Painting a Missing Chapter of the Eureka Story

Event: ‘Siorai’ Exhibition visualizing the words of James Fintan Lalor, 

Where: Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat, Australia

When: 9th July until 11th September 2016

Cost: Free

Further information: A wonderful YouTube presentation by Brendon Deacy. 

A Feature by Peter Lalor Philp

Brendon Deacy at his home in Emo, Co Laois. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

Brendon Deacy Photograph: James Flynn/APX

Brendan Deacy’s splendid exhibition ‘Siorai’ visualizing the words of James Fintan Lalor, currently on display at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat, provides an important reminder of the important cultural bond between Australia and Ireland.  Equally it presents an essential missing chapter from both nations’ story of democracy.

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James Fintan Lalor

Ireland has been at the forefront honouring and promoting the Lalor family’s  contribution to democracy; not only at home but Australia too. When the sculptured statue of James Fintan Lalor was unveiled outside the County Hall in Laois in 2007, it linked the exploits of two Lalor brothers, James Fintan and Peter Fintan at Eureka. The nine foot bronze monument of James Fintan carries the story of Australian democracy at Eureka in 1854.

At a number of major events celebrating Ireland’s struggle for freedom, the great Australian Southern Cross flag flew impressively overhead. Last year at the James Fintan Lalor Summer School, a significant cultural and political festival in County Laois, Peter Lalor and the Eureka Stockade was the central theme of the gathering.

Those Irish people familiar with the writings of James Fintan, condemning the cruel repression of their homeland during the nineteenth century, can generally tell the story of brother Peter in Australia. Officially in Ireland there have been attempts to strengthen the achievements of their sons and daughters who have migrated to the New World. Ireland appears to have a great sense of appreciation and respect when remembering its own regardless of where they are.

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James Fintan Lalor

Neither the story of James Fintan is complete without an understanding of Peter Fintan Lalor nor can there be a proper awareness of the Eureka leader without an appreciation of one of Ireland’s influential rebels.

Unlike Ireland, there are no visual reminders in Australia of the important influence of James Fintan and others on the life of Peter Lalor, that is until now.

Who was this man on the gold fields whom some claimed to be a middleman, escaping the woes of his homeland?  A reluctant hero?  An agitator protecting his own wealth?  A follower with a grudge against British authority? A non-committed individual passing through?

Reliable eyes witnesses who knew Peter Lalor, like William Craig, Raffaello Carboni and John Lynch, portray him as a rebel who demanded democracy based on justice but who was determined not to wait with the pacifists on the sidelines content with compromised and vague promised reforms. He was clearly a man of action.

According to William Craig who travelled with Lalor from Britain, Peter already had a vision for his new country before he arrived. He was not prepared to see it shackled to slavery like his beloved homeland. This is not surprising.

Peter Lalor did not experience a road to Damascus conversion in Ballarat.  Rather he had embraced a conscious believer’s baptism, seasoned within the walls of his home at Tenakill, Laois. Lalor had been brought up in a household of active rebels. His father Patt, brothers Richard, William, Jerome and particularly the eldest sibling, James Fintan were enthusiastic agitators for justice. Peter was in excellent company. To be part of the Tenakill home, he had to be one of them. There can be no doubt that the powerful writings and subsequent action of James Fintan Lalor must have had a tremendous effect of younger Peter. Without James Fintan, Peter might never have climbed onto the stump at Bakery Hill.

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Southern Cross Flag

Therefore it is more than timely that leading Irish artist Brendon Deacy is bringing his exhibition to the scene of the Eureka Stockade. It provides a vital missing component in the Eureka story: Who was Peter Fintan Lalor and why did he climb onto the stump? A deep reflection on the Deacy’s Siorai exhibition will provide plausible responses.

 

Brendon Deacy reminds us that James Fintan in 1847 declared that the government of Ireland was ‘Null and Void’. Seven years later, his brother declared the ruling structure in Australia was unjust and that taxation without representation was tyranny. In Deacy’s words:

When the Laois County Council asked me to produce an exhibition of paintings about James Fintan Lalor, I had to admit that I knew very little about him. As I conducted my initial research, I learned that Lalor contributed immensely to the Irish landscape. So rather than repeating previous processes that I have used, I felt this project needed an original approach so to emphasize the contemporary relevance of his statements.

While researching Lalor and the Irish political posters of that era, Brendon Deacy said that finding current issues that matched the words of Lalor was ‘all too easy. ‘There is an eerie similarity between what Lalor was commenting about and what I see happening today: Austerity, mass immigration and the obscene gulf between rich and poor,’ Deacy said. ‘To add the visceral nature that I wanted for the images I collected dust and debris from Tenakill house where Lalor was born, ground it up and mixed it with the paint.’

This is not only an excellent artistic exhibition and political event; Siorai is the completion of another phrase of the Eureka story focusing on who initially inspired the rebellion’s leader, and is another challenge to all of us about how to continue to make Eureka contemporary.

Brendon Deacy is an award winning Irish artist and teacher whose work is held in private and public collections in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Europe, the USA and Australia.

The Siorai Exhibition is running at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat from 9th July until 11th September.

Peter Lalor Philp is the great great grandson of Peter Lalor and nephew of James Fintan Lalor.