Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick’s Day

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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Celebrating Australia’s Birthday

Celebrating Australia's Birthday

January 26th is Australia Day, which commemorates the arrival of the first fleet in Sydney in 1778 and the beginning of the colony.  Celebrating Australia’s birthday on this date has become controversial, however, because the nation’s first peoples see it as Invasion Day.  There have been calls to change Australia Day to another date out of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.  So far Australia Day remains a public holiday and a day to celebrate our diverse culture.

I Am A Kiwi Aussie

Even though it is not politically correct, I still enjoy celebrating Australia Day.  I am proud to call myself Australian, and love my adopted country.  I was born and raised in New Zealand and came to Australia when I was 19, in 1986.  New Zealand is as much a part of me as Australia.  My sons think of themselves as Kiwi Australians because they had frequent holidays to New Zealand with me.

The symbol for a Kiwi Aussie - half kangaroo (Australian), half fern leaf (New Zealander).  Source:  Clipart
The symbol for a Kiwi Aussie – half kangaroo (Australian), half fern leaf (New Zealander). Source: Clipart http://cliparts.co/clipart/2806792

There has always been a bit of rivalry between Kiwis and Aussies.  The beginning of this video by actor Sam Neill explains it with a humorous twist:

https://www.facebook.com/SBSAustralia/videos/10156058565748686/

Australia, My Adopted Home

My sister and I came to Australia as two naive teenagers, and set out on the big Aussie adventure, backpacking on a working holiday.  We started off in South Australia, picking grapes at a vineyard and packing dried fruit at an apricot factory.  My poor mother struggled with the sudden loss of her daughters, so much that my parents emigrated the following year.  One brother then the other eventually moved here as well.

Three of us married Aussies.  I decided to make it official and became an Australian citizen after my first son was born.  My dad, who was a widower by then, became a citizen at the same time.  The law changed over time, and now it is much harder to become an Australian citizen.  One of my brothers had to go through a very lengthy process because he had returned to New Zealand to live for five years.  He proudly became a citizen on Australia Day 2020.

Celebrating Australia Day with friends - I'm in the middle.  Photo: 3 women wearing Australian hats
Celebrating Australia Day with friends – I’m in the middle

Celebrating Australia Day

We will celebrate with my husband’s family the way we usually do:  with a barbeque, a dip in the pool, and a few beers.  We’ll try not to get sunburnt, and avoid the crowded beaches that are the favoured place to celebrate Australia Day.  This year’s celebrations will be much more subdued because of Covid-19, but we’ll fly our Aussie flag and get into the spirit of day by listening to some Oz Rock.

Happy Australia Day!

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