First Fleet to Federation: Irish supremacy in colonial Australia
Trinity College Dublin Press $34.95pb, 272pp
It was inevitable, sooner or later, someone would write a book celebrating the achievements of the Protestant Irish in Australia. Books commemorating the part played by the Catholic Irish culminated in Patrick O’Farrell’s ambit claim that they were responsible for just about everything we like to think of (or used to think of) as being distinctively Australian. Now Professor Jarlath Ronayne has given us his own hyperbolic response in the subtitle of this sumptuous publication. The best way to see the book is as a useful reminder that ‘Irish’ and ‘Catholic’ were not synonyms in colonial Australia. Irish-born Protestants, whether they were members of the Ascendancy élite or, as in most cases, of much more modest origins, identified themselves as Irish. In early Melbourne, they joined with the Catholic Irish to celebrate St Patrick’s Day as their national event. However, their Irish ‘nation’ was the Protestant nation euphorically invoked by the Protestant ‘Patriots’ of ‘Grattan’s Parliament’ in the 1780s. And Trinity College, Dublin, was the alma mater of that minority ‘nation’.