March a great month for Irish
with Dr Dorothy Gibson-Wilde I HAVE two particular family references to the month of March – that it was the worst month for rain and cyclones, and that the best day to sow seeds for the garden was March 17 – St Patrick’s Day.
The basis for the first belief was the disappearance of the Yongala. My grandparents and their family, which included my mother then aged four, arrived in Townsville in January 1911, two months before the Yongala disappeared.
That left an impression on my mother that remained, despite the numerous later floods and cyclones she experienced – including several in March.
This year those who lost their lives a century ago in the Yongala disaster will be remembered with a number of commemorations. It is a timely reminder of man’s vulnerability when confronted by terrifying forces of nature that have devastated so many parts of the world throughout history.
St Patrick’s Day brings the reminder that the best known victim of the Yongala disaster was Matthew Rooney, one of the leading Irishman in Townsville at the time.
Matthew was a managing partner of Rooney and Co, the leading timber millers, builders, furniture makers and hardware suppliers in North Queensland. It is not an overstatement to say the whole region mourned the loss of Matthew, his wife and their daughter.
Irishmen have played leading roles in North Queensland history – Pat Hanran, several times Mayor of Townsville and a member of Queensland Parliament; Eugene Fitzallan, the earliest botanist in the north, and a talented writer and poet; Jack Fanning, businessman, stock breeder, a respected horse breeder and a founder of the Rotary movement in the city, and so many more.
Not to mention the women, particularly the Sisters of St Joseph, who established the first Catholic school in Townsville on The Strand near the first St Joseph’s Church, and their
Patrick Francis Hanran successors, the Sisters of Mercy.
Numbers of the sisters were of Irish descent. In their heavy dark habits, seemingly impervious to the heat, they braved all hazards in the service of their faith.
The Irish were but one of many national groups who contributed to the fascinating multicultural history of the north since that first settlement at Bowen.
Chinese, Germans, Italians, Greeks, French, South Sea Islanders, Danes, English, and many other nationalities can be identified in early census records. Scottish names – George Dalrymple, James Gordon, J. G. MacDonald and others – stand out in the first settlement in the Kennedy District, at Bowen in 1861, 150 years ago.
To commemorate the sesquicentenary of Bowen and the Kennedy District, a display honouring some of those who pioneered both Bowen and Townsville will be open at the National Trust Heritage Centre at Castling Street from the end of April to July.
As a final thought, if you plant seeds on St Patrick’s Day, my experience has been that almost inevitably rain will wash them all out – I reckon that was an old wives’ tale.