Why an Irish Festival at Westbury?
- Van Diemens Land was globally notorious as the destination for transported Irish convicts (1803 - 1853). Also, for Irish emigrants fleeing The Great Famine of 1845-47.
- As a garrison village, from the 1820s Westbury's first settlers were predominantly Irish ex-convicts, retired soldiers and free settlers. Military pensioners were each granted a 5-acre block of land complete with a Well and Pear tree. By 1850, the community had become the largest military community in Tasmania, 3,000 strong (twice the size it is today).
- Gaelic was the local language in Westbury for many generations and a strong Irish brogue is reputed to have lasted throughout the 19th Century.
- Westbury's largest landowner, Irishman Richard Dry, was himself a political exile (pardoned 1819). He was sympathetic to his fellow Irishmen and helped many establish land rights on his vast Quamby estate (30,000 acres). Richard Drys son went on to become Tasmania's first native-born Premier and Knight of the Realm.
- Seven patriotic leaders of the Young Ireland independence movement were transported to Van Diemens Land in 1848 as political exiles. Four of them escaped the two most radical, Thomas Francis Meagher and John Mitchel were harboured and aided in their escape by the people of Westbury. The 7 Young Irelanders went on to leave their mark on three continents and are revered Irish heroes today. Westbury has forever won special recognition in Ireland for this service.
- Westbury's first resident Catholic priest was Father James Hogan (1850). He inspired the building of the Holy Trinity Church and in 1887 established the first order of the Sisters of St Joseph in Tasmania with five Irish pioneer nuns. On his death in 1899, he was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Kelsh who continued his work in the parish until his death in 1928. Together, these two Irish priests served the Westbury community continuously for almost 80 years. They are both buried in Westbury.
- A St Patrick's Festival has been a traditional celebration in Westbury from early in the 19th century
Westbury's features echo its Irish legacy:
Rich, farming landscape with surrounding hills
A tapestry of fields and paddocks bordered by hawthorn hedges
Peaceful rustic lanes free from traffic
Grassy public walkways and rural 5-acre blocks
Reputedly, the only authentic Village Green in the Southern Hemisphere
A Village common
An abundance of churches of all denominations
A long established tradition of Maypole dancing
A full calendar of traditional events driven by community volunteers