This is the 10th year that Brigid Fest has been celebrated at the Celtic Club. Patron saint of Ireland and well known as the centre of an annual fire lighting ceremony on the saint’s day, St Brigid is also known as a strong woman and, these days, something of a feminist icon. She is patron saint of the Brigidine Order who, amongst other things, are very active in combating trafficking on women and children for the sex trade.
Accordingly, her feast day this year was celebrated by asking four women (Trish O’Connor, Emily Cullen, Miriam O’Donovan and Aoife Cooke) to talk about their experiences as recent immigrants to Australia. Unlike most waves of immigration, Irish immigration to Australia has always been noted for its high proportions of women. While they varied greatly in age, background and time of immigration, all the speakers had in common a sense of humour, sharp observation and insight.
It was an eerie experience to see the Australia that was reflected in the mirror that they held up to us. Some of the picture was very reassuring. Emily Cullen’s family was booked to stay at the Mary McKillop Centre for the first few weeks after their arrival. As she stood on the pavement at 6.0 in the morning, holding her young son’s hands in the midst of all her bags and baggage, a woman driving by immediately stopped her car and offered to help her ‘Are you all right?’ she was asked. It was good to know that was her first experience of a very friendly and welcoming country. Unfortunately, other speakers made it clear that there remains – to this day (!) – anti-Irish bigotry to balance that out.
More than one speaker commented on the calm, orderly nature of Australian society and our remarkable devotion to work. As hostesses, the speakers had been startled by guests looking at their watches and saying ‘Good heavens! Is that the time? I must go, I have to get up for work in the morning.’ Apparently Irish people worry about going to work in the morning when the morning comes.
Aoife Cooke had been forced to return to Ireland when her visa could not be renewed. Her insight into the sudden loss of her distinctive ‘Irish in Oz’ identity when she went back to Dublin and being the same as everybody else was very funny indeed.
We hope to see you at the next Brigid Fest.
Felicity Allen, Editorial Team