The bigger background story
As O’Reilly describes it, at the start of the journey, they were particularly apprehensive about their incarceration amid a violent and unrestrained criminal population:
As I stood in that hatchway, looking at the wretches glaring out, I realized more than ever before the terrible truth that a convict ship is a floating hell. The forward hold was dark, save the yellow light of a few ship’s lamps. There were 320 criminal convicts in there, and the sickening thought that occurred to us, are our friends in there among them? There swelled up a hideous diapason from that crowd of wretches; the usual prison restraint was removed, and the reaction was at its fiercest pitch. Such a din of diabolical sounds no man ever heard. We hesitated before entering the low-barred door to the hold, unwilling to plunge into the seething den. As we stood thus, a tall gaunt man pushed his way through the criminal crowd to the door. He stood within, and, stretching out his arms, said: ‘Come, we are waiting for you’. I did not know the face; I knew the voice. It was my old friend and comrade, Keating.’ (Roche)
O’Reilly provided nine poems in all, including this one written for Denis Cashman…
As you battle your way through the world
And measure your own, with its might,
In its face let your gauntlet be hurdled,
And boldly press on to the fight.
Let no failure your energies smother.
Unawed, with adversity cope.
Let your motto be ‘Honour’, my brother,
Your watchword and war-cry be ‘Hope’.
On the right of your course, be reliant,
And onward unswervingly steer.
Rise o’er worldly censures, defiant,
Condemning the frown and the sneer.
And, though bitter the draught of the trial,
On brother, and quaff it with pride.
Though you drink to the dregs of the vial,
Still cherish the truth for your guide.
Let not frowning Misfortune appal you,
Nor shrink ‘neath Calamity’s rod.
Remember; whatever befalls you
Is willed by an all-seeing God.
Act yourself, and ne’er trust to another.
When duty awaits, never rest.
Look onward and upward, my brother,
And forget not, what is, is the best.
A statement from the mural Artist: Finton Magee.
"This work is dedicated to six Irish Fenian Prisoners who escaped from the British penal colony of Western Australia.
The prisoners were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish independence movement who were transported to Australia between 1865-1867. On the 17th of April 1876 six fenians escaped onboard the Catalpa, a whaling ship that had been organised as an escape boat by fellow Fenian John Boyle O’Reilly, the prisoners were able to escape to the United States and lived the rest of their lives as free men.
The work depicts 6 flying Geese symbolising each prisoner that escaped, This references the name of the hand written newspaper the prisoners created on their journey to Australia. Irish Fenian rebels often referred to themselves as ‘flying geese’ as it was the name of the Irish Jacobite army that escaped Ireland after the British Victory over the country. The ‘Wild Geese’ continued the fight against the British as units in French Armies.
The work also references Irish cultural notions of life/death and new beginnings, in Irish mythology tear na nogue is a mythical land across the sea, there are stories of gods and humans turning into birds to travel there. This references the afterlife for the Irish and also explores the concept of new beginnings in foreign lands. Something that relates to the experiences and stories of all people who have migrated to Australia to build new lives. "