Whizzes of Oz: Irish success stories in Australia

Sydney Letter: from wifi pioneers to aircraft artists, the Irish have had a huge impact

If you are reading this article on your phone, tablet or laptop, you can thank Dr John O'Sullivan, who has just been named among the top 100 Irish-Australians by the Sydney-based Irish Echo newspaper.

The list, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the paper, is a fascinating insight into the vast Irish contribution to areas such as politics, business, sport, law and music in Australia.

O’Sullivan, who has traced his ancestry to Galway, invented key technology that is used in almost every wifi-enabled device in the world. His work has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties for the Australian government.

Another O'Sullivan, Sonia, also made the list. She won gold and silver medals representing Ireland in athletics, and now lives in Melbourne with her Australian husband and two children. O'Sullivan was Australia's team manager at the 2008 world cross-country championships.


Renegade folk hero Ned Kelly made the cut, as did Redmond Barry, a Cork- born,Trinity-educated judge.

Barry had a scandalous affair, a highly successful legal career and did pro bono work for Aborigines, but he’ll forever be remembered for one thing only: he sentenced Ned Kelly to death. Barry died suddenly in 1880, just 12 days after Kelly was hanged.

Irish Echo publisher Billy Cantwell says the story of Irish emigration to Australia often gets enveloped into the mainstream narrative.

Continuing story

“This list demonstrates to the current wave of migrants that they’re part of a continuing story that started two centuries ago. To the broader Australian community it shows that the Irish story has been conspicuous,” he says.

“The poignant thing is that the common denominator of them all is that at some point somebody in Ireland set foot on a boat or a plane to come here.”

Cantwell notes that Australia remains a constitutional monarchy, “with the flag and the crown and the monarch of its colonial rulers intact”.

“The Irish in Australia have thrived, despite historical challenges of sectarian isola- tion or jingoistic suspicion.”

Paul Keating, who is among six former prime ministers on the list, said in 1992 that “Australia without the Irish would be unthinkable . . . unimaginable . . . unspeakable”.

Irish-Australians have a rich history in the Labor Party. Born in Co Clare in 1893, Dan Minogue was elected to Australia’s federal parliament in 1949.

In 1951 he began a campaign for Australia to have an ambassador in Ireland. After years of being taunted with cries of “get back to the bogs” from Liberal ministers, he finally got his wish in 1965.

Another Clare man to make the list is Michael Malone, who emigrated to Perth with his parents and brothers in 1978, aged eight. He was just 23 when he set up Western Australia’s first internet service provider (ISP) from his parent’s garage. Iinet is now Australia’s second-largest ISP, with annual revenues of more than Aus$700 million (€485 million).

Three men – artist John Moriarty, athlete Patrick Johnson and musician Kev Carmody – with Aboriginal mothers and paternal Irish ancestry are in the top 100.

Moriarty’s father is from Tralee. Under an assimilation policy he was taken from his mother at the age of four and placed in a children’s home, entering a harsh world of orphanages and poverty.

Against incredible odds Moriarty has found great success as an artist, including painting Qantas aircraft with Aboriginal motifs.

One of the top 100, musician Bernard “Doc” Neeson, died on the day the list was published. Born in Belfast and educated for a time at Dublin’s Terenure College, Neeson was lead singer with The Angels, one of Australia’s most successful bands of the 1980s. He died from a brain tumour, aged 67.

Another musician on the list is cellist Maureen O'Carroll, who was born to Irish parents in Sydney in 1932, and died in 2012. At one Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert, she refused to play Rule, Britannia. She placed her cello down and walked off stage, only returning at the end of the piece. Her prodigious talent ensured she kept her job.

Others on the list include the late Australian Rules footballer Jim Stynes, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, actor Errol Flynn and Schindler's Ark author Thomas Keneally.