9 June, 2021
Early cultural crossover acknowledged by envoy
A well-known Maori hymn attributed to the country’s first Catholic Bishop, a Frenchman, was sung at the recent graveside gathering to remember the contributions of an Irish settler couple instrumental in bringing him here.
The occasion was the visit of the Ambassador of Ireland, Peter Ryan, to the graves of Mary and Thomas Poynton at O’Neill’s cemetery in Bayswater.
Ryan thanked people for remembering the “seminal role of the Poyntons”, before “Mo Maria” was sung by a group of around 20 people. Residents of Takapuna and Milford attended, along with Devonport-Takapuna Local Board members George Wood and Trish Deans and North Shore MP Simon Watts. Monsignor Bernard Kiely, Vicar-General of the Auckland Diocese, was there also, along with representatives of the Sisters of Mercy and Society of Mary.
Mary and Thomas Poynton hosted Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier in the Hokianga when he first arrived and were present at his celebration of the first Catholic mass in this country in 1838. They eventually moved to Takapuna, buying a large tract of land around Lake Pupuke. After their deaths some of the land they owned was sold by family to the sisters and later used to establish Carmel College. Another block became St Joseph’s Primary School.
Ryan, the first Irish ambassador to be based in New Zealand rather than adding us on from Australia, was in Auckland as part of his mission to foster Irish and New Zealand relations, He said the cemetery visit – during which he placed flowers and sprinkled water from Ireland and New Zealand – was an opportunity to recognise the resilience and faith of the Poyntons and of the Irish generally. Connections were strong, with one in six New Zealanders said to have Irish ancestry.
He outlined his own arrival here in 2018, when the Governor-General gifted him a korowai and a Maori kuia told him that she had Irish ancestry dating back to the 1860s.
It is believed that the Poyntons and Bishop Pompallier most likely spoke together in French, but the bishop learned te reo. His Mo Maria hymn is widely sung, including in Catholic schools.
Forrest Hill resident Margaret Field, a descendant of the O’Neills for whom the cemetery was named, said her forebears were friends of the Poyntons, despite religious differences. “There was always a great friendship between the Irish in New Zealand – mostly because the English didn’t like them.”
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