Back up from Down Under

Liam McLaughlin and his wife Irene pictured during their recent visit to Australia.
Liam McLaughlin and his wife Irene pictured during their recent visit to Australia.

If you saw strange looking person recently walking through the centre of Derry wearing a funny hat with tassels, waving a boomerang and whistling ‘Waltzing Matilda’, that was probably me. Only joking- don’t believe everything you read in the papers.

Seriously, though my wife and I spent almost two months recently in Brisbane- the holiday of a lifetime. I really should not say ‘holiday’: a tourist usually gets a superficial picture of a country. Our experience among friends and relatives was completely different. Hospitality was second to none. Queensland is a beautiful area with breathtaking scenery and magnificent beaches. The life style is very relaxed, and people spend much of their time out of doors, often watching ‘tele’ for no more than an hour every day.

Brisbane is a vibrant, modern city which also preserves reminders of its colonial past. The streets in the centre of the city are named after members of the British royal family: those named after female members run at right angles to those named after males. There must be a reason for this….

A focal point for the Irish in Brisbane is the building belonging to the Queensland Irish Association on Elizabeth Street, which houses the Irish Club. The club attracts people from every county in Ireland, as well as second and third generationAustralian Irish. Although living in challenging times, the club manages to maintain a membership of just under 4,000.

The centre hosts a wide range of social activities. The Queensland Irish Choir meets there every week for choir practice. It is also the meeting place of the Queensland Irish Pipe Band. Dances and concerts are held there regularly. There is a men’s and a ladies’ dining club (!) as well as a bridge club.

The interior of the building is magnificent, with heritage ceilings and extensive wood panelling.

We enjoyed the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the club after the traditional Irish Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Brisbane, with music from the Queensland Irish Choir.

The club is at present undergoing change and is considering options for the future use of its prime city centre site.

I attended a rehearsal of the Irish choir. This afforded me an opportunity to meet the members, including the president of the choir, James Donegan, a fluent Irish speaker from Dublin who has kept up the language in spite of the miles. I did not offer to sing for reasons that would have been obvious, but I gave a short talk on Irish language and culture which was well received.

The GAA in Queensland has gone from strength to strength. In the late 1960’s a small group got together in Brisbane and had a discussion on how to put in a Sunday since the pubs were not allowed to open then on that day.

This led to a football match between two scratch teams and developed into the Queensland Gaelic Football and Hurling Association, affiliated to the national body, with six senior football teams, plus reserve teams, as well as hurling and camogie sides.

Every major Australian city has an Irish Association. The casual visitor and the immigrant will receive céad mile fáilte at any of them. They are a great help in the settling in process. Information about Irish social activities in Australia can be got by simply Googling ‘Australian Irish Clubs’.

The Irish have preserved their own culture in Australia and at the same time have made a huge contribution to civic life in their new country. Does anyone have an idea where former Brisbane Lord Mayor Kieron Owen Timothy Quinn’s people may have come from, for instance?

But, crikey, I have been talking for yonks. You will have had enough of this ear bashing. Hoo-roo! Take it easy and have a good one!