hotel was two minutes’ walk away and Michael nicknamed their home ‘The Cal’. After the cemetery visit I decided to look at the old street. Apart from a few renovated cottages, houses from that era are gone. Post-quake apartments and townhouses, all grey and black boxes, are crammed everywhere. New builds sit on the corner of Keoghs Lane and townhouses occupy the site of the old pub which was pulled down in 2010.

The Martin name lives in Canterbury electoral rolls, records and newspaper snippets but except for the new cemetery plaque, no physical markers of the family remain. It’s the same in northern Tipperary where the landscape reveals little trace of the Martins ever living there. Twelve years ago in fields around Terryglass I peered into old abandoned cottages wondering if the Martins or Bolands lived in this one or that. There’s a paddock known as ‘Jimmy Martin’s field’ but otherwise, of the Martins and thousands of other families who fled after the Famine, only old Irish records tell the story.

Except for mystics and poets like Shane MacGowan. They tell stories too. Something in that doco made me think again of the Martin family, their Irish origins and what they’d lived through, and their new memorial in Linwood Cemetery. MacGowan’s gift as a story teller is to rekindle deep memories that get passed on, and on.

[1] Anthony also put in a sterling effort to build clan numbers. He moved to Wellington, married 16-year-old Margaret (Harrington) and produced 18 children. He was a bootmaker and his shop, Martins shoe store, operated in Courtenay Place then Mercer Street for many years.


Parallel islands

June 2, 2013

I’m writing this from Timor Leste (East Timor) where my wife Pip and I moved in April to begin a two-year stint with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA).

We’ve settled in well but home feels a long way away, and Ireland even further. Quite a few Kiwis live here and there are enough Irish to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the capital, Dili.

At our Tetun language classses I met two young Irish women working for the UN and, in the town of Maliana, a woman from Tipperary whose mother lives not far from where my Martin forebears hail. Many Irish are here for the same reasons as the Kiwis – to help rebuild a new, very small country.

Pat and Pip in Balibo, at the house where five journalists (three Aussies, a Kiwi and a Brit) were murdered by invading Indonesian forces in 1975. The house is now a memorial.

Pat and Pip in Balibo, at the house where five journalists (three Aussies, a Kiwi and a Brit) sought shelter before being murdered by invading Indonesian forces in 1975. The house is now a memorial.

Timor Leste is the world’s first nation of the 21st century. It was a priority for Irish aid when the Celtic Tiger was roaring in 2003 but Ireland closed its aid office in Dili last October. Read the rest of this entry »

The darkness of an Irish morning

March 17, 2013

John Patrick Shanley’s superb column in the New York Times about meeting his Irish relations (see below) reminded me of my grandfather, Bill Martin. A tradesman painter at Moera’s railway workshops, Bill was the son of a piano-playing Irishman from Co Tipperary, and an Irishwoman from Co Armagh.

He practised his storytelling skills in Lower Hutt’s Bellevue Hotel, a handy bike ride from the workshops. Today the pub is a smart establishment but back in the 1930s and 40s, its public bar had a sawdust floor and Bill would spin his yarns to the men standing about with their beer perched on wooden barrels.

Today is March 17 and people of Irish descent all over the world are celebrating their heritage. Shanley brilliantly captures a sense of that heritage and why we remember stories about our grandparents.

The Darkness of an Irish Morning


MY father came from Ireland and he had the gift of the gab. Part of the reason the Irish developed the gift of the gab was simple. They lived on an island. They had to get along. Not that they did get along. But they had to try. So a style of speaking developed that allowed them to say awful things. With charm. Read more >

Dave Gallaher: an outstanding Irishman and a great Kiwi

January 24, 2013

Dave Gallaher the-original-all-blacks-captainBook Review

by Emmett Devlin 

Dave Gallaher: The Original All Black Captain. Matt Elliott. HarperCollins 2012. 259pp.

Any Kiwi with an interest in rugby and connections with Ireland will enjoy this biography of one of New Zealand’s most famous sportsmen and one of the great – if not the all-time greatest – All Blacks.

The book begins with Gallaher’s birth in 1873 into a shop-owning middle class family in a tiny seaside village in Donegal called Ramelton. His father James was 62 and his mother Anna Maria Hardy McCloskie, James’ second wife, was just 29. Dave was James and Anna Maria’s seventh child, born seven years after they married. Three of their children had died in infancy. Three more were born in Ramelton after Dave. Read the rest of this entry »

Gathering of the clans

November 21, 2012

Throughout 2013, Ireland will call home hundreds of thousands of friends and family from all over the world to gatherings in villages, towns and cities.

Anyone with an Irish connection is being urged to visit and rediscover their history. ‘There will be clan gatherings, festivals, special sporting events, music and concerts taking place all across the country, all year long,’ says the official Gathering Ireland website.

Over 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry and, for anyone who went to a Catholic school in New Zealand, reading through the list of Irish clans who are planning reunions (below) is like looking through the names on old school photos. Read the rest of this entry »

In search of a living wage

September 24, 2012

Record levels of inequality in New Zealand would shock Irish immigrants who came to this country to make a better life.

‘This is a good country for working men as some men have from ten to twelve shillings per day,’ wrote Manawatu farmer’s wife Catherine Sullivan in 1905. ‘It is not like home. The worst men here won’t come to work for less than 7/- per day, and only work from 8 to 5pm.’

Catherine, an Irish immigrant, was writing to her brother-in-law in Ballingarry, Co Limerick, describing what he might find should he decide to follow her(1).

Many Irish, Scots and English came here to create a better life and to escape the poverty of their homelands. In recent decades, Pacific migrants have been doing the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Ireland at the film festival

August 12, 2012

Three Irish movies at the film festival throw light on an Irish heritage. All are worth seeing.

Bernadette: keeping the faith

Whatever happened to Bernadette Devlin? In the early 1970s she was every Catholic rebel’s darling, a mini-skirted Northern Irish protest leader constantly in the news.

The young Bernadette Devlin

‘Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey’ reminds us what a firebrand she was. In 1972 she was a 25-year-old MP when Home Secretary Reginald Maudling claimed that British soldiers who killed 13 unarmed Catholics on Bloody Sunday had fired in self defence. Devlin stormed across the House of Commons and slapped him on the face. When a reporter later asked if she regretted using violence, she exploded: ‘Thirteen people are dead and you’re asking me about using violence!’ When the reporter persisted, Devlin replied that her only regret was she hadn’t grabbed Maudling by the throat. Read the rest of this entry »

A flutter at the Galway Races

July 19, 2012

New Zealand and Ireland both know how to grow green grass and produce top-class racehorses, says Dunedin writer Tony Eyre. A visit to Ireland took him to the Galway Races.

At the end of July, all roads lead to Galway, an Irish county synonymous with horse-racing. The Galway Races were firmly on our agenda.

The fashion stakes at the Galway Races

This world-famous festival, dating back to 1869, is held at Galway’s Ballybrit racecourse and attracts more than 170,000 spectators over the week. The biggest crowds converge on Ladies’ Day, where glamour and fashion compete with top-class racing. Read the rest of this entry »

O’Kiwi News

June 25, 2012

Plenty about Ireland has come our way lately – the O’Kiwi lads have been following the Irish rugby team again; a Dunedin writer on days spent in Dublin; an Irish comedy and the sad state of our free-to-air television; a Kiwi girl on current Irish literature; and a book that analyses corruption in Irish politics. 

O’Kiwi lads back on tour

The O’Kiwi lads were back on the road for the All Blacks v Irish test in Auckland, on a tour that probably enjoyed more success than the Irish rugby team.

Later, in the aftermath of the 60-0 hiding dished out by the All Blacks in the third test, Irish fans were calling for the head of coach Declan Kidney. ‘A kidney transplant is required,’ said one fan. ‘A full organ transplant is required,’ responded another.

O’Kiwi On Tour: Jack relaxes in the campervan – it’s a hard life on the road.

Many wondered how a team full of players from Leinster and Ulster, the two provinces that recently contested the European rugby championship in the Heineken Cup final, could fail so completely when playing for Ireland. A similar criticism has for years been levelled at the English soccer team – their outstanding club competition fails to translate into a winning national side. Read the rest of this entry »

Down on the farm in Ireland

June 2, 2012

So many young Irish are leaving Ireland that when Jackson Martin turned up to work on farms in Kerry and Galway, many locals were puzzled why a Kiwi from the land of plenty would want to work there. He writes…

I had been living in Edinburgh for just under two years and my UK work visa was fast running out so I decided to volunteer to work on farms in Ireland for a few months for the craic. Through the WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) programme I found a farm in County Kerry and another in County Galway that were willing to host a vagrant Kiwi with Irish heritage and try and teach him a thing or two about farming.

Jackson Martin

Jackson Martin in Scotland before departing for sunny Ireland

I really wasn’t too sure what to expect – would I be hosted by hippies singing ‘Kumbaya’ around a camp fire? Or would they be slave drivers looking for a free pair of hands? Read the rest of this entry »

First game of their lives

April 23, 2012

I was up at 6.30am last Saturday for one of the year’s big sporting events. My two grandchildren were having their debut games for the Naenae soccer club in the under-6s and under-7s.

My daughter teased me that I was more excited than her kids. Well, I did buy their new red and lime green soccer boots. And I’ve been searching the web for how to teach kids soccer because although I coached rugby for 10 years, I don’t know much about the technicalities of the round-ball game.

The first game of the season at Naenae Park and the tradition continues

I was at Naenae Park by 8.45am with three grandchildren, my daughter and her partner. The two debutantes looked smart in their black, red and white uniforms, like mini-Manchester United players. Grandchild number three, who is two, loved being part of the action so long as he had a ball too.

It was a scene being repeated all over New Zealand in soccer, rugby, league, hockey, netball and other codes: sun shining, kids everywhere, friendly and sociable parents on the sideline who become anxious, amused or proud as the game starts and their offspring tear about the field. Read the rest of this entry »

Green and orange cupcakes

March 23, 2012

Joanne Doherty

Joanne Doherty, or ‘Jewarne’ as her Dublin friends used to say

St Paddy’s Day brought back memories of exuberant Irish fans at an All Blacks v Ireland game in Dublin, writes Joanne Doherty.

St Patrick’s Day this year was very different – it was quiet! The cicadas in the green bush of our Wairarapa cottage at Waiohine provided the music, the Irish flag was flying at the gate and a friend arrived carrying a basket of green cupcakes with small orange marigold petals on the icing.

The music, the dancing and the craic from our daughter Alice’s marriage to Ben at Waiohine four weeks earlier was still in the air. I think the Doherty family had ‘peaked too early’. Read the rest of this entry »

Working on a wee farm in the west

March 9, 2012

What happens when a New Zealand couple in their 50s decide to leave jobs and home for six months and head to the west coast of Ireland?  Well, lots actually, writes Peter Gibbs…

Peter Gibbs on a Newport farm, Co Mayo.

For two weeks of our six months’ stay in Ireland, we spent a fortnight on a wee farm near Newport, County Mayo in June 2011.

That year was, they say, the coldest summer Ireland had seen in 47 years but we wouldn’t know about that; all we know is every time we went online to check news from home it was warmer in Wellington’s June than in Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Martin trail

February 15, 2012

Six generations of Martins had worked in his Galway pub, he said, adding that his grandfather’s name was John, his father was Billy, and he had a son named Liam. ‘Well, Billy,’ I replied, ‘I don’t know if we’re related, but my grandfather was Billy, my father’s name was John, and I too have a son named Liam.’

‘Be prepared for setbacks’ is one of the first pieces of advice you’ll get from experienced family researchers. How true, I discovered, as I started to delve into my Martin family history.

In 2004, I went to Christchurch’s Linwood Cemetery where my Irish great-great-grandparents, Michael and Mary Martin (nee Boland), are buried. Thanks to the council’s excellent records, the plot was easy to find in the Catholic section where Michael had been buried in 1895 and Mary five years earlier.

A welcoming sign, but I was looking in the wrong place

I approached the grave site expecting at least a national monument in honour of my forebears. Instead, all I found was an unmarked patch of dry grass and weeds. It seems that on the voyage to New Zealand in 1864, Michael had carved himself a big wooden Celtic cross. His pride and joy had been placed as his headstone. The weather, or vandals, had long since destroyed it. [Happy to say that on a return visit in 2021, I discovered someone has placed a new headstone]. Read the rest of this entry »

More Irish head this way

January 26, 2012

Irish migration to New Zealand is in the headlines on both sides of the globe.

Here, the Dominion Post reports that Irish and Italians are ‘leading the influx of recession refugees’ from Europe. There were 50 percent more Irish migrants in the year till last November than in 2010 (1545 compared with 1030). The Wellington Irish community is flourishing as the jobseekers arrive, the paper says.

Earlier this month, the Irish Times featured New Zealand in a blog site dedicated to ‘Generation Emigration’. The article offered practical advice on visas, finding a job and a place to live, and useful links to Irish organisations.

One link is to a lively Facebook site for ‘Irish people living in New Zealand’. Its followers add all sorts of gems, like this:

Read the rest of this entry »

O’Kiwi News

January 11, 2012

Happy New Year. As we kick off 2012, Irish music and storytelling are alive and well in New Zealand. Here’s some news about what’s coming up:

Accordions and craic

Sharon Shannon

Famed Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon will be lighting up Wellington’s Town Hall with her infectious tunes and seven-piece big band at the International Arts Festival on 14 March.
She will also play two concerts at Womad in New Plymouth and one in Auckland.
Shannon has toured and recorded with musicians including Bono, Sinead O’Connor, Steve Earle and Mark Knopfler. She hails from the tiny village of Corofin in County Clare.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Zealand light through Irish eyes

December 1, 2011

Few people observe landscapes more sharply than the people who paint them. Irish-born Wellington painter Michael McCormack has painted Ireland and New Zealand and is keenly aware of how the light and colour compare.

Michael McCormack

Michael McCormack by his Island Bay studio

Our luminous crystal-clear light, which so many Kiwis notice on returning home, is different from Ireland’s softer light, he says. ‘The main thing about the New Zealand light is its impact on the colour of water. It turns the sea a beautiful blue. But I miss the dark skies in Ireland when the sun suddenly comes through the heavy rainclouds to light the ground while the sky remains pitch black.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Book reviews

November 20, 2011

Good books on Celtic history, Shane MacGowan, and what the Irish world was like when our ancestors emigrated.

The Sea Kingdoms: The History of Celtic Britain and Ireland. Alistair Moffat. Harper Collins, 2002. 316pp.

I was intrigued out on Kapiti Island a few years ago when a friend explained why the island was such a great stronghold for the Maori chief Te Rauparaha. Kapiti commanded quick and easy access from Taranaki in a huge arc down the Wanganui and Horowhenua coasts, across the top of the Marlborough Sounds to the western end of Golden Bay. With the land so densely forested the sea was not a barrier but a highway for a seafaring people such as the Maori.

Scot Alistair Moffat, in a brilliant history of Celtic Britain and Ireland, looks at his part of the world in the same way. ‘So that the dynamic of Celtic culture can be better understood,’ he writes, ‘this story needs to be seen from a vantage point not on the land, looking out to sea, but from the sea, looking towards the land.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Irish fighting for New Zealand

November 10, 2011

Paul Kelly writes about his Irish great uncle, Robert Edward Kelly, an Irish immigrant who fought in World War 1. Family members back in Ireland couldn’t understand why their New Zealand kin were so keen to fight for the British in the Great War.

A recent O’Kiwi blog had some notes about my Kelly family from Boyle in Co. Roscommon. The story of my great-uncle, Robert Edward Kelly, provides some more insights into the fortunes of New Zealand’s Irish migrants.

Robert Edward Kelly

Robert Edward Kelly fought at Gallipoli

Robert was the third son of my great-grandparents, John Kelly and Elizabeth Catherine Kelly (nee McCann) from Boyle. They had their children in quick succession – my grandfather John William Kelly was born in January 1886 and Robert was born in December the same year.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Kelly clan from Boyle in Roscommon

October 18, 2011

The Kelly home in Boyle

The Kelly home in Green Street, Boyle

Researching family history can be a frustrating business, but Tawa resident Paul Kelly was delighted to come across a heritage site which is a goldmine for descendants of families from the town of Boyle in Co Roscommon.

Paul’s grandfather, John, grew up at No. 7 Green Street in Boyle. The site allowed people to click on a house number and add photographs of family members who had lived there. Paul added family photos which can be viewed under ‘People’ on the homepage. Read the rest of this entry »

Emmett Devlin: migrating back to Ireland

October 11, 2011

Emmett Devlin, a second-generation New Zealander, swam against an age-old tide of Irish migration when he and his wife Trish decided to settle in Ireland 11 years ago.

‘We were very unsettled in New Zealand but we had such a lovely time on holiday in Ireland in 2000, visiting family and so on, that we decided to have a go at living there,’ he says.

Emmett Devlin

Emmett Devlin: settled in Ireland

Emmett, Trish and their son Joe are back here on a month-long holiday visiting friends and relations and taking in the Rugby World Cup. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Give us a hug’

October 3, 2011

O'Kiwis On Tour in Auckland

Paul, Sam, Pat, Jack and Hayden in their swish O’Kiwi polo shirts before the Ireland v Australia test

Two weeks travelling around the North Island following the Irish rugby team, in our O’Kiwi On Tour jaunt, has been a lesson in how to enjoy sport.

Read the rest of this entry »

On the O’Neill ancestral trail

September 9, 2011

There’s an echo, generations on, that leads us back to Ireland. It called around 19,000 New Zealanders in 2002. I was among them and, like many, I was on the ancestral trail.

On a sunny June afternoon, I found myself standing among the weathered Celtic crosses in the graveyard at St Mary’s Church in Ballymacpeake, Co Derry, not far from the River Bann. Mum’s grandfather grew up there.

I had her O’Neill family tree with me, but I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, or even what had drawn me.

A few yards away, a woman was putting fresh flowers on a grave. I asked if she knew any O’Neills in the district. ‘Well, I’m an O’Neill. I’m Mary,’ she said in a precise Irish lilt. She sized me up while I talked, then said unexpectedly, ‘Follow me.’

Great grandfather's cottage

Me with long-lost relation Mary McErlean in my great-grandfather’s old cottage, now used to store turf

Off she went in a little red car down lanes and byways, stopping to walk across a field to a farmer on a tractor harvesting hay. Soon she beckoned me over. Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding our Irish past

September 2, 2011

Welcome to O’Kiwi. This site is for you if

• your granny comes from County Cork
• potatoes taste better than pasta
• you enjoy a pint on Paddy’s Day
• there’s a leprechaun at the bottom of your garden, and
• your toe taps to a fiddle.

Your granny doesn’t really have to be from County Cork. It’s just that everyone who claims Irish heritage seems to say that. And a lot of Kiwis claim Irish ancestry – around 20 percent.

Although five of my great-grandparents were Irish, I never grew up thinking about leprechauns and shamrocks. Read the rest of this entry »

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