Easter Sunday Oration


Waverley Cemetery

Bishop Cremin, and Reverend Fathers; Denis O'Flynn, President of the Irish National Association; men and women - of Ireland, and of Australia.

This Memorial is first and foremost a tomb.

Here lie the remains of Michael Dwyer, the Wicklow Chieftain, and his wife Mary.

Michael Dwyer was a captain in the United Irishmen, and fought in the 1798 Rising.

A great many of those rebels were sent to the far end of the world - to the penal colony of Botany Bay.

Exile to Australia was the potential punishment that hung over all gestures of protest and rebellion in Ireland.

United Irishmen were shipped on six vessels which arrived in Australia between 1800 and 1806.

Michael Dwyer and his comrades continued the fight in the Wicklow Hills, until 1803, when Robert Emmet's rising failed.

The British government then sent Dwyer to Sydney, for life.

He had not been tried or convicted;

he was termed a 'state prisoner'.

He, his wife, and four of his comrades arrived in Sydney in 1806.

Sydney's population was around 8000.

In 1807 Governor William Bligh had Michael Dwyer arrested on suspicion of organising a rising in Sydney

– a charge of which he'd already been acquitted –

and sent him to the Norfolk Island penal settlement, 1000 miles off the coast of New South Wales.

Dwyer returned to Sydney in 1809, after the Rum Rebellion.

He was pardoned in full by Governor Macquarie in 1814.

Michael Dwyer died in 1825, in 'respectable prosperity', survived by his wife Mary and seven children.

Mary lived to the age of 95, passing away in 1861.

Michael and Mary Dwyer lay at rest in the Devonshire Street Cemetery, until the New South Wales Government determined to build Sydney's Central Railway Station on the land occupied by that cemetery.

Sydney's Irish community resolved to build a fitting resting place for the Wicklow Chieftain and the other heroes of 1798.

The Irish community, in Sydney and in country towns in New South Wales, in Victoria and in Queensland and in New Zealand, raised the 2000 pounds needed for this Memorial.

The remains of Michael and Mary Dwyer were exhumed from the Devonshire Street Cemetery and moved here in 1898, the centenary of the 1798 Rising.

The two coffins were brought to Waverley via St Mary's Cathedral, where Cardinal Moran said Mass.

The funeral hearse was followed by 400 horse drawn carriages.

10,000 people were in the procession; several multiples of that number lined the route to this place.

I believe that it remains the largest funeral procession that Sydney has ever seen.

The only one I can think of that rivals it took place in 1915, for 37 year old Victor Trumper, who is also buried here in the Waverley Cemetery.

Victor Trumper was a cricketer.

Now I wouldn't usually speak to a gathering of Irish nationalists about cricket; even if, in 2011, Ireland can beat England at cricket, ....and Australia can't!

Where my wife comes from, in south Tyrone, cricket is – to put it politely - far from the most popular of sports.

My four-year-old and two-year-old daughters have been trained well by their mother.

"We don't like cricket, daddy",

they tell me whenever I turn the television on at home.

But Michael Dwyer and Victor Trumper have in common more than just drawing the largest crowds ever to this Cemetery, 113 years ago and 96 years ago respectively.

For they were both patriots.

They were both nationalists.

Victor Trumper was an Australian nationalist.

He stood alongside Nellie Melba and Les Darcy as the greatest heroes of the infant Australian nation.

He, more than anyone, turned the most British of sports into an expression of the Australian character.

The historian Bede Nairn wrote that Trumper,

"reworked the charter of cricket from a Victorian artefact ... with spacious Australian flourishes all but replacing the English script."

Michael Dwyer, an Irish rebel leader, and Victor Trumper, an Australian cricketer, were both loved by their people.

For they represented the best character of the Irish, and Australian, peoples.

The Irish sense of fierce independence, and dedication to justice and egalitarianism – brought here by the half million Irish who came to these shores between 1788 and 1921 - played a huge part in the developing character of Australia.

Irish nationalism weaves a thread through the history of this country since white settlement.

In 1804 the transported Irish rose against their British captors at a place to the west of Sydney that they called Vinegar Hill, after the site of the climactic 1798 battle in County Wexford.

Fifty years later many Irish participated at the Eureka Stockade.

The password at the stockade was 'Vinegar Hill'.

The Eureka flag, first flown at the stockade in 1854, was flown over the striking shearers' camps in 1891.

From those strikes grew a Labor Party.

The Labor Party reflected many of the traditions and aspirations of the Irish in the Australian colonies.

For many, Labor's strongest identity was as the party of the Irish working class.

It could not be otherwise.

For the Irish worked in the shearing sheds, the mines, the timber camps and on the wharves from which the Labor Party was born.

The Labor Party is older than the Commonwealth of Australia.

It has endured through two world wars, numerous splits, great triumphs and shattering defeats.

Labor honours and reveres the men and women who built the Party and carried it forward in the toughest of times.

The remembrance of and reverence for the heroes of the past, is part of what makes Labor who we are.

So too, it's part of what makes Irish people Irish.

Ireland never forgets.

Over the last four years, too many people in NSW Labor forgot who we come from and who we are meant to represent.

And as we stand here today, this Memorial reminds us that the principles, and the convictions, of those who went before us must be lived up to as well as celebrated.

This Memorial is also a memorial to the martyrs of 1916.

The men who rose in Dublin at Easter in 1916 drew inspiration from the 1798 rebels.

On Easter Monday, April 24, James Connolly led the Headquarters Battalion from Liberty Hall to the General Post Office and commanded military operations there throughout the week.

Though Connolly was severely wounded on April 27, Pádraig Pearse said he was "still the guiding brain of our resistance".

James Connolly was not only one of the heroes of 1916,

he co-founded the Irish Labour Party in 1912.

When the Easter Rising took place in Dublin in 1916, the Labor Party here was already 25 years old.

The 1916 Annual Conference of the Labor Party in New South Wales commenced at Easter.

When the rebels rose in Dublin on the morning of April 24, the Labor Party conference was assembled in Sydney.

And to this day, there has been no more dramatic NSW Labor conference in our 120 year history.

It was a dress rehearsal for Labor's Great Split, later that year, over the issue of military conscription.

Conscription divided Labor irrevocably.

The Party withdrew the endorsements of, and expelled, Labor parliamentarians who supported conscription.

The Premier of New South Wales, William Holman, and the Prime Minister of Australia, Billy Hughes, were cast out of the Labor Party, never to return.

William Holman's theory of the Labor split was that the Party had fallen into the hands of Australians of Irish extraction whom the Easter Rising had dissuaded from further supporting the war.

I do not accept this.

Before 1916 there had been a balance maintained between Catholic and Protestant Labor parliamentarians, based on the proportions in the wider society.

And, yes, following the Split the Labor Party came to be dominated by Australians of Irish birth and descent, largely as a result of the purge of the advocates of conscription.

But opposition to conscription was the dominant sentiment inside the Labor Party from 1915, prior to the events in Ireland the following Easter.

The truth is that Australian nationalists and Irish nationalists had, and have to this day, a common perspective:

that our respective countries must be free and independent, and advance our own national interests.

Labor resolved to support the right of Ireland to political independence.

When it came to ending the Great War, which would cost 60 thousand Australians their lives, Labor's peace plan had nine points.

The first read,

"The right of small nations, including Ireland, to political independence".

The 1916 Annual Conference of the NSW Labor Party concluded on May 10.

It had met for sixteen days.

Two days later, James Connolly was executed at dawn in Kilmainham Gaol.

His wounds were so great he was carried in on a stretcher, and then strapped to a chair to face the firing squad.

He was the last of the rebel leaders to be executed.

The 1916 Rising was, of course, the precursor to the War of Independence and eventual partition of the island of Ireland.

My wife Edel is from a part of Ireland that was denied the right to political independence in 1922, because of partition.

Edel is from the village of Augher, in the county of Tyrone.

The people of that part of Ireland elected Bobby Sands as a Member of the Westminster Parliament on April 9, 1981.

That day was his 40th day without food.

Bobby Sands, Member of Parliament for Fermanagh – South Tyrone, died of starvation on May 5, 1981, the 66th day of his fast.

This Memorial is also a memorial to him and the other 1981 hunger strikers. 

Edel and I were married in Augher.

Our eldest child, Aoife, was baptised there.

The two girls who served on the altar at our wedding mass lost their mother, their grandmother, their 18 month old sister and their unborn twin siblings in the 1998 Omagh bombing.

They live in Augher, just down the road from Edel's family.

Their late mother was from Beragh.

My wife's mother is from Beragh.

Ronan Kerr was also from Beragh.

Three weeks ago, Ronan Kerr, aged 25, was murdered in Omagh.

Targeted for being a Catholic in the police service. 

Murdered by people with a warped view of Ireland's present, who offer no hope for Ireland's future.

The GAA, which until recent years forbade its members from joining the police in Northern Ireland, unequivocally condemned the murder of Ronan Kerr.

Mickey Harte and Tyrone's Gaelic Football team carried his coffin down the main street of Beragh.

It was the nationalist community who buried Ronan Kerr;

 just as it was the nationalist community who buried hunger striker Martin Hurson, from nearby Cappagh, in 1981.

Thousands marched in Omagh two weekends ago, calling on the so called 'dissident republicans' to end their campaign.

The people who murdered Ronan Kerr want to tear down the peace process.

But Irish nationalists cannot, must not and will not allow that to happen.

Ireland is a 32-county nation.

Tyrone is as intrinsic a part of Ireland as is Dublin, or Limerick, or Galway.

I believe that the unification of Ireland, in my lifetime, is a realistic objective.

The Good Friday Agreement provides the framework to dismantle the bias and discrimination that was enshrined in the Six Counties at partition.

The North has come too far.

It will never return to being a Protestant state for a Protestant people.


The names on this Memorial struggled for a united Ireland in which all - Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters alike - would be free.

In this small place, at the farthest reaches of the globe from the homeland of these patriots, we honour them all. 

Nowhere in the world is there a more fitting tribute to the memory of past generations of brave Irish men and women than this Memorial at Waverley.

May the Irish community in Sydney, and Australia, continue to treasure, and do all in our power to preserve, this jewel which enshrines so much of Ireland's, and Australia's, history and culture.