My regular reader may be aware that I am originally from the Emerald Isle.
It never ceases to amaze me as I travel around the world how the Irish seem to be, or have been, everywhere including some of the most bizarre and remote places on earth. Where isn’t there an Irish pub (granted some of them are not very Irish!)? From Cusco in Peru to Suva in Fiji the Irish are everywhere. I even came across a Northern Irish flag proudly flying on Ascension Island, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
That said, I have yet to find an Irish connection in North Korea. I have no doubt there is one there if only I were able to dig deep enough. Perhaps, I am it!
This rather liberal scattering of Irish around the world probably says as much about the state of Ireland over the years as it does about the attractiveness of places where the Irish diaspora is to be found – but that’s a whole topic in itself. Suffice to say the Irish made it to Cooma – some voluntarily, some not. The latter, of course, came as convicts, banished to the ends of the earth often for what one would nowadays regard as trivial offenses.
Located adjacent to St Patrick’s Church is a memorial to the memory of the many Irish who contributed, some giving their lives, to the development of Cooma as well as to those providing for the spiritual well being of its people.
The memorial, dedicated by H E Mr Richard A O’Brien, Ambassador of Ireland to Australia, in 1999 during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the commencement of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, recalls and asks us to remember:
“The Irish who died during and since the construction of the Snowy Scheme.
The early Irish settlers, many who came unwillingly, some to settle and prosper on the Monaro and Kiandra gold fields.
The Irish nuns and priests who dedicated their lives to serving the people.”
One of the Irish nuns undoubtedly in the minds of the creators of the memorial would have been the Rev. Mother Mary John Syrian (from Limerick) of the Brigidine Order who established the Convent/ school across the road from St Patrick’s Church.
Also remembered here and on the left hand side of the church where he is laid to rest is the Right Reverend Ryan, originally from Tipperary in Ireland. He served as parish priest in Cooma from 1936 to 1967.
One of the earliest settlers in Cooma (1830s) was an Irish convict (one of those who unwillingly came to Australia) called James Kirwan. Kirwan was a hawker, innkeeper (Kirwan Inn) and substantial landholder and farmer in Cooma before he died in 1852.
Many Irish people, finding it difficult to get employment in the post war gloom in Europe, joined migrants from 27 other countries and arrived in Cooma to work on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme – the biggest hydro-electric scheme the world had ever seen – between 1959 and 1974. Of the 121 workers who died while the Scheme was constructed fifteen were Irish.
I quite like this little ballad, The Cooma Cavaliers, written by an Irish worker, Ulick O’Boyle. It nicely sums up the spirit and camaraderie of the diverse workforce employed on the Showy Scheme.
It’s dark in that tunnel and work she is rough
By the time it hits payday we’ve all had enough
So we rush into Cooma to have us one spree
Four Italians, three Germans, two Yugoslavs
And before we get inside our order rings out,
Four vinos, three schnappses, two slivovitz,
Until it recently closed, a café called ’40 Café’, via a sign above its door, promised ‘a little bit of Irish’ in Cooma and offered a range of U2 burgers bearing the names of each band member.
I could go on but hopefully you have the picture.