A Report by Clare Murphy
Around 50 Irish Australians gathered at the Irish Embassy in Canberra in June for Link+, hosted by Ciaran Cannon TD, Irish Minister for the Diaspora and International Engagement, and Breandán Ó Caollaí, Irish Ambassador to Australia. This historic
conference was part of the Irish government’s Global Ireland 2025 consultations, and it was a brilliant day of dynamic discussions, useful insights, and a good side of humour. I was honoured to be asked to address the question: who are the Irish Diaspora in Australia and how do we ensure that their interests and concerns are equally reflected? Is there a communication gap between older and younger Irish people living in Australia and how can this be addressed? This is an edited version of my response.
I’m Australian born and raised of Irish and Australian parents, so mine is a first-generation perspective. Much of the conference discussions oscillated between the Irish diaspora being either ‘established’ Australians with Irish ancestry going back several generations or newly-arrived, highly skilled Irish expats; but there wasn’t much discussion of people like me who sit in the middle. We may not sound Irish, but have a strong sense of our Irish-Australian identity. We’re a largely-untapped resource with much to contribute to Irish-Australia.
I think you can argue that there is a communication gap between younger and older Irish people in Australia. But I don’t think that’s any different to the young and old more broadly in Australia, and around the world. We’re seeing bigger communication gaps, more ‘us-versus-them’ and polarised politics, differences in ideals and values between generations, and difficulties in communicating these and bringing generations together.
There are different ways to address this. Irish community groups, which exist across every state and territory in Australia, can bring together young and old who share a cultural identity or affinity. A challenge there is that some of these groups may have older leadership, and clubs will need to evolve to a certain degree to attract younger members while not changing too much so as to retain existing members who are highly valued.
The idea of ‘I cannot be what I cannot see’ is key when enticing emerging leaders to become the next generation of Irish-Australian leadership. We can’t just expect young people to step forward and sign themselves up due to some sense of ancestral obligation. We need to ensure our groups are attractive, aspirational and relevant to the next generation. We need to ensure young members feel valued and that their skills are needed, that they have a sense of belonging and ownership and that our values align. And we need to value our older members and encourage the sharing of lessons so that leadership can be confidently handed down to willing new leaders when the time is right. But if we’re going to succeed in this in the future, we need to start now.
Another tool to bridge the gap between younger and older Irish people living in Australia is social media, and this is something I’ve been working on as a Celtic Club committee member. It’s a myth that social media users are only young people; many baby boomers and older generations are quickly adopting social media use, often with the assistance of adult children or grandchildren. We at the Celtic Club use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and podcasts to create online platforms where Irish-Australians of any age can interact, especially where that may not necessarily happen in person due to busy lives.
We need to celebrate community leaders, including those who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves so. As a very young Melbourne Demons supporter in the 1990s, the great Jim Stynes was the first person outside my family to make me proud of my Irish heritage. When fellow Melbourne great Garry Lyons made an impassioned tribute to Stynes on The Footy Show, his rhetorical question why was he so fervently proud of his Irish heritage when I had barely given mine a second thought stayed with me. Celebrating our leaders can help Irish-Australia recognise and connect their heritage.
Those of us who share an Irish-Australian identity are incredibly fortunate. There’s long been a deep and genuine sense of goodwill between our two nations and peoples. We have a great deal in common in our love for music, literature, language and sport; we share a sense of humour (although the jury’s out on whose is darker). The challenge is to ensure we include and encourage the full spectrum of our members while balancing the past, present and future.
Clare Murphy is a national security and foreign policy professional, and a member of the Committee of Management of the Celtic Club.