Transcript of the speech given by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the Queensland Irish Association’s St Patricks Dinner on March 16 2009.
Well ladies and gentleman, it is customary on St Patrick’s Day for politicians to lay claim to their Irish ancestry, however tenuously. To wax lyrical on the bonds of history that tie Australia – and in fact one in tenAustralians who come from Erin’s shore – with Ireland itself and to so kiss the blarney stone on a night such as tonight that in fact we see fact itself form a seamless bond with folklore and fiction – so that by night’s end, courtesy of a Guinness or two, you’ll all be believed that in fact you are led by a lady called Anna O’Bligh and that her opponent is Liam Patrick O’Springborg.
Such is the power of Guinness.
But you will hear no such blarney from me when I tell you that in fact I am a direct descendent of St Kevin, which of itself is problematic when you reflect upon the fact that St Kevin founded an ancient monastic order. Think about it. Problematic but not impossible. But St Kevin is in fact much misunderstood because there is not an unreasonable school of thought in Irish history which says that indeed St Kevin and not St Patrick should be Ireland’s patron saint.
Personally I have no such view, none whatsoever. Others could for example commend St Kevin’s virtue, the sheer piety and poetry of his name. You mock. A poetry so deep and so broad and so rich that Dame Edna herself has written that it’s impossible for anyone reputable, let alone as Prime Minister to be possibly called Kevin, which is why I have formed an International Society of Much Misunderstood Kevins. Kevin Costner is our patron.
And being an Irish dinner I imagine there are a few Kevins in the room. Any Kevins in the room? All misunderstood, each and every one of you.
But I digress. But should Eamon [O'Cuiv, visiting Irish Minister], upon his return to the Irish Republic, take this view as something of merit and in his discussions with the Irish church and with the Dail and chooses to change of course the Saint’s name, the patron saint of Ireland, there will be no objection officially from the Antipodes.
But should that not be possible, and I fear it won’t be, I can lay claim to ties less spiritual but more familial to Erin’s Isle because beyond the blarney, my maternal grandmother Hannah Cashin was the daughter or Irish parents, both coming from a small parish of Ballingarry in Country Tipperary. Anyone here from Ballingarry?
Those parents, Owen Cashin and Johannah Maher, arrived here in Brisbane in 1887, they may well have known each other from their home town, having both been baptised in Ballingarry’s Church of the Assumption. Ballingarry might have only been a small parish in County Tipperary but I am pleased to report it looms large in the history of the Irish rebellions of the 19th century.
It’s a town where the Irish national tricolour of green, white and orange was first unfurled by the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 – in dramatic scenes where instead of the rebels taking siege in a local house, the police had to take siege in a local house against the rebels because the police didn’t have the numbers. It was a clearly a much troubled town. The house still stands today as a national monument or so I’m advised. And the leader of that rebellion, William Smith O’Brien, was punished with one thing worse than death by hanging – transportation to Australia.
In fact, Eamon, you may well be aware that one in five Irish convicts transported to Australia came here guilty of political insurrection. And most of them later joined the Australian Labor Party.
Not only was my grandmother from a town of rebels, her father’s family the Cashins were deeply entwined in an Irish factional fight which raged across Tipperrary through most of the 19th Century between the Shanavests and the Caravets.
Indeed, local newspapers in 1838 reported the murder of one William Cashin, my forebear – well not exactly, related – in a fight between the Shanavests and Caravets at Ballingarry Fair. A stone deal the mortal blow to his forehead.
So there you have it – republicans, seditionists, murderers, faction fighters, all in the family tree. I was therefore destined for a career in the Labor Party.
However, one crook note I should record for posterity – in preparing these notes, my senior adviser whose name is Annie Bridget Mary O’Rourke, from guess where, and it’s not Germany, she let it be known to me that her forebear was transported from County Tipperary to Australia in 1838 on conviction of murder. She assures me that there is no connection between the demise of my forebear and the transportation of hers. You know what political staffers are like. It’s all mere coincidences. Just an accident. Anyway, just for the record.
To balance this out, let me give you just a few moments on my father’s side of the family heritage. I stand proud of my Mum’s Irish heritage.
Dad, is a different story. English, lumpen Protestants, the lot of them. Every one of them. Who makes my mother’s Irish forebears the actual picture of respectability.
Block your ears, Justice de Jersey. On my father’s side, no less than seven distinct convict lines. Crooks, forgers, highway robbers, the lot. There are separate records of different English ancestors of mine being convicted for stealing clocks, sugar, counterfeiting, robbery on the open road, and a theft of 200 pounds of glue. Sticky business, crime. That was a seriously terrible joke.
But I say this that when I was last in England and was a guest of Her Majesty at Windsor Castle, I didn’t mention to Her Majesty that my very forebears had also been guests of Her Majesty. A different Her Majesty, and a different type of being guest.
But there you go. English, Irish forebears but all making Australia ultimately their home. The Irish imprint on the Australian character is indelible.
As I said before, one in three convicts was Irish and of those, one in five was sent here for their role in the very Irish Rebellion, and one in ten Australians today claim Irish ancestry. Some say Australia is the most Irish country outside of Ireland itself, in its spirit, if not in its numbers.
And few states can claim a stronger Irish influence than Queensland. Those strong links are reflected here in the Queensland Irish Association, the only ethnic association of Brisbane to maintain an unbroken line for more than a hundred years. Give yourselves a clap.
The roll call of Australian history is of course thick with Irish names, whether in politics, in church, in business or in the wider community.
As Thomas Keneally observed in The Great Shame, as they spread to other lands, the Irish learn to wield the political and social clout that they were denied on their own soil.
And the roll call here in Australia includes at least six of my predecessors at The Lodge – James Scullin, Joseph Lyons, John Curtin, Francis Forde, Benedict Chifley, Paul Keating, as well as four Premiers from Queensland, at least. Thomas Joseph Byrne, Thomas Joseph Ryan, Ned Hanlon and dare I say it, Vincent Patrick Gair. We’re all entitled to at least one black sheep.
All these have shaped our past. They steel us for the present. And they shape our future.
As we in Australia and those of our friends in Ireland now confront the great challenges which the world presents as today, we are all now called on to call forth those great Irish Australian virtues and quality.
Virtues and qualities of pride, of tenacity, of fortitude in the face of adversity, of struggle, of faith, and of an abiding good humour in the face of adversity. Great Australian qualities. Great Irish qualities.
Eamon, you are in Australia as our guest. You are truly a welcomed guest among us. We are honoured that in this place, in Brisbane, we hosted your grandfather, the great Eamon de Valera in 1948. A legend of Irish politics. I’m told that Eamon de Valera in the midst of the troubles of 1916, while in full flight to delivering a speech such as this – I assume more eloquent and more political, because in this speech, a long speech, as speeches in Ireland can be from time to time, and sometimes in Australia, in a long speech – in walked the constabulary and arrested Eamon de Valera and threw him in the slammer for a full year.
In Australia it is a remarkable thing to be physically arrested for the length of your speeches – but not an entirely unwelcome development.
Can I say Eamon because of your grandfather’s rich lineage, because of he himself having embraced this hall a half a century or more ago, and because of the great friendship which exists between the Irish Republic and the Commonwealth of Australia, it is a great joy to have you with us this evening.
In these tough times which we now face around the world, Ireland and Australia stand together.
And it is in that spirit that I now ask you to charge your glasses and to stand and toast Australia our nation, a country greatly enriched by its Irish heritage and proud of it. Australia.
I thank you one and all.