For St Patrick’s Day: A Tale of My Irish Past

Like many Australians, there are a lot of Irish personalities in my family tree history (on both sides). But these two are my favourite. John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love.

John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love
John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love

Their names are John Clare and Ellen O’Laughlin, from County Clare in Ireland. Ellen was young (nineteen or twenty) and John a bit older (around thirty) when they each boarded a ship leaving Ireland for Australia in the late 1800s, seeking a new, more prosperous life. They met on the boat and spent the months that it took for them to reach Australia falling in love. They married in their new country and went on to have nine Catholic babies, one of which was my great-grandmother, Hanora (Nora) Clare. They ran a pub in the town of Toowoomba and by all accounts were a very happy couple. John died first and left Clare to run the pub on her own while bringing up all those children.

Nora Clare went on to marry Edward Jackson, who was from County Armagh in Northern Ireland and unfortunately it wasn’t the love story her mother had. Edward was a heavy drinker and a violent man. Nora and Edward had ten children, one of which was my grandmother, Jean. Jean grew up in the small town of Yarraman in Queensland, a town I lived quite near to until recently, while Alwyn and I resided in Blackbutt for six years. The very same pub that Edward used to frequent in the early 1900s is still there. According to my grandmother, Edward would stumble out of the pub and onto his faithful horse, who then carried him home in the dark and stop at the front gate and whinny for Nora to let them in.

Nora Clare (Jackson), my great grandmother
Nora Clare (Jackson), my great grandmother

Nana moved to Brisbane for work and lived up in the hills of Paddington in a workers cottage, when workers cottages were in fact inhabited by the less fortunate. And it’s in Brisbane that her children were raised.

I went to Ireland in 2003, and truly, the only way I can describe the feeling was like coming home.

I wonder about Clare and John, whether they were excited to leave Ireland or desperately sad, whether they wanted more for themselves once they got to this country or whether they were ecstatic that they got more than anything they’d hoped for. I can’t even imagine taking such a tremendous leap of faith and saying good-bye to my homeland, family, friends and everything I knew for a strange, hot, snake-infested, wild country on the other side of the world, called Australia. I feel so sad for Nora, raising ten children with an alcoholic and violent husband, trying to keep them all safe, living with the terror in her house, and for her daughter, Jean, my grandmother,who was irrevocably changed because of it.

Nana had four children, the first of which was my mother, Geraldine, who had two children with my father, Brian.

They were all so very brave. And I am here because of them, with the good fortune of being able to choose to have just one child, with my red hair and freckly skin. And so is my son, named Flynn (a good Irish name), who demanded potatoes all day, every day while he was renting my womb for nine months. People frequently tell me he looks like a little leprechaun. So the Irish spirit continues in us all.

In honour of the many thousands of Irish men and women who came to Australia, happy St Patrick’s Day.

p.s. Thank you to my mum and my aunt Christine for organising photos for me at the last minute! xx