Tuesday, 17 March 2015

"Bainne na mbó ar na gamhna" and Happy St. Patrick's day.

As I go out  tonight,  with Jimmy the Bo'sun an Irish seaman plying ports of the new world, to celebrate St. Patrick day, I think of the photo of an old school house I discovered in my collection this time last year and.the words "Bainne na mbó ar na gamhna" came into my head. I think it means "Cows' milk for the calves". The verse from an old Irish drinking song about the school goes like this:

    Then when I was a young lad of six years or so,
    With me book and my pencil to school I did go,
    To a dirty old school house without any door,

I have sung this song countless times in all parts of the world and still enjoy hearing it sung by the   Clancy brothers and other Irish singers.

Coincidentally, the shot was taken at Okariti  New Zealand where Te Ara (NZ Encyclopedia) records "there were ‘shindies’ between Irish Catholics and Orangemen (a Protestant group) at Ōkarito in 1865." Okarito is on the west Coast of NZs South Island where many Irish people settled.  In 1868  when news reached the West Coast that three Fenians had been hanged in Manchester, there were funeral processions in Charleston and in Hokitika, where 1,000 people broke into the cemetery and planted a wooden Celtic cross.

Soon after, the attempted assassination in Australia of Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred, by a suspected Fenian, triggered a minor panic on the West Coast of NZ. Eight hundred special constables were sworn in, the 18th Regiment was sent south, and Larkin, Manning and five others were arrested. Both men received one month in jail and a fine of ₤20 for seditious libel.

 The lyrics to the Juice of the Barley are: 
In the sweet county Lim'rick, one cold winter's night
All the turf fires were burning when I first saw the light;
And a drunken old midwife went tipsy with joy,
As she danced round the floor with her slip of a boy,
Singing bainne na mbó is an gamhna
And the juice of the barley for me.
Then when I was a young lad of six years or so,
With me book and my pencil to school I did go,
To a dirty old school house without any door,
Where lay the school master blind drunk on the floor,
At the learning I wasn't such a genius I'm thinking,
But I soon bet the master entirely at drinking,
Not a wake or a wedding for five miles around,
But meself in the corner was sure to be found.
Then one Sunday the priest read me out from the altar,
Saying you'll end your days with your neck in a halter;
And you'll dance a fine jig betwix heaven and hell,
And his words they did haunt me the truth for to tell,
So the very next morn as the dawn it did break,
I went down to the priest house the pledge for to take,
And in there in the room sat the priests in a bunch,
Round a big roaring fire drinking tumblers of punch,
Well from that day to this I have wandered alone,
I'm a jack of all trades and a master of none,
With the sky for me roof and the earth for me floor,
And I'll dance out my days drinking whiskey galore,

 It is interesting to study how and why the Irish came to New Zealand in large numbers.

Conditions in Ireland

In the 19th century Ireland’s rural people were landless labourers, or peasants renting a few acres with limited productivity. Their misery was intensified by other factors, including:
  • land division by inheritance
  • the transfer of land used for crops into sheep and cattle farming (which reduced work opportunities)
  • industrialisation (which destroyed the supplementary income from domestic spinning and weaving).
In the late 1840s there was a devastating potato famine, in which over a million people died.

Scale of Irish migration

Throughout the 1800s, and particularly after the famine, the Irish streamed away from their homeland to seek a better life. Often younger sons went first and were followed by other family members in a chain migration.
In the 70 years after 1850 about a million Irish crossed the Irish Sea to England or Scotland. Over four million sailed for the new worlds of America and Australasia. As a result, Ireland’s population almost halved.

Immigration to New Zealand

In 1845 the Dublin University Magazine described New Zealand as ‘the most recent, remotest, and least civilised of our colonies’. It was the most expensive to reach – over four times the cost of crossing the Atlantic to America.
The majority of Irish emigrants went to North America; Australasia took no more than about one in 13. For the first half-century of European settlement in New Zealand the number of migrants from Ireland was small. Almost none came direct from the potato famine. Until 1852 they comprised less than 15% of immigrants from the United Kingdom.

Assisted immigrants

The New Zealand Company offered assisted passages to organised settlements in New Zealand. However, the company did not consider illiterate Irish peasants to be ‘desirable emigrants’. Under 2% of the company’s settlers were born in Ireland, despite the fact that a few of the early New Zealand Company settlement leaders, such as John Robert Godley in Canterbury and Edward Stafford in Nelson, were of Anglo-Irish background. This group were members of the Anglican élite who saw their situation weakened at home by Catholic emancipation and the emergence of Irish nationalism. Few of the Irish joined them. In 1848 the province of New Munster (Wellington and the South Island) had a mere 175 Irish inhabitants.

New Ireland?

Despite the small numbers of Irish in New Zealand in the 1840s, the islands were given Irish names. In a Royal Charter of 1840 the ‘Northern Island’ became New Ulster, the ‘Middle Island’ New Munster, and ‘Stewart’s Island’ New Leinster.
In 1846 two provinces were also named New Ulster and New Munster. New Ulster extended north and east of the Patea River mouth, while New Munster consisted of the rest of the North Island and all of the South Island and Stewart Island.
These provinces were abolished in 1852.

Irish in Auckland

By 1851, in contrast to Wellington and the South Island, a larger proportion of Auckland’s population (2,871 out of 8,840) were of Irish background. Few had come direct from the homeland; many had arrived via Australia. (The convict settlement in New South Wales included large numbers from Ireland, and over a third of the United Kingdom migrants to both Victoria and New South Wales during the 19th century were Irish.)
Men of Irish heritage such as Jacky Marmon and Frederick Maning were to be found among the early gangs of traders, whalers and sealers, and in the 1840s numbers in Auckland slowly grew.
There were also significant numbers of ex-soldiers. Some of these were discharged from British regiments brought to New Zealand in 1845–46. Others came with the largely Irish Royal New Zealand Fencibles. Arriving in 1847 with wives and children, they provided protection for the area south of Auckland town. This military influence helps explain the large representation at that time of Auckland immigrants from County Dublin, a common recruiting ground.

 The numbers of Irish immigrants began to rise sharply during the 1860s, and by 1871 they comprised over one-fifth of New Zealand’s immigrant population.


There were three main reasons why the Irish immigrated during this period:
  • The discovery of gold attracted many who had previously migrated to Australia. They came first to Otago from 1861, and then in more pronounced numbers to the West Coast from 1865.
  • Irish were significantly represented among the soldiers who were discharged during the New Zealand Wars, and there was a continuing migration into Auckland.
  • Despite the fact that Canterbury’s emigration agent John Marshman was advised, ‘Irish emigrants should be refused altogether’, about a quarter of the immigrants assisted by Canterbury province were Irish, many of them nominated by family members already there. 1

Catholics and Protestants

There were significant differences among these groups. On the West Coast there were twice as many men from Ireland as women, they were commonly from Munster in the south-west of Ireland, and most were Catholic.
Elsewhere, in Auckland or among Canterbury’s assisted migrants, Ulster in the north-east of Ireland was well represented, with a majority of Protestants. There were several significant settlements of Ulster people near Pukekohe and Kawakawa. About 850 of the Pukekohe settlers came from Ulster in 1865 and 1866 as part of the Waikato immigration scheme, which aimed to provide a buffer between Auckland and the King Movement Māori further south. They were joined by about 500 Irish who came after a sojourn in South Africa and were predominantly Catholics from the south-west of Ireland.


Compared with other immigrants in this period (and with Irish migrants to other places), the New Zealand Irish were slightly older and rather more prosperous. This partly reflected the fact that they had often spent time elsewhere, particularly in Australia. There were also on average more Protestant Irish immigrants than in other parts of the world.

 Bias against Irish migrants

During the great immigrations of the 1870s and early 1880s the Irish were well represented. They comprised over one-fifth of New Zealand’s settlers during those years. More than a quarter of those assisted by the New Zealand government were Irish.
This seems surprising, as in the early 1870s there was controversy in New Zealand about alleged bias against Irish immigrants. It was true that many regarded the Irish as less desirable because of their Catholicism and their reputation as drunken and disorderly. Also, in October 1872 only eight (of 116) government recruiting agents were based in Ireland. Of 124 advertisements for immigrants, only 15 had been placed in Irish newspapers and then only around Belfast and Londonderry in Ulster.

Assisted immigrants

Despite the alleged bias, the Irish took advantage of assisted passages in two ways:
  • Catholic families who had migrated to New Zealand in the 1860s used the system of nomination to bring out other members of their families. A high proportion of these came from Munster, especially from counties Kerry and Cork.
  • Others responded to the special efforts made to attract Protestant families and single women (as domestic servants) from the north. Indeed during the 1870s more Irish women than men migrated to New Zealand.

Leaving from Ireland

During the 1870s and early 1880s the vast majority of Irish immigrants boarded their ships at Glasgow or London. There were two exceptions – Caroline Howard’s recruits and the Katikati settlers.
New Zealand’s agent general, Isaac Featherston, had responded to accusations of anti-Irish prejudice by appointing Mrs Caroline Howard as an immigration agent. She proceeded to recruit young women from a workhouse in Cork. When they arrived in Dunedin aboard the Asia in 1874, there was an outcry about this importation of ‘certified scum’. Mrs Howard was able to arrange for two further sailings before being dismissed.
A second group of vessels sailed direct from Ireland carrying a more acceptable class of passenger. Protestant families from Ulster came to Katikati in the Bay of Plenty, aboard the Carisbrooke Castle in 1875 and the Lady Jocelyn in 1878. They were part of George Vesey Stewart’s settlement. Stewart was a gentleman entrepreneur from County Tyrone who hoped to repair his fortune by land speculation in New Zealand. Through political contacts he obtained 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares), and eventually attracted four groups of settlers from Ulster.

Catholics and Protestants

Catholics from the south-west and Protestants from Ulster formed two distinct streams of Irish immigrants to New Zealand in the great migration of the 1870s and early 1880s. But as in the 1860s, only about 60% of the Irish migrants were Catholic, compared with over 80% in the homeland.

Declining numbers

As the century came to an end the number of Irish immigrants fell to under 10% of those coming from the United Kingdom. Also, among the Irish there was a clear dominance of people from Ulster.
In 1921 Ireland’s three predominantly Catholic provinces and three counties of Ulster achieved independence from the United Kingdom. This left only six counties of Ulster in the north, where there was a majority of Protestants. After this, few came from the south, but there was a steady trickle of Protestants from Northern Ireland in the 1920s and again after the Second World War.
During the 1970s the violence of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland induced some to escape to New Zealand, although the numbers were never large.


A visible community How far did the Irish in New Zealand remain a visible community, clustered together in common activity? While they did initially go to particular places in New Zealand, this was partly because they were attracted to specific occupations such as goldmining, and partly because of the importance of family nomination and chain migration in settling. It is possible, too, that among the Irish Catholic community there was a desire to seek mutual support against the generally held suspicion that the Irish were drunken and disorderly.

Provincial differences

In the early years of settlement there were distinct variations between provinces in the numbers of Irish. The census of 1871 revealed that Auckland, and more notably the South Island’s West Coast, had more Irish-born than the country as a whole. By 1881, after the great migration, Canterbury had joined them.
In Nelson province there was a striking difference between the areas around Nelson city, where the numbers of Irish were low, and the areas north of the Grey River given over to goldmining. Here the numbers of Irish were very high.
Particular centres had strong Irish populations – Onehunga in Auckland, Charleston in Nelson, Greymouth in Westland – and there was a notable Irish Catholic farming community in south Canterbury.
Within the cities it seems that Irish Catholic neighbourhoods arose around the church. In Christchurch, for example, there was a disproportionate number of Catholics in the streets near the Barbadoes Street cathedral and the church in Addington. East Hamilton was known as ‘Irishtown’. But these neighbourhoods were never exclusively Irish Catholic – they were not ghettoes, nor ethnic enclaves as in North America. The geographical segregation of the Irish rapidly declined, and by 1916 their distribution was not significantly different from overall population patterns.


Initially the Irish congregated in certain occupations – single women as domestic servants, single men on the goldfields. But these occupations were unlikely to be long-term pursuits. The Irish slavey quickly became the colonial spouse, and dreams of large gold nuggets were replaced by more realistic hopes.
As in other new worlds, they worked as navvies building railways and roads, and the itinerant character of these jobs was one factor which encouraged dispersal.
The Irish were also attracted to the police force. At the turn of the 20th century over 40% of New Zealand’s police were Catholic. Men of Irish Catholic background were among New Zealand’s most influential police commissioners (St John Branigan, John Cullen and John O’Donovan).

The community in the 1930s

By the 1930s Irish Catholics were still well represented in government service, in transport and in occupations associated with gambling and drink. They were more likely to be in unskilled jobs, and they were spectacularly over-represented among prisoners.
But elsewhere the differences were marginal. By 1936 the proportion of Catholics in the police force was 22%. Marked clustering of place and occupation had lasted little more than one generation.

Irish identity

In culture as in settlement a separate Irish identity was most evident in New Zealand during and immediately after the major Irish migration of the 1860s and 1870s. (One aspect, however, remained distinct for many years – the culture of the Irish Catholic Church.)

St Patrick’s Day

From the 1860s, St Patrick’s Day was celebrated with sports, horse races, dances and drink on the West Coast. In the main centres this continued until after the First World War.
After parading in the streets, schoolchildren gathered at Newtown Park in Wellington or the Domain in Auckland for gymnastics and athletics. If the figures for Irish convictions for being drunk and disorderly are accepted as evidence, there was a clear propensity for them to carry to the new land their enjoyment of the pub.


Hibernian (the Latin word for Irish) societies were first established in Greymouth in 1869. They were dedicated to cherishing the memory of Ireland, promoting Catholicism and providing mutual aid to members. By 1921 there were 84 branches throughout the country. But the membership was always small (only 3,499 in that year) and the society hardly represented widespread Irish interests.


More significant expressions of Irish culture came in politics. The long struggles in Ireland for land reform, home rule rather than English rule, and eventually independence were a major concern of British politics throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Many in New Zealand followed these debates and crises, and expressed their sympathies in a number of ways. Occasionally it came in the form of civil disorder. There were ‘shindies’ between Irish Catholics and Orangemen (a Protestant group) at Ōkarito in 1865. In Christchurch on Boxing Day 1879, 30 Irishmen attacked an Orange procession with pick-handles, and in Timaru 150 men from Thomas O’Driscoll’s Hibernian Hotel surrounded Orangemen and prevented their procession.

Free speech on trial

Three times, Irish Catholic New Zealanders have been brought before the court on charges of sedition.
In 1868 John Manning and Father W. J. Larkin spent a month in jail for expressing ‘Fenian’ sympathies in their Hokitika newspaper.
In July 1918 Thomas Cummins and Bert Ryan were sentenced to 11 months with hard labour for a ‘seditious’ article, commemorating the Easter Rising, in the Green Ray.
In 1922 Bishop James Liston went on trial in Auckland for alleged sedition in his St Patrick’s Day speech. Helped by the brilliant Irish nationalist lawyer P. J. O’Regan, Liston was found not guilty.

New Zealand Fenians

The most infamous disturbance occurred in Hokitika in 1868. The previous year John Manning had set up the New Zealand Celt newspaper. With Father W. J. Larkin he expressed support for a group of nationalists in Ireland known as Fenians. When news reached the West Coast that three Fenians had been hanged in Manchester, there were funeral processions in Charleston and in Hokitika, where 1,000 people broke into the cemetery and planted a wooden Celtic cross.
Soon after, the attempted assassination in Australia of Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred, by a suspected Fenian, triggered a minor panic on the West Coast. Eight hundred special constables were sworn in, the 18th Regiment was sent south, and Larkin, Manning and five others were arrested. Both men received one month in jail and a fine of ₤20 for seditious libel.

Visiting Irish politicians

These forms of civil disorder did not last beyond 1880. Thereafter Irish migrants’ sympathy for the nationalist cause was more commonly expressed through receptions and lectures for visiting Irish politicians.
One such event was the visit of John and William Redmond in 1883. This drew particular support from working-class Irish who had set up Land Leagues (later Irish National Leagues) in New Zealand.
British Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone’s conversion to the support of home rule for Ireland won over New Zealand’s middle-class Irish. The visit by nationalist politician John Dillon in 1889 became ‘little less than a great Irish carnival’. 1 There were successful visits by other nationalists: ex-land-leaguer Michael Davitt in 1895, Joseph Dillon and John Donovan in 1906, and William Redmond again in 1911, when 1,700 attended his Wellington meeting.
 Thanks to Te Ara for permission to run these segments.


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