Chronicles Insight - Australian women of Irish descent

Wednesday, 6 May, 2020
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In March of 2020 the New South Wales-based Aisling Society honoured a number of notable Australian Irish women for International Women’s Day. They created a wonderful book of illustrations and stories, and were kind enough to share their research with us. 18 of the 20 women featured in the Aisling 20/20 Vision project can now be found on the IrelandXO Chronicles. The remaining two are omitted only because they were born less than 100 years ago. Here we have featured just a small selection of these incredible women who have played an integral role in shaping the Irish community in Australia as we know it today. 

Chronicles Insight - Australian women of Irish descent

Daisy Bates

Daisy had a rocky start to life. Born in County Tipperary, Daisy lost her mother at a young age to Tuberculosis and was suspected of having the disease herself. As a young woman she relocated to Australia where she started a whole new life. Though her personal life was not without its intrigue, it was Daisy’s work with and advocacy for Aboriginal Australians that won her notoriety and respect. Whilst working with a mission near Broome, Western Australia, she undertook a study of Aboriginal language, religion, and myths. Troubled by the poor treatment of the Aboriginal people, Daisy became a prominent figure in advocating for the rights and welfare of the people with whom she had lived and worked. She applied for the role of ‘Protector of Aborigines’ in the Northern Territories but was rejected because she was a woman. She financed much of her work by selling her property. In 1934 Daisy was awarded a CBE for her tireless efforts. 

Bridget Young

Bridget Young, born in 1833, was just one of the many young women who left the Union Workhouses for Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme. She left the Tuam Workhouse in 1850 on board the Thomas Arbuthnot and sailed for Sydney with some 193 other young single girls. Two years later she married an ex-convict from Dublin named Richard Harding (also known as Richard Hart). Together the couple had 12 children, one of whom would go on to bring a level of infamy to the family name. Their fifth child Steve was a member of Ned Kelly’s notorious gang. He was shot and killed in 1880 at the Siege of Glenrowan. Bridget died in 1898, just a year after she was widowed. She and her husband are both buried in Wangaratta Cemetery. 

Agnes Macready

Agnes Macready was born in Rathfriland, County Down, in 1855. When she was just 12 years old, Agnes made the arduous journey to Australia. There she trained as a nurse. Not only was Agnes skilled as a caregiver, she was also a talented writer. She submitted many literary sketches and verses to the Catholic Press, though she used the pseudonym, ‘Arrah Luen’. When the War broke out in South Africa, Agnes wasted no time in volunteering as a nurse, though it was her literary skills that were more keenly sought after. Whilst in South Africa, she was commissioned by the Catholic Press to send home regular reports. Thus it came to pass that Agnes Macready became the world’s first female war correspondent. Throughout her life, Agnes maintained her connection with the Catholic Press and continued to submit articles and poems for publication right up to her death in 1935. 

Molly Kingston

Molly Kingston was born 1908 in Perth to Irish immigrant parents. She was an accomplished lawyer, and is credited with establishing the first all-female legal firm in Western Australia, Kingston & McClemens, in 1934. Molly specialised in family law. During World War II she joined the Women’s Air Training Corps which was then known as the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force. She went on to blaze more trails in the legal sector, becoming the Executive Officer of the Australian Institute of International Affairs in 1946. In 1962 she became just the seventh Australian woman to become a barrister. Molly was also a tireless campaigner for gender equality, representing the National Council for Women in 1952 to argue for equal pay. 

Mary Hegarty

Last, but certainly not least, we have Mary Hegarty. Mary was born in 1908 to parents of Irish origin. She attended Sydney University, graduating in 1927 at only 19 years of age with first-class honours in Latin and a Diploma in English. She worked as a secondary school teacher for a number of years before retiring in 1961. Mary had a long standing relationship with her place of origin. In 1948 she made her first trip to Ireland, though by no means her last. She traced her mother’s steps back to her ancestral home of Knocknagoshel in County Kerry. Mary was highly involved in Irish-Australian affairs. She wrote a number of articles about Ireland and the Irish in Australia. In 1954, Mary was one of three founders of the Aisling Society of Sydney. She served as secretary of the Aisling Society from its very first days through to 1975, though she did take two years off to serve as Society President. 

Aisling in 2020

Today the Aisling Society is an Irish-Australian Society which is focused on the study of the history and culture of Ireland as well as promoting cultural relations between Ireland and Australia. They achieve this by hosting talks and social events throughout the year. Our two countries have been deeply connected down through the generations, from the very earliest days of Penal Transportation and the Earl Grey Scheme to the many young Irish people who spend time in their 20’s enjoying all that the Australian way of life has to offer. Since 1954 the Aisling Society has been a place where people of Irish descent, and of course anyone else, can go to celebrate Irish culture and be greeted by a warm welcome. Find out more about the Aisling 20/20 Vision project here.


Click on the images to learn more about the entries that inspired this Chronicles Insight.

Daisy Bates 1863

Daisy Bates 1863

Bridget Young 1833

Bridget Young 1833

Agnes MaCready 1855

Agnes Macready

Molly Kingston 1908

Molly Kingston

Mary Hegarty 1908

Mary Hegarty