Irish Culture

Irish in Australia

Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

The Irish have been in Australia since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. The influence of the Irish on and contribution to Australia’s ever-changing cultural, economic, political and social life is of central significance. This is largely because the Irish and their descendants formed a third of the population up until 1914. Indeed, from 1854 to 1914, the Irish were the largest immigrant group after the English. During the WWI period, the mass migration from Ireland to Australia ended. Irish immigration has remained low ever since. There was a resurgence in the 1940s due to poverty and difficult living conditions. The majority of Irish immigrants worked on the land through farming and in towns and cities as a means to improve their family’s condition.

Catholic nuns and priests who came from Ireland in the 19th and early 20th centuries assisted in developing Catholic churches, schools and orphanages. This contributed to society's perceptions of particular religious groups and during the first half of the 20th century in Australia. More specifically, Catholicism was often associated with the Irish population while Protestantism was associated with the British. During this time, one's religious and identification played a major role in determining one's education and opportunities in life. Many descendants of the Catholic Irish often feel that their ancestors were victims in Australia due to British Protestant bigotry and discrimination.

Over the last 30 years, Australian engagement with Ireland has largely consisted of cultural exchanges. In the 1980s, there was a nationwide family history movement that put many in touch – some for the first time – with the stories of their Irish ancestors and their journey to Australia. This was made possible by the generally expansive and well-kept Australian archival records. Today, Australia has the largest Irish outside of Ireland. Some of the older generation of Australians feel a sense of being Catholic Australian of Irish origin. Irish culture remains immensely popular throughout Australia among the Irish and non-Irish alike. Those of Irish descent pay homage to their roots in various ways. Traditional Irish music of all kinds has become a significant part of the Australian folk music scene, and the phenomenon of the ‘Irish pub' took hold in Australian capital cities. Finally, on St. Patrick's Day, Irish culture is shared and celebrated throughout the country.

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