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Towards a ‘world-wide empire of the Gael’: nationalism, identity, and the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, 1912–22

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 June 2022

Patrick Mannion*
Affiliation:
Independent Scholar

Abstract

In the early twentieth century, Irish ethnic, benevolent and mutual benefit associations around the world became part of the transnational fight for Irish freedom, utilising large, widespread memberships to raise funds and lobby for Irish independence. In Australia and New Zealand the largest such group was the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (H.A.C.B.S.), which boasted some 41,000 members spread across almost 600 branches in 1920. The society's engagement with the home rule movement and the subsequent Irish Revolution provides a fascinating example of how the expansive spatial and intergenerational networks of Irish-Catholic benevolent associations were mobilised in full support of Irish self-determination, particularly after 1919. Members of the H.A.C.B.S. in Australia had to negotiate complex and sometimes competing identities and loyalties: to Ireland, Australia and the British Empire, and the evolution of these tensions reflects the variety and complexity of global Irish nationalism. Reflecting patterns observed elsewhere, within a context of increasing sectarian tensions, labour militancy and broad Catholic disillusionment with their political and economic place in Australasian society, the H.A.C.B.S. moved from devout imperial loyalty in 1916 to total support for a fully independent Irish republic by 1922.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd

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References

1 [Sydney] Freeman's Journal, 11 May 1916.

2 Strong condemnations of the rising by Australia's Catholic bishops and archbishops, in addition to comparable resolutions by the Australian Holy Catholic Guild, the Irish National Foresters and United Irish League of Victoria, all appeared together in Sydney's foremost Catholic newspaper, the Freeman's Journal. See Freeman's Journal, 11 May 1916. All references below to the Freeman's Journal relate to the Sydney title and not the Dublin newspaper of the same name.

3 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1916 (Melbourne, 1916), p. 43; H.A.C.B.S., Report of the proceedings of the second triennial meeting, 1916 (Brisbane, 1916), p. 30. See also Patrick O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia: 1788 to the present (Sydney, 2000), p. 264.

4 In his introduction to the concept of ‘diaspora’, Kevin Kenny notes that the term is most accurately used ‘when it involves communication not only between a given overseas community and a homeland but also among various overseas communities of common origin, conceived as nodes in a network or web’. The H.A.C.B.S. constituted an important institutional node connecting those of Irish birth and descent overseas to one another and to their ancestral homeland: see Kevin Kenny, Diaspora: a very short history (Oxford, 2013), p. 13.

5 See O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia, p. 252; Sweetman, Rory, ‘Who fears to speak of Easter week? Antipodean Irish Catholic responses to the 1916 Rising’ in O'Donnell, Ruan (ed.), The impact of the 1916 Rising among the nations (Dublin, 2008), pp 7190Google Scholar.

6 O'Connor, Patrick H., The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, 1880‒1980 (Sydney, 1980), pp 10, 17Google Scholar; Mary Denise Sweeney, ‘The Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society — Brisbane branches, 1879‒1906: a heritage study’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 2005), pp 2, 7, 38.

7 On the expansion of Irish associational culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its impact on the evolution of identity at home and in the diaspora, see Jennifer Kelly and R. V. Comerford, ‘Introduction’ in Jennifer Kelly and R. V. Comerford (eds), Associational culture in Ireland and the wider world (Dublin, 2010), p. 3.

8 O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 14.

9 Sweetman, Faith and fraternalism: a history of the Hibernian Society in New Zealand (Dunedin, 2002), p. 1; O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 18.

10 Sweeney, ‘The Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society’, p. 61.

11 Ibid., p. 65.

12 O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 19.

13 Ibid., pp 19‒20.

14 Sweetman, Faith and fraternalism, p. 179; Sweeney, ‘The Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society’, p. 102; O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 9.

15 O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, pp 22‒3.

16 Ibid., p. 15.

17 Membership figures were published in reports appended to the minutes of each triennial meeting: see H.A.C.B.S., Proceedings of the first triennial meeting of interstate representatives, 1912 (Perth, 1912); Report of the proceedings of the second triennial meeting, 1916; Report of the proceedings of the third triennial meeting, 1920 (Sydney, 1920).

18 Membership figures are calculated from the published reports of triennial meetings. See Proceedings of the first triennial meeting of interstate representatives, 1912; Report of the proceedings of the second triennial meeting, 1916; Report of the proceedings of the third triennial meeting, 1920.

19 All branches are listed, along with the membership of each, in the minutes of each triennial meeting. Proceedings of the first triennial meeting of interstate representatives, 1912; Report of the proceedings of the second triennial meeting, 1916; Report of the proceedings of the third triennial meeting, 1920.

20 Sweeney, The Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, pp 138‒42.

21 Report of the proceedings of the second triennial meeting, 1916.

22 Australian censuses did not separately record those of Irish descent. By the beginning of the twentieth century, migration from Ireland to Australia had slowed considerably and, as the immigrant generation passed away, the Irish-born population was in steady decline. Australia's Roman Catholic population was predominantly, though not overwhelmingly, of Irish descent. These figures, which do not record the vast majority of Aboriginal Australians, are reconstructed from: Ministry of State for Home Affairs [Australia], Census of the commonwealth of Australia, taken for the night between the 2nd and 3rd April, 1911 (Melbourne, 1911), part xiv — summary — tables 1 (population of states and territories); 22 (total population of states and territories — birthplaces); 61 (population of states and territories — religion); Ministry of State for Home and Territories [Australia], Census of the commonwealth of Australia, taken for the night between the 3rd and 4th April, 1921 (Melbourne, 1921), vol. 1, part II — table 3 (population according to birthplace); vol. 1., part vi — table 3 (population according to religion); ‘Bulletin no. 1’ (population of states and territories).

23 Proceedings of the first triennial meeting of interstate representatives, 1912.

24 O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 32; O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia, p. 174.

25 See McGowan, Mark, The waning of the green: Catholics, the Irish, and identity in Toronto, 1887‒1922 (Montreal and Kingston, 1999), p. 154Google Scholar; Luain, Kerron Ó, ‘“The majority of our people belong to the working classes”: The Ancient Order of Hibernians in the United States, c.1850–1884’ in Social History, xl, no. 1 (2020), pp 5280CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 On Moore's significance as a cultural figure, see Frank Molloy, ‘“The sigh of thy harp shall be sent o'er the deep”: the influence of Thomas Moore in Australia’ in Patrick O'Sullivan (ed.), The Irish worldwide, vol. 3: the creative migrant (London, 1994), pp 115‒32.

27 H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: 32nd annual report, 1912 (Sydney, 1912), pp 15, 17.

28 O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 52; Freeman's Journal, 4 May 1916.

29 H.A.C.B.S., National directory of Australasia: steps to unite the sea-divided Gael (Brisbane, 1934).

30 H.A.C.B.S., A history of the Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (Newcastle, NSW, 1903), p. 124.

31 Ibid.

32 H.A.C.B.S., A history of the Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, pp 130, 136. See also H.A.C.B.S., Second biennial meeting of deputies from states of Australia and New Zealand, 1903 (Sydney, 1903), pp 4‒5. The agreement did not allow for a transfer of insurance benefits from one organisation to the other.

33 O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia, pp 174, 176.

34 Beyond O'Farrell's foundational study, some representative studies of Irish-Australian nationalism include: Malcolm Campbell, Ireland's new world: immigrants, politics, and society in the United States and Australia, 1815‒1922 (Madison, WI, 2008); Finnane, Mark, ‘Deporting the Irish envoys: domestic and national security in 1920s Australia’ in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, xl, no. 3 (2013), pp 403‒25CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hall, Dianne, ‘Irish republican women in Australia: Kathleen Barry and Linda Kearns's tour in 1924‒25’ in I.H.S., xlix, no. 163 (2019), pp 7393Google Scholar; James, Stephanie, ‘The evolution of Adelaide's Irish National Association, 1918‒1950: from security threat to cultural force?’ in Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, xlv (2017), pp 3149Google Scholar; Kiernan, Colm, ‘Home Rule for Ireland and the formation of the Australian Labor Party, 1883‒1901’ in Australian Journal of Politics and History, xxxviii (1992), pp 111Google Scholar; Malcolm, Elizabeth and Hall, Dianne, A new history of the Irish in Australia (Sydney, 2018)Google Scholar; O'Farrell, Patrick, ‘The Irish Republican Brotherhood in Australia: the 1918 internments’ in MacDonagh, Oliver, Mandle, W. F. and Travers, Pauric (eds), Irish culture and nationalism, 1750‒1950 (London, 1983), pp 182‒93Google Scholar; Overlack, Peter, ‘“Easter 1916” in Dublin and the Australian press: background and response’ in Journal of Australian Studies, liv/lv (1997), pp 188‒93CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Yan, Jimmy, ‘The Irish Revolution, early Australian communists and Anglophone radical peripheries: Dublin, Glasgow, Sydney, 1920‒1923’ in Twentieth Century Communism, xviii, no. 18 (2020), pp 93125CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia, p. 176.

36 O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 36; Malcolm Campbell, ‘John Redmond and the Irish National League in Australia and New Zealand, 1883’ in History, lxxxvi, no. 283 (2001), pp 348‒62.

37 Rory Sweetman, ‘The importance of being Irish: Hibernianism in New Zealand, 1869‒1969’ in Lyndon Fraser (ed.), A distant shore: Irish migration and New Zealand settlement (Dunedin, 2000), p. 145; Richard P. Davis, Irish issues in New Zealand politics,1868‒1922 (Dunedin, 1974), p. 127.

38 H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: 32nd annual report, 1912, p. 38.

39 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1913 (Melbourne, 1913), p. 89.

40 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1914 (Melbourne, 1914), p. 25. In the northern hemisphere, Hibernianism was divided between the main organisation in the United States and Canada, and the ‘Board of Erin’, who were strongest in Ireland and Great Britain. After 1900, the Board of Erin A.O.H. was dominated by the Belfast-born member of parliament Joseph Devlin, who used the rapidly expanding order as a vehicle to promote constitutional Irish nationalism. This created tension between the two bodies, as the American A.O.H. tended to be dominated by republican nationalists. Several attempts at transatlantic rapprochement in the early twentieth century failed, and the organisations remained separate. See A. C. Hepburn, Catholic Belfast and nationalist Ireland in the age of Jose Devlin, 1871–1934 (Oxford, 2008), pp 92‒6, 98.

41 On O'Donnell, see Val Noone (ed.), Nicholas O'Donnell's autobiography (Ballarat, 2017); Chris McConville, ‘Nicholas Michael O'Donnell’ in Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle (eds), Dictionary of Australian Biography (18 vols, Carleton, Victoria, 1988), xi; Laurence Geary, ‘Nicholas Michael O'Donnell (1862‒1920): a Melbourne medical life’ in Australasian Journal of Irish Studies, xvi (2016), pp 13‒29; Jonathan O'Neill, ‘Language, heritage and authenticity: Nicholas Michael O'Donnell and the construction of Irishness in Australia’ in Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, v, no. 2 (2012), pp 39‒59.

42 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1914, pp 27, 39‒40.

43 These plans were outlined in a letter from the H.A.C.B.S. national secretary, James S. Dowling to J. W. Ryan, 18 June 1914. The full text of this letter was printed in H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1915 (Melbourne, 1915), pp 37‒8.

44 This was the case, for example, at the grand banquet following the 1912 A.D.M. of the New South Wales district: see H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: 32nd annual report, 1912, p. 38.

45 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district annual report, 1909 (Melbourne, 1909), p. 66.

46 H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: 32nd annual report, 1912, p. 8.

47 H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: report of the proceedings of the thirty-seventh annual meeting, 1917 (Sydney, 1917), p. 17.

48 See for example, Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1916, p. 63. The resolution stated, in part: ‘Irishmen, as with Ireland's sons in Australia, were in their proportion, if not in excess of their proportion, upholding the honour of the British Flag.’

49 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1916, p. 43.

50 Sweetman, ‘The importance of being Irish’, p. 149. See also the recent articles in Peter Kuch and Lisa Marr (eds), New Zealand's responses to the 1916 Rising (Cork, 2020).

51 H.A.C.B.S., Report of the proceedings of the second triennial meeting, 1916, p. 30.

52 Mannix became archbishop of Melbourne in May 1917. Val Noone, ‘Class factors in the radicalisation of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, 1913‒1917’ in Labour History, cvi (2014), p. 189. See also Stephanie James, ‘Loyalty becoming disloyalty? The war and Irish-Australians before and after 1916’ in Michael J. K. Walsh and Andrekos Varnava (eds), Australia and the Great War: identity, meaning and mythology (Melbourne, 2016), pp 110‒27; Daniel Marc Segesser, ‘“To be avoided at all hazards — rebel Irish and syndicalists coming into office”: the Easter Rising, climatic conditions and the 1916 Australian referendum on conscription’ in Enrico Dal Lago, Róisín Healy and Gearóid Barry (eds), 1916 in global context: an anti-imperial moment (Oxford and New York, 2018), pp 146‒56.

53 Noone, ‘Class factors in the radicalisation of Archbishop Daniel Mannix’, p. 193; Malcolm Campbell, ‘Emigrant responses to war and revolution, 1914‒1921: Irish opinion in the United States and Australia’ in I.H.S., xxxii, no. 125 (2000), p. 87.

54 Michael McKernan, ‘Catholics, conscription, and Archbishop Mannix’, in Australian Historical Studies, xvii, no. 68 (1977), p. 306. See also Malcolm & Hall, A new history of the Irish in Australia, pp 229‒33.

55 Jeff Kildea, ‘Australian Catholics and conscription in the Great War’ in Journal of Religious History, xxvi, no. 3 (2002), pp 301‒02; O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia, p. 272. See also Jeff Kildea, ‘“A veritable hurricane of sectarianism”: the year 1920 and ethno-religious conflict in Australia’ in Colin Barr and Hilary M. Carey (eds), Religion and greater Ireland: Christianity and Irish global networks, 1750‒1950 (Montreal and Kingston, 2015), pp 363‒82.

56 Noone, ‘Class factors in the radicalisation of Archbishop Daniel Mannix’, pp 195‒6.

57 New South Wales district: report of the thirty-seventh annual meeting, 1917, p. 3; H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual meeting, 1917 (Melbourne, 1917), p. 34.

58 H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: 38th annual report, 1918 (Sydney, 1918), p. 10.

59 On Michael Kelly, see Patrick O'Farrell, ‘Archbishop Kelly and the Irish Question’ in Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, xiv, no. 3 (1974), pp 1‒19.

60 David Brundage, Irish nationalists in America: the politics of exile, 1798‒1998 (Oxford, 2016), p. 152.

61 New South Wales district: report of the thirty-seventh annual meeting, 1917, pp 4‒5.

62 Ibid., p. 19.

63 O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia, p. 280.

64 Alvin Jackson, Home rule: an Irish history, 1800‒2000 (London, 2003), pp 176‒80.

65 On the transnational turn in the historiography of the Irish Revolution, see Enda Delaney and Fearghal McGarry, ‘Introduction: a global history of Irish Revolution’ in I.H.S., xliv, no. 165 (2020), pp 1‒10. See also Niall Whelehan (ed.), Transnational perspectives on modern Irish history (New York, 2014) and Patrick Mannion and Fearghal McGarry (eds), The Irish Revolution: a global history (New York, 2022).

66 See Freeman's Journal, 2 Jan. 1919.

67 Although the U.I.L.A. publicly pledged to continue fighting for Home Rule, President M. P. Jageurs privately conceded to the Archbishop of Sydney, Michael Kelly, that ‘some members favour immediate dissolution’. See M. P. Jageurs to Michael Kelly, 18 Jan. 1919 (Sydney Archdiocesan Archives (S.A.A.), Michael Kelly papers, fol. A0556). See also [Melbourne] The Advocate, 1 Feb. 1919.

68 O'Farrell, ‘Archbishop Kelly and the Irish question’, pp 4‒5. On the I.N.A., see Richard Reid, Jeff Kildea and Perry McIntyre, To foster an Irish spirit: the Irish National Association of Australasia, 1915‒2015 (Sydney, 2020).

69 For examples, see The Advocate, 11 Jan. 1919; Freeman's Journal, 16 Jan. 1919.

70 Freeman's Journal, 20 Mar. 1919.

71 The Advocate, 1 Feb. 1919.

72 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1919 (Melbourne, 1919), p. 7.

73 Ibid., pp 42‒3.

74 The Advocate, 8 July, 11 Oct. 1919.

75 Daniel Mannix to Kelly, 3 Sept. 1919 (S.A.A., Archbishop Kelly papers, fol. A0548).

76 Lawrence Cotter to Kelly, 7 Aug. 1919 (S.A.A., Archbishop Kelly papers, fol. A0556).

77 On the Irish Race Convention, see Darragh Gannon, ‘Inventing global Ireland: the idea, and influence, of the Irish Race Convention’ in Mannion and McGarry (eds), The Irish Revolution: a global history.

78 Freeman's Journal, 6 Nov. 1919; Sweetman, ‘The importance of being Irish’, p. 156.

79 For example, the district board of Victoria wrote to Yarraville's St Augustine's (no. 640) branch to solicit a contribution to the fund in mid December 1919. The branch submitted £1 1s. 0d. See St Augustine's Branch, Yarraville (no. 640) minute book (Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission (M.D.H.C.), St Augustine's Branch, Yarraville papers, Records, 2/O/HAC, box 1).

80 Patrick O'Loughlin to Kelly, 17 Sept. 1920 (S.A.A., Archbishop Kelly papers, fol. A0556). See also Freeman's Journal, 14 Oct. 1920.

81 Freeman's Journal, 9 Oct. 1919.

82 Ibid., 6 May 1920. For comparable ‘Australia First’ speeches and statements, see ibid., 28 Oct., 25 Nov. 1920, 18 Aug., 1 Dec. 1921.

83 H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: 40th annual report, 1920 (Sydney, 1921), pp 11, 34‒5.

84 Report of the proceedings of the third triennial meeting, 1920, pp 11, 14.

85 See Freeman's Journal, 9 Sept. 1920; The Advocate, 27 Jan. 1921.

86 H.A.C.B.S., Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1921 (Melbourne, 1921), p. 23.

87 In the western Victorian town of Colac, members of the local Hibernian branch joined the S.D.I.L.A. en masse, and the two organisations worked seamlessly together to promote Irish nationalism locally: see The Advocate, 16 June 1921. Similarly, in Yarraville, S.D.I.L.A. meetings were noted in the minutes of the local H.A.C.B.S. branch, and the Hibernians sent official representatives to them: see St Augustine's Branch, Yarraville (no. 640) minute book.

88 Sweetman, Faith and fraternalism, p. 22.

89 The Advocate, 21 Feb. 1921.

90 The Advocate, 20 May, 27 May 1920. See also ibid., 3 June 1920.

91 A note that tickets to the event had been received was included in the St Augustine's Branch, Yarraville (no. 640) minute book.

92 Victoria district: official report of the annual district meeting, 1921, p. 57.

93 The Advocate, 28 July 1921.

94 H.A.C.B.S., Business paper, report, balance sheets, etc. 1920‒1923 (Sydney, 1923), p. 11.

95 A pamphlet on ‘The truth about Ireland’, produced in South Australia, was circulated by the St Augustine's Branch, Yarraville (no. 640) ‘to dispel the sectarian rancour at present extant’: see St Augustine's Branch, Yarraville, correspondence, 30 Nov. 1921 (M.D.H.C., Records, 2/O/HAC, Box 1). On the H.A.C.B.S. jubilee celebrations, see The Advocate, 20 Oct., 27 Oct. 1921; Freeman's Journal, 20, 27 Oct., 3 Nov. 1921. A special resolution was sent by the H.A.C.B.S. to de Valera in Jan. 1922: see The Advocate, 17 Jan. 1922.

96 H.A.C.B.S., New South Wales district: annual report, 1922 (Sydney, 1922), p. 18.

97 O'Connor, The Hibernian Society of New South Wales, p. 57. On continued efforts to affiliate with the A.O.H. in the northern hemisphere, see H.A.C.B.S., Steps to unite the sea-divided Gael.

98 Sweeney, ‘The Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society’, pp 265‒6.

99 This article is an output of the collaborative project ‘A global history of Irish Revolution, 1916–1923’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and jointly held by Queen's University, Belfast, and the University of Edinburgh. My thanks to Professor Enda Delaney for his support in carrying out this research and his comments on an earlier draft.