Sydney Winter School 2019: Sunburnt Irish Symposium


Sydney Winter School 2019

Saturday 8 June 2019, saw another Tionól or Irish language symposium at the Sydney Irish Language Winter School. The symposium was chaired by Pamela O’Neill with speakers from Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Joan Moloney from Melbourne’s Cumann Gaeilge na hAstráile spoke about influencers in her Irish language life, specifically Eamonn Naughton and Mossie Scanlan.

The second speaker, Maurie O’Sullivan, a stalwart supporter of the Sydney Winter School since its beginnings, explained how he had kept up his Irish language since arriving in Australia (learned mostly from his Irish-speaking grandparents with whom he lived until the age of ten). Maurie read a lot and later provided subtitle translations for SBS programs in Irish, and by translating Australian parliamentary debates into Irish for his own amusement as he drove around Sydney.

President of the Irish Language School, Sydney, Eimíle Ní Mhaoilriain’s Irish language poem told of her musings on her identity as a result of learning the language. It reads in part in English

I speak Gaeilge, but English is my native language. I was born in Australia, but I am not a native Australian. I wasn’t raised in Ireland, but I am from Ireland. Am I the language?


Mirrabooka Southern Cross

The next speaker, Máirtín Ó Dubhlaigh from Perth, told of his interest in connections between indigenous Australians and Irish language learners. Máirtín was the founder of the first Irish language school in Australia, in Coolac in the Snowy Mountains in 1993. He spoke about his keen awareness at the time that he was living in a country whose people had been faoi chois (oppressed) and saw similarities with the fate of his own native language. Máirtín and some of the other organisers of that first summer school met with local Wiradjuri members and explained their plan to promote the Irish language in Wadjuri country and asked for a blessing. During these talks, he learned the indigenous word for the Southern Cross, Mirribooka, and received the ‘blessing’. Máirtín then added that in promoting the summer school they used the celtic designs similar to those in the Book of Kells, but that instead of the animals depicted there he used Australian animals much to the amusement of his indigenous hosts. He concluded his talk by assuring those assembled that they were sure to still have the blessing of indigenous Australia on their Irish language learning.

Dymphna Lonergan presented research results for ‘Shela’s Day’ as it was mentioned in nineteenth century newspapers, concluding that the Australian word ‘sheila’ does not derive from ‘Shela’s Day’. The treasure trove that is Trove with its uploaded newspaper archives was also the subject of Greg Byrne’s presentation. The Irish language was seen to have been much more prominent in Australian newspapers then has been appreciated to date. A comparison between Australian indigenous native title claims such as Mabo and the Irish 1608 ruling on the admissibility of Irish land rights under early Irish law was the final subject for the Tionól, and presented by Adelaide lawyer James Krumrey-Quinn.

The Sunburnt Symposium was the initiative of Val Noone and Colin Ryan from Melbourne and is now part of the Australian daonscoileanna, the summer and winter Irish language intensives and also featured in some Australasian Irish Studies conferences. The next Tionól will be in Adelaide on December 9 at the start of the 24th ISAANZ conference. See

Dymphna Lonergan is one of Tintean’s group of editors and a research fellow at Flinders University.