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Irish Poets in Colonial Brisbane: Mary Eva O'Doherty and Cornelius Moynihan

  • Patrick Buckridge


This paper compares the literary careers of two Irish immigrant-poets who lived and wrote for a significant part of their lives in nineteenth-century Brisbane, using the comparison to explore some of the different ways in which Irish literary tradition could reinvent itself in a new physical and cultural environment. Early Brisbane is not an especially fertile field for the study of Irish-Australian literary writing, perhaps surprisingly, given the strong Irish presence in Brisbane society during the first half of the twentieth century. One explanation may be that whereas the Irish had a strong presence in the military and the labouring classes in the Moreton Bay Colony, the institutions of government, public education and the press — the chief nurseries of Culture in most settler societies — were dominated by the English and Scottish.



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1 For the Irish presence in the military and the convicts/emancipists, see Jennifer Harrison, ‘Governors, gaolers and guards: the Irish soldiers at Moreton Bay, 1824–42’, in Irish-Australian Studies: Papers Delivered at the Seventh Irish-Australian Conference, July 1993, ed Pelan, Rebecca et al. (Sydney: Crossing Press, 1994), 300310. For the dominant Scottish presence, see John Mackenzie-Smith, Moreton Bay Scots, 1841–59 (Brisbane: Church Archivists Press, 2000).

2 On all these types of literary Irish-ness, see Frank Molloy, ‘The Irish in Colonial Poetry’; and Brian Elliott, ‘The Celtic Twilight in Australia’ in Singing to the Cattle (Melbourne: Georgian House, 1947), 110123.

3 ‘The Bush’ in The Poems of Bernard O'Dowd, ed Murdoch, Walter, 3rd ed, Melbourne & Sydney: Lothian Publishing Co.. 1944, 208.

4 The theoretical basis for this ‘role-centred’ approach to Irish-Australian poetry is to be found in a number of recent studies of English Renaissance poetry, in particular, Richard Helgerson, ‘Self-Crotwi ‘Laureates’: Spenser, Jonson, Milton and the Literary System (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), and Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: from More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

5 Hornibrook, J.H., Bibliography of Queensland Verse, with Biographical Notes (Brisbane: A.H.Tucker, Government Printer, 1953). The five are Eva O'Doherty, Henry Barkley (1865–1932), Olivia Mary Connolly, nee Knight (1830–1908), Robert West Mayne (1835–1891), and Cornelius Moynihan (1862–1915).

6 Kellow, H.A., The Queensland Poets (London: Harrap, 1930) mentions O'Doherty, Connolly and Moynihan; Cecil Hadgraft, Queensland and Its Writers (St Lucia: University of Queensland, 1959) only O'Doherty; and Stable, J.J. and Kirwood, A.E.M., eds, A Book of Queensland Verse (Brisbane: Qld Book Depot, 1924), includes only O'Doherty and Connolly.

7 A biography of Kevin and Eva O'Doherty has been published: Ross and Heather Patrick, Exiles Undaunted: The Irish Rebels Kevin and Eva O'Doherty (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1989).

8 For an excellent account of the early years of Davis's Nation, see Malcolm Brown, The Politics of Irish Literature (Seattle: University of Washington Press), 1972.

9 Doherty, Eva O', Poems by ‘Eva’ of ‘The Nation’, Dublin: Gill, 1909.

10 For a brief account, with extracts from the correspondence, of the O'Dohertys' early tribulations, see Kieman, T.J., The Irish Exiles in Australia (Melbourne: Bums and Oates, 1954), 121134. See also Patrick and Patrick.

11 Poems, 30.

12 Poems, 42.

13 The poem is widely reprinted in older school anthologies, for example Walter Murdoch, ed, The Poets' Commonwealth (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1941), 151.

14 Browne, R.S., A Journalist's Memories (Brisbane: Read Press, 1927), 108.

15 The Freeman's Journal, Sydney. My thanks to Ross Patrick for information and materials.

16 This account is based on Moynihan's will and other papers in the Queensland State Archives, and on interviews with Moynihan's grand-niece, Miss Paula Rosenstengel.

17 Miscellaneous Poems by ‘Vivian’ [i.e. Cornelius Moynihan], A Young Queensland Author (Brisbane: R.S. Hews. 1880), 10.

18 Miscellaneous Poems, 22.

19 The Bunyip of Wendouree and Other Poems by Cornelius Moynihan, Brisbane, 1910. Draft copy in Fryer Memorial Library, University of Queensland.

20 The Feast of the Bunya: An Aboriginal Ballad by Cornelius Moynihan (Brisbane: Gordon and Gotch, 1901), 5455.

21 Cutting, n.d., from Brisbane Telegraph in The Bunyip of Wendouree, Fryer Library.

22 The reader's report, together with Moynihan's aggrieved letter and a manuscript of the complete poem, are held in the Queensland Parliamentary Library.

23 Browne, Memories, 152.

24 Notes to ‘Lake Wendouree’, in The Bunyip of Wendouree, Fryer Library.

25 Queensland Parliamentary Debates, 16 11, 1915, 21382139.

Irish Poets in Colonial Brisbane: Mary Eva O'Doherty and Cornelius Moynihan

  • Patrick Buckridge


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