Irish Diaspora - Australia


Main article: Irish Australian

Irish Australians form the second largest ancestry group in Australia, numbering 1,919,727 or 9.0 per cent of respondents in the 2001 Census.

It is not clear whether the Irish-born are considered "Irish Australians" or if the term only refers to their Australian-born descendants. The 2001 Census recorded 50,320 Irish-born in Australia, although this is a minimal figure as it only includes those who wrote in "Ireland" or "Republic of Ireland" as their country of birth. Responses which mentioned "Northern Ireland" as birthplace were coded as "United Kingdom". This interpretation may omit as few as 21,500 Irish-born present in the country, as many as 29,500, or possibly even more. Nevertheless the number of persons born in Ireland, north and south, resident in Australia in 2001 may be confidently extrapolated at around 75,000.

According to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs White Paper on Foreign Policy, there were 213,000 Irish citizens living in Australia in 1997; nearly three times the number of Irish-born immigrants to the country. Most Irish Australians, however, do not have Irish citizenship and define their status in terms of self-perception, affection for Ireland and an attachment to Irish culture.

Irish settlers - both voluntary and forced - were crucial to the Australian colonies from the earliest days of European settlement. The Irish first came over in large numbers as convicts (50,000 were transported between 1791 and 1867), to be used as free labour; even larger numbers of free settlers came during the 19th century, partly due to the Donegal Relief Fund. Irish immigrants accounted for one-quarter of Australia's overseas-born population in 1871. Their children, the first Irish Australians in the sense we understand the term, played a definitive role in shaping Australian history, society and culture. The Irish heritage has also had a significant influence of the Australian accent and slang words.

Historian Patrick O'Farrell noted in The Irish in Australia (1987) that the term "Australia first" became "what amounted to the Australian Irish Catholic slogan". These Australians of Irish background did not tend to regard Ireland as their "mother country" - primarily because few had a wish to return to a home they had left in search of a better life. Rather, they tended to identify themselves as Australians.

According to census data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2004, Irish Australians are, by religion, 46.2% Roman Catholic, 15.3% Anglican, 13.5% other Christian denomination, 3.6% other religions, and 21.5% as "No Religion".

The high percentage of Catholics is largely the result of descendants of Irish immigrants.

The song Far Away in Australia sung by the Irish ballad group The Wolfe Tones portrays the sorrow of two young Irish lovers who are separated when the male youth is forced to make his living far away in Australia, leaving his girl behind. Examples of the sad lyrics are: "Sweetheart I'm bidding you fond farewell" murmured the youth one day... "Must we be parted?" the young girl replied. "I cannot let you go"... "Far away in Australia, soon will fate be kind. When I will be ready to welcome at last, the girl I left behind".

The Irish have made a very significant contribution to education in Australia. Approximately 20% of Australian school students are currently enrolled in Catholic schools that were, in large part, established by Irish Catholic religious orders. Large numbers of Irish priests, nuns and brothers followed other Irish immigrants to Australia from the earliest years of European settlement in order to provide education to the children of those immigrants.

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