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 »

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