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Finding Irish stories in the National Archives of Australia collection

Applications for assisted passage are also preserved in the National Archives’ collection and provide valuable information on Irish immigrant families. John Healey, born in County Limerick in 1926, applied to come to Australia in 1972. His application states his place and date of birth, his marriage status, his address at the time, his wife and children and his employers since 1942. It shows how much capital he was taking to Australia, his next of kin and his proposed occupation in Australia. Some of the comments written on the application after the Healey family’s interview noted:

A pleasant family; each has a good sense of humour; knowledge of conditions good and expectations realistic; family unity very good’. They concluded: ‘A hard working family, with close relatives in Bribane. I am sure they will succeed. Recommend acceptance in Brisbane.

The National Archives’ collection also includes records that reveal more about earlier Irish migrants to Australia. Its Uncommon Lives website features Ruth Lane Poole who in 1926 was commissioned to furnish the new Canberra residences for the Prime Minister and the Governor-General. Born Ruth Pollexfen in Ireland in 1885, she was the cousin of Irish playwright and poet William Butler Yeats. It was her Yeats family cousins and uncle who trained her as an artist and embroiderer which laid the foundations for her successful career in Canberra. She married Charles Lane Poole, later Australia’s Commonwealth’s Forestry Adviser, in Dublin in July 1911 and the pair moved to Australia in 1916. Well-known second-generation Irish immigrants are also sometimes featured. One of Andrew McEntee’s favourite records in the National Archives is a photograph of Australian boxer Les Darcy sparring with his trainer Dave Smith on a Sydney beach — watched by adoring fans. Darcy, from a poor staunchly-Irish working class family, was the golden boy of boxing in Australia before and during World War I. His mother’s refusal to allow him to enlist during the war led to problems for him.

The photograph of Darcy and his trainer sparring on the beach shows that ordinary Australians knew a true working class champion despite his being pilloried by those in powerful positions in politics and the media,” says Andrew. “It’s a reminder of how a great sportsman can be caught up in the world of war and politics and destroyed by forces beyond his control, despite being a champion with extraordinary potential.

Les Darcy’s parents migrated from Ireland. Here he is shown (on right) sparring with his trainer at the beach, watched by his admirers. (NAA:  A1200, L24688)
Les Darcy’s parents migrated from Ireland. Here he is shown (on right) sparring with his trainer at the beach, watched by his admirers. (NAA: A1200, L24688)

The National Archives of Australia has many websites, as well as its online RecordSearch database that you can use for family history including:

  • The main website allows you to search the National Archives collection online and provides tips on finding family history. Click here to visit
  • Mapping Our Anzacs gives researchers the opportunity to search for the birthplace of Anzacs including those born in Ireland. Click here to visit
  • Destination: Australia – sharing our post-war migrant stories features photographs of post-war immigrants including those who came from Ireland. Click here to visit
  • Uncommon Lives includes the story of Irishwoman Ruth Lane Poole. Click here to visit
  • Faces of Australia includes the image of Les Darcy sparring with his trainer. You may find other familiar faces there — even those from your own family. Click here to visit

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