By Carmel McDonald With additional material by Stephen Reidy

Carmel McDonald
Carmel McDonald

In the years during and after the Famine in Ireland a tradition of mass emigration to America and Australia became established in many parts of the country.

One of the more notable areas for emigration in this parish was the townland of the Bog Road, about a mile from Castleconnell village.

It was here in the 1840s and 50s that many of the families on the road were forced to take up their roots and flee from the ravages of hunger and primitive living conditions, leaving their small holdings and tiny cottages to fall into decay and ruin. Few, if any, ever returned to the homeland. Most of them were never heard of again, and it was left to those who remained behind to speculate and wonder what their fate might have been.

One exception to this was James Ready, an emigrant from the Bog Road to Australia, whose life and times in his native place and in his adopted country are well chronicled in a book entitled ‘Shamrocks among the Gum Trees’  written by one the descendants, Carmel McDonald whose grandmother was a daughter of the same James Ready.

James was born in the Bog Road in 1834. His parents were Patrick and Kate Ready (nee Moroney), and they had one other son Michael. The little Reidy homestead, now long gone, was situated on a plot where the bridge of the New M 7 motorway crosses the Bog Road.

The young James Ready had just entered his teenage years when the Great Hunger was at its worst, and the country was experiencing its most terrible era of sorrow, misery and devastation, with the failure of the potato crop and the subsequent starvation that brought pestilence and disease to the whole land. In Limerick city workhouse alone, deaths were running at over 130 per week, with corpses lying unburied for days on end.

To add heartbreak to the family’s hardship, James’ mother died. Sometime after her death, his father married again to Mary Boyle, and in the years that followed, James acquired two half-brothers, David and John, and a half-sister Ellen.

In 1854, James Ready, now in his twentieth year walked down the Bog Road for the last time. Bound for far-off Australia, it is believed he took the river boat from the World’s End-as was the means of transport then-down the old canal to Limerick city where he joined the larger ocean-going ship on his journey to the other side of the world.

James found work in this new land of opportunity, and met his future wife, Mary Hayes from Tipperary. The same age as himself, she had come to Australia after her parents died, and according to her shipping list, she paid the sum of one pound for the voyage.

The pair were married in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney in 1858, four years after arriving in the country. They both worked in Gordanbrook on the Clarence River in New South Wales, a property of some 60,000 acres. Here their first child, Charles, was born in 1860.

Shortly after, the family loaded up their bullock wagon with whatever belongings they possessed and travelled north to try to make a future for themselves.

When they reached Fassifern Homestead in Queensland they met Richard Spencer, who was recruiting a party to bring a herd of cattle to Denison Creek and form a station there. James and Mary decided to join the Spencer party. James was put in charge of the bullock wagons and Mary was to cook for the men. One of the wagons had a tilt over it made of canvas. This was to be home for them during the journey, and it was here that Mary gave birth to Kate, her second child, under the bullock wagon with only her husband to assist (a far cry from today’s maternity wards).

As the party bore away to the north east on their journey, Spencer decided to follow a creek for about six miles and pitched camp near a lagoon, a beautiful sheet of water with a circumference of about four miles, inhabited by wild fowl of every kind.  To the north was a majestic mountain which Richard Spencer named Mount Spencer, after himself. They were the first white people to view this enchanting scene.

James and Mary later worked for a time in Greenmount, and James carried supplies in his bullock wagon from Mackay over the range. In 1863 their third child, James, was born – the first white boy to be born in the Mackay District of Queensland.

James, now in his late twenties was already a success, making handsome profits from his career service, so much so that he was able to pay the passages of his brother Michael and his step brothers David and John and their sister Ellen, who followed him to Australia and settled in the Mackay District.

The Ready’s youngest child, Mary, was baptised on 22 July 1867. On the same day an Aboriginal baby girl was also baptised at the request of James Reidy. He had rescued the child from a mountain known as The Leap, and from which the infant’s mother had plunged to her death while being pursued by the dreaded Native Police. No one wanted to take responsibility for the child, James and Mary took her home, christened her Johanna and reared her as one of their own.

James Ready had a great love for Australia and its people. A big robust man, he was no stranger to hard work, and was always a gentleman of his word. Little wonder then that he was highly respected and became a wealthy man.

In 1863 he built the Traveller’s Rest Hotel at Hazledean, on the Eton Range, the first of the many properties he owned. He was a Director of the Mackay Central Sugar Manufacturing Company. James and Mary also owned Fort Cooper Station before moving to Varraville, Nebo Road. James became a member of Nebo Shire Council.

It was here in 1900 that Mary died at the age of 69 years after a period of failing health. Nine years later, on New Year’s Day, James Ready died in his 78th year. His obituary notice declared-“The late Mr Ready was a genial old gentleman, and though he had been ailing for some time past, his memory was fresh to the last”.

So great was the esteem in which James Ready and his family was held that several streets were named after them, including Ready Street, Mary Street, Kate Street and a stretch of seashore called Mick Ready Beach. Named in memory of his brother Michael Ready who was Chairman of the Harbour Board and of Pioneer Shire Council 1905-06.

Descendants of James and Mary Ready number well over 500 including 272 great great great great grandchildren, and in August 1999 Kate Scott one of James Reidy’s descendents retraced the journey back across the globe to Castleconnell’s old Bog Road to see the place where her famous ancestor was born, where he survived the Great Hunger, shook off the shackles of poverty and hardship and set out to make a new life for himself in Australia over a century and a half ago.   

   Since Kate Scott’s first visit, four more descendants of James Ready have made their way back to Castleconnell.

Kate Scott
Kate Scott

We have also made contact with another lady in the Melbourne area. One of her ancestors was Mary Judith Ready /Reidy who married a William Fox. They had two children Baptised in Newport. She was probably a sister of Patrick and Michael Ready/Reidy.

– Reidy is spelt and pronounced Ready in Australia

– In Ireland the spelling changed from Ready to Reidy in the Early 1900’s.

Kate Scott from Brisbane at the spot where her ancestors lived