Guest Post – St Patricks Day

Belmont Belmont Abbey St Patrick ISO 400 f5.6 s100 JPEG Small

by Terry Dunleavy

When Auckland?s iconic Sky Tower turns green tonight in honour of the feast day of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, I wonder how many viewing Aucklanders will realise that it is also a tribute to the man responsible for saving what we now enjoy as Western civilisation.

I am fiercely proud to be, and feel privileged to be, a New Zealander, one of the chosen of God?s Own Country. But I?m almost as equally proud of my Irish heritage and for good reason.

The Irish are part of a larger ethnic grouping called the Celts, who first entered western consciousness about 600 BC, only a century and a half after the legendary founding of the City of Rome. Celts settled in what is now France, Spain, Turkey and Britain. British Celts were pushed by Angles and Saxons into Cornwall where they would become Cornish, and into Wales, where they became the Welsh. About 350 BC, some 50 years after Celtic tribes began their invasion of Britain, they reached Ireland. Some came by way of Britain, but most are believed to have come from Spain.

For some nine centuries, Ireland had an illiterate, aristocratic, semi-nomadic, Iron Age warrior culture, its wealth based on animal husbandry and slavery.

It remained largely wild and untamed until the 5th century AD, and the arrival of the man who began civilising Ireland, a newly created bishop whose youth had been spent as a slave shepherd boy in Ireland after he had been kidnapped from Britain. He was Patricius, now venerated as the great St Patrick, who turned the Irish to religion, learning and the writing of books.

So it was that Ireland, a little island at the edge of Europe, had its moment of unblemished glory, as recounted by Thomas Cahill in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilisation:

?As the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe, matted, unwashed barbarians descended on Roman cities, looting artefacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labour of copying all of western literature. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted back to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilisation they had overwhelmed.

?Without the mission of the Irish monks, who single-handedly re-founded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one ? a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be.? ?

Those Irish monks who fanned throughout Europe in their white druid-like robes saved civilisation, and but for them, we would not know, even here in New Zealand, the modern, generally civilised way of life which has come to us from Europe.

That was the land from whose people I and other Irish Kiwis are descended, the saviours of civilisation. They were the people whose descendants have played a part in the civilisation and modernisation of New Zealand, our ancestors and the many other Irish immigrants who have contributed mightily to the history of our country in education, religion, agriculture, law and politics.

Three Prime Ministers were Irish-born: Daniel Pollen (1875-76), John Ballance (1890-93) and William Massey (1912-1925). Two others were first generation of Irish emigrants: Michael Joseph Savage (1935-40) and James Brendan Bolger (1990-97).

There is special Irish relevance to our city, for it was here in 1840 that Governor William Hobson, born in Waterford, Ireland, accepted a gift of land from the Ngati Whatua chief Apihai Te Kawau to establish the capital of the newly-formed colony, which Hobson named Auckland in honour of one of his Admiralty superiors.

And at Eden Park where we sing with pride and gusto, in te reo Maori and then in English, ?God Defend New Zealand?, we sing words composed by Irish-born Thomas Bracken.

Ireland is also the land that recognises its links with those throughout the world who can claim Irish heritage. Article 2 of the Irish Constitution states:

It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.

And that?s why, as one who is so officially cherished, on this day, with a pint of Guinness in hand, I reflect that thanks to the blending of what tikanga Maori has taught us with what we?ve learned from Irish and so many other ethnic migrants to Godzone over the years, to be a New Zealander today is to be as special and as pride-inspiring as it is for those of Irish birth or descent today.


Terry Dunleavy, a writer of Takapuna, is a fourth generation New Zealander, whose maternal great great grandfather, Irish colour sergeant, Andrew McMahon, settled in Onehunga in 1849 as a Fencible soldier. Also, by virtue of his Cavan-born paternal grandfather, Terry qualifies for Irish citizenship.