Linking Laois to Eureka

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Margot Coogan (right) from Laois installed the first Leader of Lalors Australia

At the Lalor family reunion at Ballarat, as part of the 158th anniversary celebrations of the Eureka Stockade, the 16th International Lalor Clan Chieftain (O’Leathlobhair Clan), Margot Coogan, installed Australia’s first Leader of ‘Lalors Australia’, Alicia Lalor Christie. Alicia is the great-great-great-grand daughter of Eureka’s Peter Lalor.

As part of the installation, Margot Coogan gave Alicia ‘The Lalor Family Blessing which has been shared at past reunions.

In accepting the new honour, Alicia, named after Peter Lalor’s wife Alicia Dunne, said that this reunion has presented a unique opportunity, not only for the Lalor family but everybody who believes in the spirit of Eureka.

‘This celebration has captured the interest of young people. The majority of the family who attended this reunion was young, many of them the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the Eureka leader. This meant much more to them than just a family get together. It was a time to think about and be challenged by the events of Eureka and what they mean today,’ said Alicia Lalor Christie.

One of Alicia Lalor Christie’s first duties as leader was to write to the new Irish chieftain Áine Lalor Ó Cathasaigh, congratulating her on being elected the International Lalor Clan leader and also to outline some of the ideas Alicia has for the Australian Lalors.

Apart from involving the younger members of the clan in the continuing Lalor and Eureka stories, the new Leader-Lalors Australia also wants to build stronger links between Australia and Ireland, particularly County Laois.

The local title ‘leader’ was chosen because the Australian Lalors believe ‘chieftain’ belongs to the Irish clan and at Eureka, Peter Lalor was proclaimed the diggers’ leader.

Carrying the Southern Cross flag through the streets of Ballarat, the Lalor family stopped at each historical site where members told the story of Eureka. At Bakery Hill, Margot Coogan read the ‘Oath of Eureka’ and the whole family responded. At the Contemplative Circle, the words of the Eureka leader written after the uprising, echoed again, this time from his great-great-grandson, Peter Fintan Lalor:

‘Why were not these measures adopted before? Why did not the Government take steps to alter the land system, to amend the mode of collecting the gold revenue and to place the administration of justice in the hands of honest men before this bloody tragedy took place? Is it to prove to us that a British Government can never bring forth a measure of reform without having first prepared a font of human blood in which to baptize the offspring of their generous love? Whatever may have been the object of our rulers in adopting the line of policy they pursued, the result has been deplorable, and such, I hope, as a civilized people will never again have to witness.’

Another of Margot Coogan’s official functions in Australia was to be a special guest of the new Museum of Democracy Australia at Eureka. This will be one of the major centres where people can learn about how the democratic process began in Australia, how it was shaped by people of many nations, led by a Laois man and its relevance today. Margot was interviewed at this unveiling of the museum about what Peter Lalor, the Eureka Stockade and the Southern Cross flag meant to her.

Margot Coogan made the visit to participate in the Eureka Stockade celebrations. Australian members of the clan believe Margot’s two visits here have been one of the most significant Lalor events in over a century.

In January last year Margot was here in her capacity as Clan Chieftain. This was a new initiative. Margot then visited all the historic site of Eureka that helped chart Australia’s democracy and met a number of prominent people connected to the Eureka movement. This graceful woman impressed everybody she met. She was not only a credit to the Lalor clan but a wonderful ambassador for Ireland.

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Lalor Family members celebrate

There can be no greater way of imparting to the younger generation in Australia the proud story of the Irish struggle, and what it means today to both nations, than to hear it directly from such a passionate clan leader. Margot has bridged the great distance between our two lands.

These visits are important too because they have renewed the bond forged when a group of Lalors came to Australia and participated in the 150th Anniversary of the Eureka Stockade in 2004.

The reunion also brought together other Lalor families including Peter and Esther Lalor from Apollo Bay whose family line comes from Peter Lalor’s uncle, Thomas Lalor, the brother of Honest Patt Lalor.

The history of ‘The Lalors of Laois’, by Australian writer, John Cherry, released last year, will also assist in maintaining a deep cultural interest and understanding of the significant events spearheaded in Laois .

Australian Lalors and everybody who treasure the values and freedoms of a democratic society have welcomed this involved from County Laois, Ireland.

Peter Lalor Philp
Peter Lalor Philp is an Australian broadcaster and writer and the great-great-grandson of the Eureka leader.