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Irish descendants remember their family heritage

Forever Irish: Descendants of Irish families who boarded the famous ship Erin-go-Bragh, including Michael Nayler (right), marched in Brisbane’s St Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, March 14.

Forever Irish: Descendants of Irish families who boarded the famous ship Erin-go-Bragh, including Michael Nayler (right), marched in Brisbane’s St Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, March 14.

By Emilie Ng

CATHOLIC school principal Michael Nayler has no qualms calling himself a descendant of “boat people”.

The principal of St Mary’s School, Kingaroy, is a descendent of Irish emigrants who boarded the famous ship, Erin-go-Bragh, on January 9, 1862.

“It’s one of the ships that brought out my families,” Mr Nayler said.

Almost 150 years since their arrival in Brisbane, Mr Nayler joined his distant relatives at the recent St Patrick’s Day Parade in Brisbane to commemorate the “incredible tale” of their families’ journey to Queensland.

“In the Catholic archives they tell me everyone wants to be a descendant of the Erin-go-Bragh,” he said. “I think it’s a good message for today, because unless you’re indigenous, all of us are boat people.

“All of us come from outside Australia and arrived here.”

Mr Nayler is related to the Rafter and Deering families who spent 206 days on the Erin-go-Bragh, which means “forever Ireland”.

“It was a long journey, a six-month journey, the longest journey to Australia of any boat, with 54 deaths, one of the highest deaths of any boat,” Mr Nayler said. “The passengers nicknamed her the ‘Erin-go-Slow’.”

The Erin-go-Bragh has close ties with the Brisbane archdiocese, having been helped by the city’s first bishop.

“The incredible story of the Erin-go-Bragh was perhaps our archdiocese’s earliest efforts at supporting economic refugees and helped to develop our great state of Queensland,” Mr Nayler said.

In 1861, during a potato famine, Irish families in Country Offaly were forced to leave their land but, being poor, “begged” a local Catholic priest Fr Paddy Dunne to send them to Australia.

Fr Dunne contacted the Brisbane Bishop James Quinn and, with help from the Queensland Immigration Society, organised a passage from Ireland to Moreton Bay.

Following the Erin-go-Bragh emigrants, Fr Dunne recruited a total of 6000 Irish people who started a new life in Queensland.

The St Patrick’s Day link goes back to a story of an Irish baby born and baptised by Fr Dunne on the great Irish saint’s feast day aboard the Erin-go-Bragh.

The baby was christened Patrick, but parents alerted Fr Dunne the following day that their new family member was a girl.

The family renamed her Mary Patrick.

Some well-known descendants of the Erin-go-Bragh include tennis champion Patrick Rafter, Queensland politician Denver Beanland and the late Bishop James Cuskelly.

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