NZ-Irish Connections

We have a lot in common you know, New Zealand and the Irish. Each year the Skytower in Auckland is lit green for St Patricks Day and people dress green in honour of the occasion. We have a good many ‘Irish Pubs’ as well.. I’ve no idea how authentic they are but they get the warm, friendly atmosphere right. Our favourite, in Invercargill, is Waxy’s Irish Pub.

The connections mayn’t be that obvious but they’re there all the same. Consider the ceiling above us …

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When I put the photo online, Damien told me that Blackrock – there on the map – is the place where he was born. Connections.


The photos below are all taken by Damien B. Donnelly within 2km of his home

Used here with Damien’s permission.
I’ve edited many of them, including cropping to suit.

These Dublin photos of Damien’s spoke to me and I asked permission to use them – without having a clue what I’d do with them. They took me on a journey of discovery.

Look, here’s Damien waving at us from Ireland!

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He’s back at the family home, at least for now

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The sportsfield’s a familiar scene – though more likely to see rugby posts in NZ

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These leaves look like hydrangea and they grow very well down south here. Ireland is the ‘Emerald Isle’ but New Zealand’s pretty green – especially here in Southland and South Otago where we live.

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Dandelions share their sunshine just as brightly in Ireland 🙂

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and take me back-in-time to another Irish connection, in the 1800s

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From 1841-1846 our three main islands North Island, South Island and Stewart Island were named, and I kid you not – New Ulster, New Munster and New Leinster. We didn’t even have a lot of Irish living here at the time!

Our first Governor (after NZ in 1841 became a separate colony from New South Wales) was William Hobson and he was born in Waterford, Ireland – province of Munster – hence the names derived from Irish provinces. You can read all about it at Wikipedia.

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In 1845 the Dublin University Magazine described New Zealand as ‘the most recent, remotest, and least civilised of our colonies’. It was the most expensive to reach – over four times the cost of crossing the Atlantic to America.

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In Ireland, in the late 1840s there was a devastating potato famine, in which over a million people died. But … “For the first half-century of European settlement in New Zealand the number of migrants from Ireland was small. Almost none came direct from the potato famine.” —this info and the previous paragraph, is from this page. The same page explains that more Irish settled in the Auckland area – many of them from County Dublin.

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The numbers of Irish immigrants began to rise sharply during the 1860s, and by 1871 they comprised over one-fifth of New Zealand’s immigrant population. This was partly because of the gold rush in the 1860s. More info is available at this page. Auckland’s Irish population continued to grow and more Irish arrived in Otago, West Coast and Canterbury.

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I’ll leave off the history now but suffice to say many NZers have some Irish in their ancestry. For me, I have a little Irish ancestry through my mother. Although small, this was important to Mum and she wore an Irish ring which she treasured. I think she was 25% Irish. I didn’t qualify to wear the ring and she gave it to my sister-in-law (whose maiden name was Murphy, she came from Australia). If you look at Kay McKenzie Cooke’s About Page you’ll read that she’s also part-Irish through her father.

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An Irish ex-convict from Australia named John Kelly settled where the Southland city of Invercargill now is – before it was surveyed! His is an enthralling story, you can read about it (a great yarn) at Tempestuous tale of Invercargill’s first settler…

He’d initially been a sealer, then trader and seems to have been very involved with local Maori. He had three Maori wives (at various times) and finally settled in what’s now Invercargill with a non-Maori woman.

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Which leads to my next Connection, in Invercargill
–photo taken by me

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Celtic/Maori Wall:  Using symbols and emblems, the wall brings together the two main cultures of the city and province – the Ngai Tahu iwi and people of Celtic origin.

The wall interprets our environment, with exposed river aggregate panels representing Southland’s landforms. The base of the structure features the ever-changing wave patterns of the southern ocean.

Another photo — and there’s more photos at my original post

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The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has compiled a list of the countries outside of Ireland that had the most Irish migrants in 2015. Irish migrants are defined as Irish citizens or people born in Ireland. — from IrishCentral

1. U.K. (503,288)
2. U.S. (132,280)
3. Australia (101,032)
4. Canada (33,530)
5. Spain (14,651)
6. South Africa (13,009)
7. Germany (11,373)
8. France (9,828)
~
9. New Zealand (9,398)
~
10.Poland (7,592)

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According to the ‘New Zealand ~ Ireland ~ Connection’ Page at the University of Otago:

“The Irish have contributed significantly to New Zealand society and, today, around 20% of New Zealanders have Irish ancestry.”

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The populations of Ireland and New Zealand seem remarkably similar (these aren’t quite up-to-date but not bad, the NZ figure is probably a 2019 stat)
–from countryeconomy.com

Ireland Population
4,904,240       (70,280 km2 surface area)

New Zealand
4,930,000       (267,710 km2 surface area)

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from The Irish Times:  Mary-Therese Blair, originally from Co Wicklow
Irishwoman in New Zealand

The Irish fit well everywhere, but more so in New Zealand than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The Irish are so beloved here and I still get complimented weekly on my accent. The Kiwis are an irreverent, fun, and kind people who, much like the Irish, if they say “come and stay in my house when you visit NZ,” they mean it.

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It’s not unusual to see our NZ cabbage trees Cordyline australis in Damien’s photos (as in the photo above) and they call them ‘palms’ over there LOL 🙂

If I were in Ireland, seeing that cabbage tree would make me feel right at home!

Another thing we have in common is GORSE

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Introduced to NZ for gorse hedges (living fences), it ran rampant everywhere, covering huge swathes of land in NZ. Down south here where the climate’s cooler it’s not quite so bad and gorse hedges can still be seen. This photo is Damien’s though – this is Ireland!

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HUGE “Thank You” — for letting me use your photos Damien!

All photos by Damien B. Donnelly unless otherwise attributed.
Note: many have been edited by me, including cropping.

To see Damien’s photos as originally presented, and more, you can find them at:

[link]  Wordless Wednesday, within the confines of 2km


Text by Liz, photos as attributed; Exploring Colour (2020)

16 thoughts on “NZ-Irish Connections

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  1. Wonderful greens – very lush! And gorse! That brings me right back to my childhood home! There were lots of gorse bushes in the field beside our house and my brother and I had a little hideout there because we kids could (just) get into a little clearing in the centre of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Liz, with so many tidbits on the connections. It’s amazing anyone in the 1800s would undertake that journey to NZ—daunting at the least. I’d wondered about the famine and gold rush effects when I first started reading your text.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many Irish that came here had eventually filtered in from Australia. One thing I don’t know is how many of their ex-convicts (in general) came here once they were freed. I’ve never seen that mentioned.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this fascinating post, Liz. We often come across evidence of the Irish diaspora during our travels abroad, including “Irish” pubs. Speaking of which, I love The Irish Pub Song by the High Kings, which includes the lines “They’ve got one in Honolulu / They’ve got one in Moscow too / They’ve got four of them in Sydney / And a couple in Kathmandu / So whether you sing or pull a pint / You’ll always have a job / Because wherever you go around the world / You’ll find an Irish pub”. Says it all, really!

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    1. Thanks for your appreciation Gary, it means so much because my learning over the last 2 or 3 days was quite extreme! As a NZ-born NZer I couldn’t get over the fact I never knew about the history of these Irish names for our islands!!! I’m certain we were never told about that in school!

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  4. Oh goodness, what an education, even for me. Firstly let me start by saying I am waving back at you all from the last photograph in this post as it is our cottage seen from the next door field where I have been doing my running laps since covid quarantined us all.
    I love that the islands were named Ulster, Munster and Leinster. We do have a 4th Provence which is Connacht but as Cromwell said when he claimed Irish lands for the commonwealth- ‘to hell or to Connacht’- and many went to hell as Connacht was the bad lands of Ireland!!! Not surprising NZ left that one out!
    And almost the same population- that’s so funny.
    I love all the tales you entwined around the photographs and the stories I myself have to go and search out- so thanks for the links. The Mãori and Celtic cross is stunning. Quite the mix of cultures- that would be a drunken celebration, I imagine.
    I can’t wait till I can discover for myself how welcoming the Irish are in New Zealand though for now, I already feel like an honouree New Zealander due to the joy you both send my way. This is just lovely Liz. Huge hugs 🤗🤗☘️☘️💚💚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An honouree NZer, oh you are and you’d be right at home here 🙂 Thanks for the generous response – I hoped you’d enjoy this Dami – a journey in spite of lockdown. I was compelled by a heart-response to your photos that I couldn’t quite fathom at the time! It’s been quite the learning experience, and in the end, very satisfying. Huge hugs back at you 🙂

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  5. A wonderfully informative post. I didn’t know a lot of what you have written about the Ireland – New Zealand connection. Some great references too. All beautifully supported by Damien’s lovely photos. I’m very proud of my Irish heritage. Thanks Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was truly a journey for me Kay, exciting discoveries that brought various strands together. Prior to this research I didn’t know about our main islands being named after Irish provinces – that was a huge surprise! I’m really glad you enjoyed this, makes it even more satisfying to have put in the effort. Cheers.

      Liked by 1 person

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