Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration


Famine Rock/Kent Watson

Nature of event: Celebration of arrival of Irish Famine Orphan Girls in Melbourne

Where: Famine Rock, in Burgoyne Reserve, The Strand, Williamstown

When: 17th November 2013

Cost: Free Entry

Further information: Debra Vaughn:; COMMEMORATION DAY Irish Famine Orphan Heritage Invitation 2013; see newsletter below.

 Famine Rock, in Burgoyne Reserve, The Strand, Williamstown, is a memorial to the Irish Great Famine of 1845 – 1852. It commemorates more than 1700 brave Irish Famine Orphans who left everything behind to come to Melbourne to make a new life from 1848, working as domestics for the colonists in this new country. From such humble beginnings as these, there is now round the world an Irish diaspora of over 70 million.

Here on the annual Commemoration Day, the second Sunday in November, (17th November 2013), we pay tribute in sacred ceremony to the great-grandmothers at Williamstown’s Standing Stone, in solidarity with all those who hunger, and in a spirit of sorrow and reconciliation for displacement of the First People. This fellow feeling for other beings in this situation is as relevant today, as it always has been.

This year has a very exciting development: the Mayor will unveil a new Irish Famine Orphan Bay Trail Marker, across the path from Famine Rock. As part of its story, there are two verses from a poem written by St Mary’s second Headmaster, published in the Port Phillip Gazette 1849 against anti-Irish sentiment. Form One’s Jake Gallagher is going to be reading those verses for us.

Being a great-great-granddaughter of Sarah Matilda O’Malley, one of the Famine Orphans who came out under Earl Grey’s scheme, via Pemberton in 1849 this celebration is special to me.  Pemberton was the second of six ships to Melbourne, a total of twenty to Australia, carrying over 4000 orphans, mostly between twelve and twenty.

Dr Liz Rushen, the well known author and lecturer is our honoured guest speaker. Her talk is entitled ‘A Trail of Emigration’.  Her books will be for sale at the venue. Recently I came across a segment featuring her in the DVD of ‘Tony Robinson Explores Australia’ with Liz & Tony  walking on Point Nepean Beach, discussing female immigration to Australia, making reference to the Irish Famine Orphans and  the Bride ships, amongst much else.

Dr Val Noone, nominated recently for a Degree Doctor in Literature from the National University of Ireland honouring ‘his contribution to Irish Studies in Australia’, will be our MC.

As a fund raiser for the Irish Famine Orphan Heritage group, we will have some relevant secondhand books for sale. Other publications for sale will include past issues of Tinteán,  Melbourne and the Irish Famine, Free Passage and more. We share and celebrate this heritage with wonderful musical and historical performances, including songs from Cora Browne and Vince Brophy’s ‘musical play, ‘From Famine to Feast’. We can celebrate  Vince’s  recent song nominations for the Australian Independent Songwriter and Australian Songwriters Association.

Every year since 1998 this vibrant community meets to pay tribute and celebrate our pioneer ancestors, with music, song and exciting real life stories.

Irish Famine Orphan Girls’ descendants are especially cherished. We do hope they  and their families will join us to share wonderful performances and great musicians and instruments, some of which you may not hear anywhere else!

It will be possible to lay a floral tribute at the Rock. There will be a marquee, chairs and a coffee van with all the usual favourites, plus iced coffee, chocolate and fruit smoothies. Please bring a plate to share for afternoon tea.

Come  and share your stories and marvel at these gallant girls, who leaving all behind, forged a new life here. Everyone is most welcome.

Debra Vaughan