Ian Freestone sits down with Patrick Morrisey to talk about his new book, ‘Australians of the Great Irish Famine – One Clan’s Story’.
The wind blows in the old pine trees
Sweet scents from tropic isles,
And fanned by each caressing breeze
The lazy ocean smiles.
So come, dear heart, to Love’s own land,
Romance is calling me
To roam beside her on the strand
Local pianist and Balgowlah resident, Millie Morrisey (1890-1985), treasured her copy of the 1920s prize-winning song ’Manly by the Sea’. One can imagine her sitting at her walnut 1890s grand piano in her North Harbour Californian bungalow looking eastward toward Manly and belting out the chorus:
On golden sands of Manly shore
And white surf rolling free
Where beauty dwells for evermore
Sweet Manly by the sea
Millie Morrisey is the late grandmother of Patrick Morrisey, a local historian and author, who has just published ‘Australians of the Great Irish Famine – One Clan’s Story’.
“When my parents died I realized I was now part of the oldest generation and I thought about my children not knowing where they came from and their cousins not knowing. So I began to research,” says Morrisey.
Respected book reviewer, Michael McGirr, rightly notes, Morissey’s four year long project is a “feast of story telling and painstaking historical construction”.
Patrick Morrisey’s family clan began emigrating to Australia from Ireland in the mid 1800s and the book traces that journey across three generations. In these stories, gold, railways coal and war are sewn into the lives of ordinary people.
Its a fascinating and compelling journey that eventually brings the family to Manly ‘by the sea’, where Andrew Morrisey, who married Millie, was appointed manager of the new ‘McIlrath Grocery’ store on the Corso in 1921. Then, after paying a one pound building fee, Andrew built his home at North Harbour and married Millie in 1925.
As devout Catholics, and regular attenders at St Mary’s, Andrew and Millie, would have been overawed by the ‘rivers of worshippers’ that descended on Manly for the annual feast day of Corpus Christi. Estimates of between 70,000-100,000 people at that time would make their way up Eastern Hill to St Pat’s. Morrisey’s book details the complex, and oftentimes dark, history of the Catholic Church with special attention given to St Cecilias which opened in Balgowlah in 1929. With all the smarts of an astute property developer, Archbishop Sheehan declared to the faithful at the church opening, “I have no doubt that when the Harbour Bridge is completed, the north side, with its healthy building sites and beautiful scenery, will soon become brimful of population.”
But only a few years after they were married Millie lost her husband Andrew to myocarditis, a condition attributed to active service in WW1. He died in ‘Fairlight Hospital’ (cnr of Boyle St and White St). Millie, aged 38, having already lost both parents, all her siblings, and now widowed with two very small children to raise during the Great Depression, threw herself into community and church projects. She would live in her brick bungalow until her death in 1985, aged 95.
“History is like fine art; it deserves to be cultivated for its own sake; it possesses its own type of attractiveness; and in the hands of one with human sympathies, can be made far more gripping than those works of fiction on which we waste so much of our time”. (Archbishop Sheehan, 1929)
Morrisey’s, “Australians of the Great Irish Famine” is indeed a “gripping” work of non-fiction. Those interested in Manly’s history and its people, as well as those who love reading a well-researched book, will be absorbed by the Morrisey clan story and the insights it provides into early Australian history and the extensive contribution of our Irish forbears.
Australians of the Great Irish Famine: One Clan’s story is on sale for $35 at pjmpublications.com.au or by calling 0427 700640. A book launch with live Irish Music will be held on 2 December 2021. Details on the book’s website.
Patrick was interviewed by Ian Freestone for this Manly Observer article. Ian is manager of Manly-based, Scanned and Secure – helping others conserve and digitise photos, slides and film: www.scannedandsecure.com.au Phone/Text 0417 252958