Mike Nayler

August 2, 2022 will mark the 160th Anniversary of the arrival of the Erin-go-Bragh into Moreton Bay after its difficult journey from Ireland.

The Erin-go-Bragh was the first ship to carry mainly Irish immigrants to start a new life in Queensland. Many of the families on board had been evicted by Lord Digby from the Barony of Geashill, outside Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Lord Digby’s eviction of these poor families caused a scandal in the Irish press and parliament at the time.

Fr Patrick Dunne, from the nearby Tullamore parish had spent time on the Australian gold fields and worked with Bishop James Quinn and the Queensland Immigration Society to arrange passage and land orders to both assist these evicted families and bolster the number of Catholic immigrants into Queensland. The Erin-go-Bragh was the first of many ships which helped to build a strong Irish Catholic community. At the time, the local Brisbane press said that Bishop Quinn was trying to create “Quinnsland” through Irish Catholic immigration.

In 1861, Fr Dunne toured the towns and villages around Tullamore to encourage dispossessed families to emigrate to Australia for a better life.

Fr Dunne arranged for a special train from Tullamore to take around 400 emigrants to meet the Erin-go-Bragh in Cobh for its departure on February 7, 1862. Fr Dunne accompanied the families on their journey to Australia.

A number of stories have survived from the Erin-go-Bragh’s journey including a happy tale from St. Patrick’s Day when a new born baby was presented to Fr Dunne for Baptism. Being St. Patrick’s Day, Fr Dunne announced that naturally, the infant would take the name Patrick in honour of St Patrick. The day after the Baptism, the parents let Fr Dunne know that Patrick was in fact a girl and she was renamed Mary Patrick.

Battling strong headwinds and a leaking hull, the Erin-go-Bragh took six months to make the journey from Cobh to Brisbane. This was twice the time of the usual 3 month journey and her frustrated passengers nicknamed her the “Erin-go-Slow”.

Sadly, 54 passengers (including 41 children) died mainly from communicable diseases on their journey. The death rate on the Erin-go-Bragh was nearly 7 ½ times the average for such a journey.

Given the prevalence of disease, the Erin-go-Bragh has the unenviable record of being the first ship to be quarantined at St Helena Island.

The Erin-go-Bragh’s descendants include many well know Australians, but perhaps the best known are Patrick Rafter, past international tennis player and footballer Clare Polkinghorne who is the 3rd most capped Australian footballer, male or female across all football codes. Other notable descendants include Captain John Burke, Denver Beanland, Bishop Cuskelly and Mick Veivers.

In August 2022, the Erin-go-Bragh’s descendants will gather to commemorate the 160th Anniversary of her arrival into Brisbane.

Any descendants or anyone else interested in learning more about the Erin-go-Bragh’s story or upcoming events can join the Erin-go-Bragh’s Facebook page – @eringobragh1862 or Instagram page – @erin_go_bragh_1862.