Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day Holds Special Significance For My Family

Saint Patrick’s Day has always been important for my family because of our Irish heritage.  My mother’s maiden name was Geraghty.  My other hobby is genealogy.  I have traced our family tree back to our European roots – Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish on my mother’s side and English and Polish on my father’s.  I have another blog about our family history called This is Who We Are.

My Irish Family’s Emigration to New Zealand

My Irish ancestors emigrated from County Cavan to New Zealand in 1865 on board the Ganges.  Patrick and Bridget Geraghty (nee Brady) had an eventful journey as she gave birth to a son, naming him Bartholemew Ganges Geraghty after the ship.  There were 56 deaths on board the Ganges from bronchitis and whooping cough.

Patrick and Bridget emigrated to New Zealand because of the chance to own their own land.  The potato famine had caused 1.5 million deaths in Ireland, and led to mass emigration to New Zealand, America and other parts of the world.  They had another 11 children.  One of their children died at the age of 2, another at 16.  

The Early Settlers Had a Tough Life

Life was very tough for the Irish settlers as they were housed in rough conditions then moved to a small town in the Waikato, Tuakau.  The New Zealand wars were fought in the area.  The Alexander Redoubt was built by the British troops and it was here that the wars with the Maori took place.  The result was that land was confiscated from the Maori to be used for farming for the settlers.  This caused  a lot of tension between the settlers and the Maori in the area.

The family became flax farmers as they had been allocated a 10 acre block.  The demand for flax fibre for ropes was high, and there were numerous flax mills in the area.  The Geraghty family have made their mark in Tuakau. There are a couple of roads named after them, and the cemetary in Tuakau has many of the descendants of Patrick and Bridget. They are buried in a large grave with an impressive monument to the Geraghty name along with several of their children. They began what is now a huge number of descendants who bear the Geraghty name in their family tree.  

Treasured Memories of my Irish Grandfather

My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary.  Saint Patrick's Day is a day to remember my Irish heritage.
My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary. I love this photo as they both look so happy

My grandfather was a third generation New Zealander.  He moved north to Dargaville after he married my English grandmother.  My grandfather wore a green jumper frequently.  He was a gentle, kind man but also tough.  His whole back yard was a potato garden.  The potato famine must have impacted the family through the generations.

St. Patrick’s Day Is Bittersweet

My family always celebrated St. Patricks Day but it holds bittersweet memories for me.  It is also the anniversary of my mother’s death.  Mum passed away from cancer in 1991, 30 years ago today.

My mother Diana (nee Geraghty) and the author, Christina Henry.  Taken in 1990 six months before Diana passed away
My mother and I in 1990, approximately six months before she died

Her passing was quite sudden.  This photo was taken of her on my hen’s night approximately 6 months before her death.  She was completely fine then and we had no inkling that cancer was metastasizing inside her.  In January she came to stay with me and my sister and I noticed that she wasn’t herself.  She seemed vague and not sprightly, and wandered off during a walk.

A Heart-breaking Diagnosis

I took her to my GP who ordered a CT Scan of her brain.  Being a nurse, my curiosity overcame me and I looked at the results.  The shock of reading that she had multiple metastases in her brain will always stay with me.  Having to phone dad and my brothers was incredibly hard.

We never did find out what her primary cancer was, but it was probably lung cancer.  The only treatment available in those days was radiotherapy which would have taken weeks to administer, and only extended her life for a few more weeks.  We decided to take mum home and make the most of the time we had left.

She had a burning desire to see her family so we took her to Sydney and Melbourne on the train to visit them.  Her brother, sister and nephew flew from New Zealand to meet up with us there.  My sister decided to take mum back to New Zealand to visit her other family members there.  Unfortunately mum took a sudden turn for the worse and passed away in her hometown, Dargaville.

Remembering my Mother on St. Patrick’s Day

Mum’s family looked after us all so well.  Her brother arranged the funeral and she is buried with her mum in Auckland.  Every time I go to New Zealand it is the first place I visit.  We have also buried a small portion of my dad’s and sister’s ashes with mum so that they can be together in spirit.

Mum was buried on my 25th birthday.  It just seems so weird to think she’s been gone for 30 years.  She was my age – 54 when she died.  Far too young to die.  I can’t imagine dying at my age.  She definitely wasn’t ready to go.  She wanted to see grandchildren but none of her four children had had kids yet.

Saint Patrick’s Day Today

I keep in contact with her family as they are such lovely people.  I visit them when I go to New Zealand.  Over the years my celebration of my Irish heritage has become more subdued.  I used to go to an Irish pub to eat Guinness pie and enjoy the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.  On her 10th anniversary my father, brother and I enjoyed a fantastic day in Auckland at the Irish pubs.  I just don’t enjoy it anymore.  I decided that I would have a quiet day of reflection instead.

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Shared on Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share Linkup and Denyse Whelan’s Life This Week Linkup


17 responses to “Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick’s Day”

  1. Today really is bittersweet for you, isn’t it. I hope your memories of your Mum help you through – as you say, 54 is far too young to leave us.


  2. Christina, You’ve done a great genealogy job. I hope your memories of your Mom help you through St. Patrick’s Day and you have a good week ahead. Thank you for linking with #weekendcoffeeshare.


    • Hi Natalie, thank you. Genealogy was a passion for a few years but I don’t do it much anymore. Especially since I’ve been doing this blog. My genealogy blog has sat there untouched for a few years but I might go back to it some day. St. Patrick’s day was hard, but writing about my family definitely helped. Thank you for your lovely comment, regards Christina


  3. Hi Christina – I’m so sorry that you lost your mum at such a young age, and it must be quite confronting to see yourself now at her age – I hope it inspires you to live every day well and to appreciate life – I think we take so much for granted and remembering how fortunate we are to be alive and well is a wonderful legacy to have.


    • Hi Leanne, yes it was confronting when I reached the same age. I just knew I wanted to be here for my sons as I didn’t want them to go through the same thing. That was a huge driving force behind me having prophylactic surgery and I’m glad I did it. I am so grateful that I got that chance when many others don’t. Thankyou so much for your caring words, they mean a lot, Christina


  4. I’m so sorry about your mom. My mom passed away 17 years ago at 54 from cancer…too soon. I did love reading your family’s history, and it makes me want to look into my family’s history more.


    • Hi Kirstin, I’m sorry to hear that you lost your mom too. It is far too young to die. Learning about your family history is interesting and inspiring. I couldn’t help but admire my forebears for their resilience and strength to endure such terrible conditions. Good luck, I hope you enjoy it, regards Christina


  5. Hello! How interesting to read about your family history snd your ancestors emigrating from Ireland. What an awfully long trip that must have been, from Ireland to New Zealand in those days. I wonder how long that took?

    I understand it must be difficult to enjoy St Patrick’s day after the loss of your mother. Better then to take the day for yourself in peace and quiet.


    • Hi Susanne, the Ganges took over 3 months to sail from Ireland to New Zealand. My ancestors would have been in the lower decks because their passage would have been free or heavily subsidised by the company who organised it. The reason they undertook the journey was the promise of free land in exchange for their labour. They certainly made the most of it and were successful – I admire them very much for their courage. Thankyou so much for your caring words, it means a lot, regards Christina


  6. Hi Christina, although bittersweet, it really was lovely to read your words and see the photos of your mum. Your family’s history was very interesting and I agree your grandparents look very happy in their anniversary photo.


    • Hi Debbie, Thank you so much for your comment. My parents and grandparents were such special people and I’m glad I can share that through my blog. They lived every day to the fullest so that inspires me to do the same. Take care, Christina


  7. What a story and what a loving tribute to your mum. Oh how sad she died so young too. I hope that you can ‘move past’ being a similar age to your mum and embrace all of life past that age to be and do what you can. A loving and moving post. Written with grit and courage….in a daughter’s loving voice.

    Thank you for linking up your blog post to Life This Week #232. Lots of interesting comments from bloggers this time about “good”. Next week, the optional prompt is Heroic….that too might generate more conversation…and THAT is what I love about hosting a link up on my blog. See you there. Denyse.


    • Hi Denyse, thank you for your lovely comment. Mum was a very special person and she touched a lot of people with her serene nature and love for everyone. She was an excellent role model to me. I am like her in some ways, but very different in others. Thankyou for giving me the opportunity to share my blog with your linkup. I look forward to it every week. Take care, Christina


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