South Galway, famous for its influence on Ireland’s literary heritage, could soon be equally well-known for its impact on the modern Australian political landscape if Gort Lion’s Club gets its way.The club is currently pursuing a plan to erect a memorial to one of Gort’s most powerful and far reaching sons, Paddy McMahon Glynn.
As well as running a legal practice and editing a newspaper, the busy South Galway man also held two ministries, a role as Australian Attorney General and even had a hand in drafting his adopted country’s constitution.
“The McMahon Glynn family were from Gort and their original home is understood to be the site of the AIB bank in the town. I think it was a general store at the time. Paddy McMahon Glynn was the third of 11 children and received his primary education with the Sister’s of Mercy in Gort before qualifying as a solicitor and moving to Australia in 1880,” explains Peter Minihane from Gort Lions Club.
Peter, along with his fellow club members, has been reading up on Paddy McMahon Glynn’s background.
“According to what I have read on the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Paddy didn’t get a single brief in Melbourne. He wrote to his brother James, ‘that trying to get business here as a stranger is like attacking the devil with an icicle’. So that is how he ended up becoming a travelling salesman for Mutual Life Assurance and Singer Sewing Machines,” Peter explained.
After a difficult start in Kapunda, Paddy McMahon Glynn moved to South Australia and joined a legal practice that was opening in the area.
“While practicing law in Kapunda, Paddy also became editor of the local paper and wrote some very interest editorials on the evils of gambling, even though he had some interest in this area himself. He is known for being progressive in advancing female suffrage and land nationalisation. His success in Kapunda allowed him to open his own practice in Adelaide which gave him the opportunity to go into politics,” Peter outlined.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography also states that Paddy purchased the Kapunda law firm just six years after he arrived in Australia for £155 before two years later opening the Adelaide practice. More surprising still is that he did all this, and got elected to the Australian Assembly while serving as editor of the Kapunda Herald between 1883 and 1891.
Paddy’s early political career was a busy one. He was first elected to the assembly in 1887. He lost the election in 1890. He stood again three years later but failed to get elected. He was returned in 1895 in a by-election. He lost his seat again before becoming Australian Attorney General in 1899.
“In 1897 Paddy Glynn was elected as one of the 10 South Australian delegates to the federal convention. At the first session in Adelaide he established a reputation for his knowledge of constitutional law, thorough research into the topic under discussion, rapid delivery, broad brogue and general learning,” the Australian Dictionary of Biography reveals.
By all accounts McMahon Glynn made his best-known contribution to the Australian constitution in 1898, by a reference to God in the preamble. His words were “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God.”
He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1901 and it was here he served in the Commonwealth parliament until he lost his seat in 1919. He was Attorney General, Minister for External Affairs and Minister for Home and Territories at various points throughout his political career.
He was a supporter of home rule for Ireland and of Australia’s role in World War 1. He also supported fair treatment of enemy prisoners during and after WW1. Ahead of his time he also supported decimal coinage. As well as being a non smoker, from 1883 he no longer drank alcohol.
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, “Glynn was a dapper man about 5 foot 4 inches (163 cm) tall who wore a bushy moustache. At hunts he was a fearless rider and his reputation as a sportsman contributed to his political success. A person of extraordinary integrity and industry, his oratorical powers, humour and learning made him a consistently popular speaker for literary and national societies. The more eloquent his speech, the thicker became his brogue.”
Two brothers, Eugene and Robert, also went to South Australia and practiced as doctors, one in Kabunda. Another brother Joseph was knighted and was chairman of the Irish Insurance Commissioners from 1911 to 1933.
Paddy died of pneumonia on October 28, 1931 survived by two sons and four daughters.
“We first thought about doing something to commemorate Paddy last year. Ennis Lions Club is twinned with the club in Kapunda and one of the Ennis members came to speak to us about the McMahon Glynns and Paddy’s role in Australian history,” Peter Minihane said.
“We have been in contact with Kapunda Lions Club with a view to twinning the Lions Clubs in both towns and are waiting to hear back from them. It is quite amazing that we have such a famous Australian from Gort. As a Lions Club we are thrilled that a Gort man became such an integral part of Australian life and helped frame their constitution,” he added.
Erecting a memorial plaque to Paddy and the McMahon Glynns could have greater significance than acknowledging one of the town’s most influential descendants.
“We want to honour him and if there is a tourist spin off then all the better. There could well be tourist possibilities as many millions of Australians claim Irish heritage,” Peter concluded.