St Patrick's Day: 10 Irish influences on New Zealand

By Marilynn McLachlan

(L-R) Mike Baillie, Kay Sefton and Kim Harvey celebrate St Patrick's Day. Photo / Ben Fraser
(L-R) Mike Baillie, Kay Sefton and Kim Harvey celebrate St Patrick's Day. Photo / Ben Fraser

St Patrick's Day is time to enjoy all things Irish, so today we're looking at the influence of the Irish on New Zealand - it's far greater than a once-a-year celebration.

1. 15 - 20 percent of New Zealanders are of Irish descent

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, many Irish immigrated to New Zealand, with more Irish-born New Zealanders in the 1901 census than Maori (43,524 and 43,112 respectively). This means there are probably as many New Zealanders of Irish descent as there are of Maori descent.

2. The first Governor of New Zealand and co-author of the Treaty of Waitangi was Irish

Irish-born Captain William Hobson sailed into the Bay of Islands in 1837.

On his return to England the following year, he proposed British sovereignty be established over New Zealand. Upon his return to New Zealand in 1840, he and two others drafted the Treaty of Waitangi and later asserted British sovereignty over New Zealand. He was sworn in as Governor and Commander in Chief of New Zealand on 3 May 1841.

3. The North Island and South Island originally had Irish names

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Captain William Hobson, the Governor of New Zealand, named the South Island "New Munster" after the Irish province where he was born. He named the North Island "New Ulster" after another Irish province. The names of the islands were changed in 1853.

4. Our national anthem was written by an Irishman

Journalist, politician and poet Thomas Bracken moved from his homeland Ireland to New Zealand in 1869 and had a substantial influence in the Otago region. His poem God Defend New Zealand was first published in the New Zealand Saturday Advertiser under the title National Hymn. A competition was launched for music to accompany the poem and it quickly gained popularity. While the government purchased the rights to Bracken's words in 1940, it was not given equal status to God Save the Queen until 1977.

5. New Zealand's first political party was formed by an Irishman

Irish-born John Balance moved, with his wife, to New Zealand in 1866. With a background as a newspaper editor, he was well respected and entered politics in 1875. An advocate of free education and the equality of the sexes, he brought together his allies and formed the Liberal Party - New Zealand's first political party.

Dave Gallaher of 1905's "The Originals"
Dave Gallaher of 1905's "The Originals"

6. Our first All Blacks captain was an Irishman

Born in Ireland in 1873, Dave Gallaher moved to Katikati when he was five-years-old and he first began playing rugby there. With elderly parents, he left school at the age of 13 tojoin the workforce in order to support his siblings. After a brief time playing for the Parnell rugby club, he joined the Ponsonby District Rugby Football Club in 1895 and was playing for Auckland by 1896. After a stint in the Boer War, he was selected for the New Zealand team in 1903. He was named captain of "The Originals" for the 1905-1906 tour of Britain, France and America. The team scored 976 points and had 59 scored against them.

7. There are over 65 Irish pubs in New Zealand

Well known for their fabulous food, folk music and Guinness, Kiwis love the charm of Irish pubs. The Consulate General of Ireland lists 65 bars and pubs across New Zealand on its website, acknowledging that the list is not complete.

(L-R) Kate McKinnon, Nathan Pipi, Jessica Pipi enjoying St Patrick's Day in Havelock North. Photo / Warren Buckland
(L-R) Kate McKinnon, Nathan Pipi, Jessica Pipi enjoying St Patrick's Day in Havelock North. Photo / Warren Buckland

8. Auckland's Sky Tower is lit up green in celebration of St Patrick's Day

New Zealand's tallest human-made structure lights up in various colours throughout the year to show support for a range of activities. It celebrates St Patrick's Day by turning green.

9. Irish workers were accused of spreading STIs in Christchurch's rebuild

Some of New Zealand media reported in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake that Irish workers, who were helping in the rebuild, were spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Headlined Luck of the Irish has downside in sex-disease stats, the introduction read that Irish workers were helping spread sexual disease. However, Christchurch District Health Board member Aaron Keown guessed it was local women passing infections on to rebuild workers - not the other way around. There were several complaints to The Press Council which were upheld.

10. We don't have snakes in New Zealand because of the Irish

This influence is mythological, but according to tradition, St Patrick was enjoying a 40-day fast in the fifth century when snakes began attacking him. According to the story, he drove a sword into the ground and the tip of it was said to have touched New Zealand, saving both countries from the slithery reptiles.

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