County Waterford has a surprising number of historical links with New Zealand, says retired History Professor Ged Martin, who is a west Waterford resident.
He's e-published a heritage route for Kiwi tourists, which starts in Waterford City, where a plaque in Patrick Street records local-born Captain William Hobson, New Zealand's first British governor and the founder of Auckland.
Waterford City can also claim one of New Zealand's most noted fantasists. A former choirboy in the Protestant cathedral, Arthur Clampett had passed himself off as an Army officer and an opera singer (he called himself Signor Clampetti) before fleeing Ireland. In New Zealand, he set up as a preacher, conning the pious into giving him money. He also claimed to be the brother of world heavyweight boxing champion, Irish-American John L. Sullivan, the first global sporting megastar.
Clampett was exposed in 1889 when a newly arrived emigrant from the city stepped off a ship and recognised his photograph in a shop window display.
The heritage route runs on through Dunmore East, Tramore, Bunmahon, Dungarvan, Ardmore, Clashmore to Cappoquin and Lismore.
Edith Collier, a New Zealand artist, visited Bunmahon in 1915 and painted local scenes, some of which illustrate Prof Martin's heritage tour.
There's a side trip to Mount Melleray Abbey, whose monks founded a daughter house in New Zealand in 1954. The project almost collapsed when the Abbot of Melleray accused the Archbishop of Wellington of "ugly tricks" over ownership of the proposed abbey's lands.
A constant theme is the determination of families to keep in touch across the world. The six Lynch brothers from Kilgobnet, the four Coughlan brothers and two Keane sisters from Clashmore – these are just some of the exiles who maintained links through letters, photographs and even occasional visits back home. Some Keane family letters survive – and their contents throw scurrilous light on contemporary rural life.
Ged Martin insists that commemoration is not always celebration. Captain Hobson negotiated – some say imposed – the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, through which the Māori became subjects of Queen Victoria. Known to New Zealanders as "The Treaty", it remains very controversial.
"About one third of New Zealand's five million people live in Auckland, the city that Hobson founded," Ged Martin explains. "In welcoming them to Waterford, we need to remember that his role in their country's history is much debated."
Similar questions are raised by the grave of a British Army officer, Major Triphook, in the shadow of Ardmore's Round Tower. Triphook took part in fighting between settlers and Māori in the 1860s, including the destruction of one native village that seems suspiciously like a war crime today.
In 2019 (pre-Covid), Ireland welcomed around 37,000 visitors from New Zealand. Of these, 21,000 were holiday-makers, more than half of whom hired a car – suggesting that over 10,000 travelled outside Dublin.
"I'm hoping some Kiwi tourists will stop off in the Déise on their way to west Cork and Kerry," says Ged Martin. "They'll experience a very special Ireland, and learn something about their own history too."
"New Zealand heritage tour through County Waterford" is a long read, but it's broken up by "More about..." sections that can be skipped by readers who don't want too much detail. Images from the Waterford County Museum photo archive conjure up the Déise in bygone days.
It's available, free, on www.gedmartin.net, click on "martinalia", or through https://bit.ly/NewZealandWaterford