There is a thriving piece of Ireland in Sydney, Australia that its members can be proud of. It has indeed a proud history. The first branch of this, the Irish National Association of Australasia, the Pádraig Pearse Branch, was founded in Sydney in 1915. Since its establishment the INA has worked for and provided a home from home for the Irish community and cared for the welfare of Irish immigrants in Sydney and throughout the region. It is a wonderful model for Irish immigrant communities everywhere.
Today, the INA is a thriving organisation that cares for the development and promotion of Irish-Australian cultural activities and the welfare of the Irish people in Australia. About the INA
The Irish National Association actively promotes Irish culture and Irish interests through the support of activities at the Irish Cultural Centre, the Gaelic Club and other locations in Sydney. They are located at Level 1, 64 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. The Irish Cultural Centre is home to the Albert Dryer Memorial Library of books on Irish language, history and culture.
The Irish National Association also maintains the magnificent 1798 Memorial at Waverley Cemetery, which commemorates those who struggled for Irish independence and it is described as “the finest 1798 memorial in the world”. They also host an annual Easter Rising commemoration ceremony at the memorial, every Easter Sunday.
The INA’s Centenary celebrations took place in 2015. This included the launching of the Oral History and Folklore section of the National Library of Australia’s history project, led by Dr Richard Reid. The project records the stories of Irish migrants and Australians of Irish origin. You can read (and hear) stories of the lives of Irish Australians in Sydney at the Sydney Irish Histories section of the INA’s website.
INA’s Cultural Activities
The INA’s welcomes support for their magnificent work in fostering a vibrant Irish cultural scene in Sydney. The cultural activities they run, support and promote include:
Irish step dancing classes have been held at the Irish Cultural Centre since 1956, and the Dwyer-Whelan Academy of Irish Dance has been teaching there since the 1980’s.
The Sydney School of Irish Music teaches traditional music at the Centre, on fiddle, whistle and other instruments. The INA also hosts the Irish Australian Song Library, a searchable database of recordings and sheet music of Irish songs.
Irish language classes are run at the Gaelic Club by the Irish Language School Sydney, Scoil ná Gaeilge. Scoil ná Gaeilge Sydney Inc. undertakes Irish language education in Sydney, promotes Irish language education in Australia, and undertakes activities to support Irish language education.
The Government of Ireland’s Emigrant Support Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides financial assistance for the Scoil Gheimhridh Sydney’s annual programme that includes traditional Irish music instrumental, song, and dancing workshops, as well as long standing support from the Irish National Association of Australasia and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin.
Céilís (social Irish set dances) are held every couple of months with occasional concerts of Irish music, singing and dancing at the Gaelic Club and other venues. The popular Junior Fleadh is held on a Sunday every three months and teaches children to play Irish music together and some dance steps in a fun environment.
Their affiliated bar and music venue, where most music and dance events happen is The Gaelic Club, which can be found at our building at 64 Devonshire Street.
The INA also supports public events such as the Sydney Irish Film Festival, Bloomsday (June 16th) and of course St Patrick’s Day on March 17th.
History of the INA
Those photographed Albert Dryer, Thomas Fitzgerald, Maurice Dalton, Frank McKeown, Edmund McSweeny, Michael McGing and William McGuinness were accused of Irish Republican Brotherhood membership and imprisoned without trial.
INA Foundation: War and Revolution
The INA has been steeped in Irish history and Irish historic events from its very beginning. When the Irish Home Rule Bill was deferred at the outbreak of the First World War, Albert Thomas Dryer, the 27-year-old Australian-born son of an Irish mother and a part-German, part-Irish father was stimulated into action by events and he decided that it was time to rally Irish-Australian opinion to assist Ireland to achieve her national destiny.
On 21 July 1915, at a meeting of 18 Irish people Sydney, Dryer proposed a resolution to establish an Irish National Association to serve and strengthen the Irish community in Australia, and to help preserve the ideal of Ireland’s sovereignty.
The new organization grew rapidly, organizing social evenings, Irish dancing and language classes, card nights, plays and lectures. The first Irish National Concert was held in the Sydney Town Hall on 23 November 1915, and by January 1916 the INA had 211 financial members. In that month the Interim Committee handed over to the first elected committee, headed by Peter O’Loughlin and with Albert Dryer as Secretary.
From its inception it was intended that the INA be a national organization, with branches in various cities with an overall national executive. In the early days there were branches in Brisbane, Queensland and Melbourne, Victoria, but they never took off. Later in the 1940’s and 1950’s Dryer managed to start up Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra branches, but again they were short-lived. The Pádraig Pearse Branch in Sydney remains the only surviving branch of the INA.
Irish Nationalist Aims
The nationalist aims of the INA became important in 1916, as Dryer and the rest of the Irish community watched helplessly while Britain crushed the Easter Rising and proceeded to execute sixteen of its leaders. The INA continued its social and cultural activities, but the political purpose of the association came increasingly to the fore. In a war-time British colony, already bitterly divided over the conscription issue, it was inevitable that Irish nationalists would be regarded as sinister subversives.
Members Imprisoned Without Trial
On Monday, 17 June 1918, Albert Dryer and six other INA office-bearers were arrested under emergency war-time regulations, and imprisoned without trial. Included with Dryer were Thomas Fitzgerald, secretary of the Brisbane branch, Maurice Dalton and Frank McKeown of the Melbourne branch, and Edmund McSweeny, Michael McGing and William McGuinness of the Sydney branch. The seven were accused of membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and were held in Sydney’s Darlinghurst Gaol for several months. Six were released on 19 December 1918, but Albert Dryer was held until 11 February 1919.
Anti Treaty INA
The political situation in Ireland was changing rapidly through the late 1910’s and early 1920’s. While the INA carried on its cultural and social activities it offered what support it could to the struggle for Irish independence. Inevitably the division of opinion over the Treaty would be reflected on the Australian scene.
The forces against the Anglo-Irish Treaty, including the INA, continued their political campaign in Australia with protest meetings, leaflets and newspapers, as well as collecting money to send home to Ireland. Although the Irish community was divided, the Australian Government still feared that the seditious Irish would stir up trouble.
Irish Envoy’s Deported
On Monday, 30 April 1923, when two Republican speakers arrived to address a meeting at Waverley in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, they were arrested. The Irish Envoys, as they became known were Sean J. O’Kelly (President of the Gaelic League, Sinn Féin TD for Louth–Meath, later President of Sinn Féin), and Fr Michael O’Flanagan (Vice-President of Sinn Féin and a judge in the Dáil Éireann Courts during the Irish War of Independence). After a judicial enquiry the Irish Envoys were deported from Australia. Despite the Envoys incident, the Irish community in Australia remained increasingly divided and showed little interest in the INA’s political activism.
By 1926, even the INA’s weekly Céilí (dance evening), in its premises in George St, Sydney, was forced to compete with a rival function in nearby Flinders St. Nevertheless, the 1926 Easter concert raised £120 to be sent home to Éamon de Valera. It was the last regular remittance, as later that year de Valera led the Fianna Fáil split from Sinn Féin.
Dan Minogue: Decline then reconstruction
During the 1920’s the INA moved several times, and support declined. By the early 1930’s several general meetings lapsed for want of a quorum. In March 1934, a reconstruction committee was elected. The Irish community soon rallied to the support of the INA, and by the 1940’s the association was entering its golden age. It was at this time that the second great figure came onto the Sydney Irish scene Dan Minogue. A native of County Clare, Dan Minogue came to Australia in the 1910’s, and for over 30 years it was his vision which shaped the course of the INA.
The first stage of Dan Minogue’s vision for the INA was to purchase land in Devonshire St, Surry Hills to establish a cultural centre for the Irish in Sydney. He and the Committee worked hard to raise the money to build the centre and develop a cohesive Irish community to patronize it.
The founders of the INA were mainly working people with few political contacts, but the INA of the 1940’s was dominated by those successful in politics. Dan Minogue was an alderman on the Sydney City Council along with two other INA Executive members, Tony Doherty and Eric Drew. Dan Minogue was elected Federal member for the seat of West Sydney. Deputy federal leader of the Australian Labor Party, and one-time Prime Minister, Frank Forde, was also a member of the INA.
One of the problems faced by the INA, during the first 40 years of its existence was the dominance of Irish affairs in Australia by the Catholic Church. When the INA was formed, the inclusion of non-sectarianism among its aims was condemned by Cardinal Kelly. Nearly thirty years later, the INA again came up against the Church when it tried to use the proceeds of the 1944 St Patrick’s Day sports carnival to build a hail for the Irish people in Sydney.
Proceeds of St Patrick’s Day activities had traditionally gone to the Catholic orphanages and the next year the Church took over the organization of the sports carnival from the INA. The association finally won back control of the St Patrick’s Day sports carnival in 1957, and continued on for over 20 years until it revived of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in 1979.
Before the Devonshire Street site was developed, the INA ran dances at St Benedict’s church hall in Broadway. The Sunday night céilís were well attended, and the ranks of the Irish were swelled by new immigrants arriving under the Labour Government’s immigration programme introduced in the late 1940’s. Strangely, there was some opposition to these immigrants from those Australian Irish who believed they should have stayed at home to build up the new Irish Republic. Nevertheless, it was the immigrants who proved to be the lifeblood of the INA through the 1950’s.
Irish Australian History
1948 saw one of the most historical events in Irish Australian history. In that year the former Taoiseach and 1916 veteran Éamon de Valera made a controversial visit to Australia to campaign for an end to the partition of Ireland. Albert Dryer organized the Sydney leg of de Valera’s visit under the auspices of the INA.
In the early 1950s the membership of the INA was thriving. In 1951 the first annual Feis was held at the Sydney Sports Ground and over the years this was built into a national contest in Gaelic and other sports, Irish dancing and piping.
A new home for the INA
In 1953, the first issue of the newspaper “Sydney Gael” was published and céilís and cultural events flourished. Other activities of the INA included an annual lecture at Sydney University, housie, Irish dancing, the pipe band, and the upkeep of the 1798 Memorial at Waverley Cemetery. Finally, in 1956, the INA Cultural Centre was completed with the help of a £37,000 loan. There was a grand opening on 16 September by Dan Minogue in the presence of Albert Dryer, the Irish chargé d’affaires and the mayor of Sydney, and a crowd of over two thousand.
The opening of the centre led to another upsurge in activity in the INA. In those days the kiosk on the building’s mezzanine floor serviced the dances on the ground floor and the various meetings, card nights and band practices on the first floor.
Irish Trade Promotion
By 1958 the INA activities had expanded to include an Irish trade promotion group, a recreation group, ladies’ auxiliary, drama group, handball, library and Céilí dances. The Victorian branch of the INA, re-established two years earlier, was still in operation. There were also ongoing events to be organized, such as the St. Patrick’s Day sports, and the national Gaelic Festival.
As the INA moved into the 1960’s the momentum continued. Irish goods were sold and the trade committee was flourishing, as were Irish dancing, drama, Céilí, handball and golf groups. The major festivals were the interstate Feis, the St Patrick’s Day sports carnival and the Easter concert.
1963 saw the end of an era with the death of the INA’s founder, Dr Albert Dryer on April 11th. The reduction in the number of Irish immigrants arriving in Australia and the inevitable personality clashes which had developed within the enclosed Irish community soon led to a decline in the INA’s membership. One by one the national Feis, handball, card nights and other activities were discontinued. Dan Minogue, detecting the assimilation of the Irish community and the need to compete with mainstream entertainment venues for their patronage, pressed ahead with providing a licensed club for the Irish community. It was to be Dan Minogue’s last mission in the Irish community, and he officially opened The Gaelic Club on the first floor of the INA building in 1974.
Reform and expansion
The INA continued on, surviving the changes as it had for 60 years. Nevertheless, action grew from conflict, and in the late 1970’s a Reform Committee emerged from the young, more recent Irish immigrants, bringing new ideas.
In 1979 the St Patrick’s Day Parade was revived, and another new era began. Soon the Parade festivities expanded to Irish Week with parliamentary and media patronage and the INA reached out to other Irish organizations and to the Irish Australian community for support and organizational assistance.
In the 1980’s, the ground floor was leased and became a cinema for a time. By the end of the 1990’s the INA took back control of the ground floor and renovated it, extending The Gaelic Club to two floors. Eventually, though, the ground floor was sold to become a separate venue, while the Gaelic Club continues on the first floor, holding céilís, concerts, meetings and other events for the Irish community.
The Irish National Association Today
As it heads towards its centenary, the Irish National Association of Australasia still continues to work for the Irish community, holding Irish music concerts and regular dances, sponsoring dancing classes, and Irish language classes. The Association also maintains the Albert Dryer Memorial Library, containing many rare antiquarian volumes collected and donated over the decades, including a copy of the Book of Kells donated by Éamon de Valera himself. Although the St Patrick’s Day Parade, the Australian Irish Welfare Bureau and Irish Language School, Sydney are now independent organizations, they still maintain strong links to the INA.
An Emerald Jem of Ireland in Australia
The INA continues to grow and develop in the new century, expanding its dance and music evenings and establishing a School of Irish Music in 2009. While its political activism has declined since the Independence of Ireland has become assured, the INA still commemorates the Easter Rising every Easter Sunday at the Irish 1798 Rebellion Memorial in Waverley Cemetery, over the grave of Michael Dwyer.
- Anne-Maree Whitaker, (1985), The Irish National Association of Australasia: 70th Anniversary Historical Reference
- Patrick O’Farrell, (1966), 1916–1966, 50th Anniversary Easter Rebellion: Report to the Irish National Association of Australasia Padraig Pearse Branch
- Patrick O’Farrell, (1986, rev. 3rd ed. 2001) The Irish in Australia
- Dan Minogue (1972), A Rambler from Clare
- Reid, Richard E.; Kildea, Jeff; McIntyre, Perry (2020). To Foster an Irish Spirit: The Irish National Association of Australasia 1915-2015. Spit Junction NSW: Anchor Books. ISBN9780646804309.
- The Gaelic Club, Sydney
- The Irish Community NSW Website
- Patrick O’Farrell website
- Irish Language School, Sydney
- Harp Irish Set Dancers
- St Patrick’s Day parade and Family Day, Sydney
- Australian Dictionary of Biography: Dryer, Albert Thomas
- Anne-Maree Whitaker (2012). “Irish National Association”. Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust. Retrieved 11 October2015.