St.Michael’s Theatre, New Ross, hosted a unique presentation by artists, an academic, some singers and musicians from Australia and Tasmania called Roses from the Heart to remember the spirit of the convict women who were transported by ship to Australia and Van Diemann’s Land from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. These misfortunates who did little wrong to merit exile and abandonment from 1780 to 1830 and who number 25,566 were largely forgotten about.
It took an artist/academic Christina Henri in the early 2000’s to research and tell these women’s amazing story. She set out to discover about the Female Factories in Hobart where these women were incarcerated until they were farmed out as unpaid labour and servants. Many became pregnant and at least 1,000 babies died in Hobart alone. Henri created a potent installation of calico children’s christening bonnets to act as a silent memory of those terrible times.
She set out to research these women and from records discovered the calculated figure of 25,566 and set out to organize that people the world over would make a simple bonnet in remembrance. To date she has accumulated 18,500 bonnets and some of them were used to line the New Ross stage.
While no Wexford or Waterford women were mentioned in the presentation, the story of a Clonmel woman and her child, Mary Walsh and baby Mary, who were transported in 1842 on a ship called The Hope. Pete St.John wrote a fine song The Bells of Ireland to remember Mary Walsh and others.
A Waterford connection of support came from Ireland’s ambassador to Australia Martin O’Fainín (son of the late Pádraig O’Fainín) who incidentally gave an excellent insight into the Irish in Australia in the Rinn publication An Linn Bhuí.
Songs from Fred Rea and Maria Ford gave great impact to the presentation.
The New Ross and District Pipe Band opened the evening with Hard Times and Seán Roche a Cork balladeer now 37 years in Australia and Maria Ford, born in Australia of Cork parents sang some powerful songs in a Joan Baez style.
The New Ross Pipers hope to visit Australia in 2011.