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People probably know the Pete St John song, 'Fields of Athenry' about a ficticious convict named Michael who was sent to Botany Bay in Australia. St John has also written a sequel to the song called 'Bells of Ireland' about a real convict named Mary Walsh from Clonmel Tipperary who was sent to my home town of Hobart. Her life was brought back into focus by the discovery of a heartfelt letter written by her husband, James Walsh back in Ireland. He expressed his love and the hope that they would be reunited. It is thought she never received the letter which still survives. There is now an international quest to discover whether they were reunited and what became of them both. They had a son named Maurice and Mary also had a son named Jonny Hays from a former marriage. If anyone knows of possible descendants of these two sons perhaps you reply to this discussion. To read more go to

Tags: Pete St John, athenry, botany bay, fields of athenry, van diemen's land

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Dear David,

As you would be aware the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart has the original letter written on behalf of James Walsh to his wife Mary. The letter shows that a previous letter written on James' behalf, sent to Mary in Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, was received and replied to.

We can determine that James does not know his daughter Mary, who had been allowed to accompany his wife, had died in the Orphan School where she had been placed. Children were parted from their mothers and placed in state Orphanages where many of them died. One can only imagine Mary's grief being parted from her husband James, and her 2 sons and then losing her only daughter Mary.

The words James uses in his letter are so emotional. They reflect the deep love James felt for his wife Mary. He was devastated that they had been parted.

My Memorial, Roses from the Heart(tm) - which pays tribute to the 25,566 convict women transported to Australia remembers Mary Walsh and her baby, Mary.

Like you, I would be thrilled to know what happened to Mary after she was freed. Her life in Van Diemen's Land is traceable up until that time but thereafter, as you say, it remains a mystery.

Did she and James manage to reunite? Did she ever see Maurice and little Johnny Hay again? Did she remarry? Did she have more children? So many unanswered questions.

Thank you for raising the question. If Johnny Hay and Maurice survived and had families, or if James Walsh remarried and had more children then there might be a descendant living today who would wish to commemorate Mary's economic and social contribution to the fledgling Australian Nation. Mary had held a Temperance Medal. She was sentenced, being found guilty of being an accomplice. she had been in a shop at the time 2 women entered and stole some cashmere. 27 men of standing in Clonmel wrote on her behalf but to no avail.

This story has stirred musicians to write about Mary's life. Dubliner iconic musician, Pete St. John, has composed the 'Bells of Ireland' as you mentioned. This is a haunting song, beautifully written. Dave McGilton from Cork has also responded to the tale. He has written 'Sky and Sea' which responds to husband, James Walsh, and his despair and sense of loss.

If any descendants of little Johnny Hay or Maurice who became motherless in 1842 hear about David Boon or my interest in solving the Mary Walsh mystery please do contact us.
Thanks so much for this detailed response and letting others know far more detail than I had given. It would be wonderful if more is discovered about Mary but even if it isn't it is great that artists such as yourself and musicians such as Pete St John and Dave McGilton have ensured that Mary's life is celebrated. History and the arts should celebrate the lives of ordinary people whose central focus was family. I think there is something in both the Irish and Tasmanian spirit that values these things.
Ah! So Mary Walsh is not the wife Mary in the Athenry song! I really want a happy ending for her!
It would be great to have a happy ending. Unfortunately convict records are often one of the few things that give details of the lives of working class women. You just never know what may turn up unexpectedly though and hopefully someone who has researched their family tree back to her sons may hear the story and respond.


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