The O'Leary family name has been connected to the Whangaehu Valley for well over a century.
Eileen O'Leary reports from the O'Leary family reunion to mark 100 years of continuous O'Leary farming of the "home" farm.
One hundred years ago a young couple on a horse and cart, with three young boys and a baby wrapped in a shawl, drove up a long farm track to start farming in the Whangaehu Valley.
The young couple, Mary and Don O'Leary, went on to have four other children and to live on the farm for the next 40 years, until their sons Charlie and Con took over.
One hundred years on, hundreds of the descendants of Mary and Don gathered in the valley over the weekend to celebrate a century of family life and to mark 100 years of continuous O'Leary farming of the "home" farm, and a 124-year association with the valley.
In 1897 as a boy, Don with his Irish parents and siblings had first lived on a leased farm up the valley and at the Whangaehu Hotel.
The baby in the shawl in 1921 was Humphrey O'Leary snr and today his three sons farm in the valley: Michael on the farm his great-grandparents first leased in 1897; Humphrey and Shaun O'Leary further up the valley; and cousin Tyrone on the "home" farm.
Whangaehu Valley is the traditional land of Ngāti Apa and Don formed close friendships with Māori in Whangaehu and Rātana, including with Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, founder of the Rātana church.
As a child in the valley, Don had played in the swampy land he was later to buy with Uru Te Angina Woon, also known as Sam Woon, a paramount chief of Ngāti Apa and the donor of the land on which the Whangaehu Hall and church now sit.
When Don passed away his coffin was draped in a korowai.
One of the O'Leary celebration organisers, Humphrey O'Leary said it was fantastic to have the extended family come back together to share so many stories and remember so many good and tough times.
The collective family memory in the valley covers major floods going back to 1902 when both the rail and road bridges washed away, two world wars, the tragic Tangiwai train derailment in 1938 and looking at the debris washing down the river from the disaster.
The family have celebrated many milestones and achievements and each of Mary and Don's children's families reflected on these in emotional speeches in the Whangaehu Hall on Saturday night.
For Humphrey, a personal highlight was racing. Humphrey, his wife Fiona and brothers and sister-in laws owned the successful racehorse Who Shot Thebarman, which won numerous races including the Auckland and Sydney Cups and ran third in the Melbourne Cup. Humphrey and Fiona backed that up with another Auckland Cup win with Ladies First, which is now back in the valley.
"It's a great valley for horses, cows and people," Humphrey said.
Tyrone O'Leary's mother Patricia, who still lives on the home farm, said faith was also very important to the family and in the 1920s Mary donated the money for the stained glass window at the front of the little Catholic Church, which has recently been moved to higher ground beside the Whangaehu Hall.
"There are so many marvellous stories so it's wonderful to have the chance to see everyone and keep the family history alive for future generations.
"There's a long Irish tradition of storytelling, laughter, singing and enjoying each other's company and the weekend showed us those traditions are still going strong," Patricia said.
The oldest family members are now three of Mary and Don's daughters-in-law, Joan, Rose and Patricia. Together the matriarchs of the family cut the cake on the Saturday night.
The weekend celebrations also included visits to the Whangaehu Church, the home farm and farmhouse, the school, the Whanganui races and the Whanganui Sunday mass.