20 years of Táin and Tinteán

Cover of second issue of Táin

The Irish Program at Melbourne’s ethnic community radio station 3ZZZ and the Celtic recently invited Tinteán to make a radio programme in celebration of twenty continuous years of Australian Irish Australian publication: the magazine Táin (1999-2007) was a full-colour publication that morphed into the hard copy of Tinteán in 2007. The magazine finally moved online in 2012. Here is a good story in this year of turmoil. The radio programme was hosted by The Celtic Club and interviews conducted by Frances Devlin-Glass. Below is a summary of the highlights.

Val Noone (Melbourne) on the founding of Táin magazine

Starting up

First a word about starting up. After the unveiling of the Famine Rock at Williamstown in December 1998 a number of us became aware of the need for a new magazine that would offer a forum for discussion of Australian Irish heritage and how it applies to the present era. 

The first issue of Táin magazine came off the press in December the following year. In the editorial we said that the name Táin was a word in Irish meaning, among other things, a gathering. In our world where so much advertising appeals to self-promotion the idea of gathering reminds us that, in key places, our ancient traditions teach us to care for one another and to be mindful of the common good.

We knew, of course, that the word, táin, is also the short name of a famous Irish epic, the Táin Bó Cuailnge/The Cattle Raid on Cooley. And we knew that some aboriginal people talk of their clan or group as ‘us mob’, which might be another translation of táin. By taking the name Táin we hoped to give the journal a short, interesting title with all those meanings.

Looking back

Second, how did it look after 7 years when we put the last issue of Táin to press in March 2007? 

Well, we did it. We promoted deeper understanding of our own traditions and we did so in a broad-ranging dialogue with all other groups and we maintained an international outlook.

At the start, Mike Parer and Nell McGettigan made significant financial contributions. A couple of dozen people worked voluntarily on subscriptions, book-keeping, production and distribution, and enjoyed it. Readers, subscribers, contributors and advertisers supported us. The large number of letters to the editor was a constant source of encouragement. Táin magazine showed that you can do a lot with a few resources.

In the first issue we quoted the American folk-singer Woody Guthrie: ‘I hate a song that makes you think that you’re not any good, a song that makes you think you’re bound to lose, no good to nobody, no good for nothin’, … I am out to fight those kind of songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood, I am out to sing the songs that will make you take pride in yourself.’ 

Our writers did that. There exists a vibrant if often stumbling Australian Irish network, and the magazine held up a mirror to it, thereby helping it to grow and deepen. We showed that our history, warts and all, gives us a rich identity.

Liz McKenzie (Melbourne) remembers transitioning to Tinteán.

Tinteán No. 20

I’d been a member of Val Noone’s ‘editorial’ committee for Táin. We had been quite a close knit and productive team but hadn’t had the responsibility of actually running the magazine itself. Now producing and publishing Tinteán was very much up to us, we worked very closely as a team, had similar and well-established aims and values and had a lot of fun doing it.

We called the new version Tinteán, the Irish word for ‘hearth’ – there is a famous saying in Irish ‘Níl aon tinteán mar de tinteán  féin’ which means ‘there is nothing like your own hearth’ so the word Tinteán is synonymous with ‘gathering’ (around the hearth) in Irish culture which we thought resonated with Táin.

Nobody on the committee had specific publishing experience so it was a sharp learning curve for all of us. We acquired the technological skills with the help of Andrew Macdermid, an invaluable asset to our fledgling enterprise, as we were singularly lacking in these skills ourselves.

Tinteán did not differ substantially in appearance from Táin. However, the content of Tinteán fairly quickly became established as a magazine catering for a more literary/cultural/history-oriented readership although we did continue to publish information about the activities of the many Irish Australian groups around the nation, and news items of interest to these groups. Tinteán acquired its own rhythm, its own individual style, its own following etc. and of course in 2012 after producing and publishing a print magazine for five years we made a very successful transition to an online magazine.

Frank O’Shea and Frances Devlin-Glass on their collaboration on Tinteán.

Frank came to Tinteán after moving from Canberra to Melbourne, trailing clouds of glory as an Irish Echo and Canberra Times book reviewer. Asked what drew him to Tinteán, he said he’d subscribed when it was a magazine:

What it is to be Irish in the diaspora is a continually contested topic in Tinteán.  We’ve never been at all interested in Paddywhackery. Irish jokes are anathema unless they’re clever, avoid stereotypes and don’t demean. Tinteán demands our Irishness be current and inclusive. We’ve had some very interesting NI contributors like Hugh Vaughan who keeps close tabs on developments in the North, as does Bernie Brophy. 

Asked about the readership, Frank speculated:

We are an academic publication in many ways, without being burdened by the academic paraphernalia. But we also try to aim our materials at ordinary people, tell stories of the past yes, but in a meaningful way. 

There is one group of Irish in Australia that we would love to hear from and those are the young men and women who are involved in sporting bodies or organisations. We would love to hear from the young Irish people involved in AFL and WAFL for example: they are the people most identifiably Irish and no doubt they have great stories to tell.

Frances commented about what the statistics of the online magazine suggest:

Since we’ve moved online, it’s much easier to quantify our readership, but in some ways harder to know it.  Currently, we score 1000 readings per drop on the day of publication. That’s 1000 people who actually read articles. After that we get 100s per day until the next drop when it bounces up again, so about 4500 per month. In 2019, 48,000 articles were read, and this year it’s going to exceed that.  It’s clearly read and valued, and we’re in a phase, and long may it last, when writers come to us with ideas and pieces ready for publication. It’s a very privileged place to be and it’s liberating to be totally independent of advertising and of every institution known to man. The magazine looks into many corners of the life of the diasporic Irish: Irish dance, popular (and literary) fiction, detective fiction, the gay rights or abortion referenda, Christmas decorations and traditions, dogs, horses, the formative role of Irish institutions in Australia. 

The Tinteán editors encourage its readers, to be more interactive, and to make suggestions as to what you’d like to see in the magazine. 

Frank commented that because we are a monthly, we do not have regular contributors as you might have in an ordinary magazine. However, we are delighted to have semi-regulars like historian and writer Jeff Kildea; last November he wrote a piece for us about one of his ancestors Rose Flemming. That article was accessed more than 5000 times, an extraordinary result, but reminds us that if it is a good story and is well written, people will want to read it.

The South Australian poetry editor – Dymphna Lonergan – is a powerhouse. Under her leadership, SA seems to be undergoing an Irish historical reclamation and revival.  There have been two back-to-back Irish Studies conferences in Adelaide.  Dymphna is an Irish language specialist (though other editors are also proficient in Irish). She’s a scholar who has written a book about how Irish has infiltrated into Australian English, and a poet. She has done a great job promoting the work of Colin Ryan and has discovered a new Irish poet in the WA, Julie Breathnach-Banwait.  Tinteán can lay claim to making a significant contribution to normalising the idea of poetry in Irish at this end of the world.  

Trevor McClaughlin on the Orphan Girls Series

Trevor McClaughlin, the historian from Sydney, has been a powerhouse addition to the editorial team. He joined the team in August 2019 and has masterminded a series on the Orphan Girls who arrived in Australia between 1848-50 from the workhouses of Ireland – the Earl Grey scheme, named after Earl Grey , Secretary of State for the Colonies. The ‘girls’ came at the time of the Great Famine.

What the series set out to do was introduce the readers of Tinteán to these orphan girls and to ask what became of them when they came to Australia? Were they disproportionately represented among the criminal classes, or among the inmates of institutions for the destitute? Or did they successfully acculturate and adapt in their own different ways? He cannot unsee the story of Jane Kelly, tied to a triangle by her husband and whipped mercilessly when she and her three children walked from Goulburn to Sydney in the heat of summer. Counterbalancing this story was that of Maryanne McMaster who gave birth to a champion axeman of the colonies, Thomas Reeves, and among her celebrated descendants was the celebrated comedian Hannah Gadsby. When Colin Ryan commented about one of the stories, about its throwing ‘a fascinating and rather brutal light on colonial life and the drink a curse and a common consolation’, he knew the story had hit the mark.

Trevor commented:

This was not our only concern: there was a degree of liberty in what we did and I wanted to introduce people to the work of artists, dramatists like Jaki McCarrick, for example. Artists provide a new dimension to the Orphan Girl story. They are not confined by historians. They can rewrite history as they wish and doing so, they can make us perceive things we might not otherwise see.

But for Trevor what is distinctive about the series is the fact that these stories were written by the Orphan Girls’ descendants. Because of that, they are powerful stories; they are personal stories; and at times they are passionate. Who can forget the Eliza Macready story which made great use of the poem by Maya Angelou?

Shauna Stanley looks to the Future

Shauna is the newest (and youngest) addition to the editorial collective, joining in March 2018. Before that she had been in Australia for just a year and her main connection to Home was Irish for Choice in Oz which was running a Melbourne-based solidarity campaign with Repeal the Eighth. But in addition to that, she was looking for new ways to stay connected to home while also contributing to the Irish-Australian community. In keeping with the theme of Irish women standing up for their rights, she came across Brigidfest in Tinteán, an annual lunch around Brigid’s day which celebrates Irish women, and that year the theme was Grainuaile, and Shauna was a big fan.

In the same issue advertising Brigidfest, Shauna saw an ad for a new editorial collective member, and was immediately roped in. Through Tinteán, she found her community, one linked to Ireland but also engaged in Irish-focussed cultural activities. It’s been for her a great way to connect with Irish diaspora activities in Melbourne: The Celtic Club, Irish Film Festival Australia, sporting organisations, Irish language groups, Bloomsday in Melbourne and Brigidfest.

Speaking of the pandemic, now more than ever, she thinks staying connected online is especially important, and Tinteán for her has been a great way to make sense of it all and embrace that dual life we’ve all been living on social media:

when you’re an Irish person in Australia, you’re hooked up to two streams of media (here and in Ireland) which really exacerbates that anxiety about the pandemic. One way to deal with that is by writing, and submitting articles to Tinteán. There’s a belief here that Irish people are transient and their voices do not count because of that, but that is not the case. First, there are so many of us who are making Australia their life. Secondly, even if you are a backpacker, on a holiday or temporary visa, you are contributing to Australia, be it as a nurse, as a teacher or as a construction-worker or whatever, you are contributing to Australia and your voice should be heard and Tinteán wants to hear your stories. The article doesn’t even have to be polished, as we can talk you through your pitch and to get it into print in the magazine. Send us an email if you’d like to write for us and we can discuss your ideas.

You might not have a story but be interested in film and the Irish Film Festival Australia is an annual event and we’re keen to find film reviewers for the magazine. We’re also interested in book reviewers, in cartooning. Get in touch if you’d like to be involved. Tinteán belongs to Irish-Australia and we urge readers to interact with each and every story, to suggest stories, to get active as writers, illustrators, cartoonists, historians, family historians, and poets in English and Irish, and to let us know what you’d like us to be covering. And to let us know about events that will interest members of this community.

To conclude:

We’re proudly celebrating at Tinteán a collective, virtually unbroken 20 year history, beginning with Táin, and an increasingly visible Irish-Australia. The archive tells its stories, we believe, in often compelling ways.

One of the proud legacies of the magazine is that it has a complete run of articles online for both the antecedent magazine Táin (in pdf form) and also for Tinteán in print and online.   If you’re not already a subscriber, please become one. It’s free gratis and for nothing, and you’ll get a treasury of Irish content in your inbox on the 10th of each month at 10am.

Founding Editor of Táin (Dec. 1999-March 2007) – Val Noone.

The Tinteán Editorial Collective (July 2006- , in print and online) – Frances Devlin-Glass, Dymphna Lonergan, Trevor McClaughlin, Elizabeth McKenzie, Frank O’Shea, Shauna Stanley.

Tinteán pays tribute to some key elders who like many of us began with Táin, in particular Peter Kiernan (deceased), Rob Butler and Patrick McNamara.