It was St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday. People gathered early in Irish-themed pubs, drank watered-down green beer and overflowed with green-tinged merriment. It is a day when the whole world wants to be Irish.
I really doubt that the majority of the drinkers know, or even care, about the history of St Patrick or any of the stories around him.
I even heard an on-the-spot news presenter say that Saint Patrick would be proud of all these people gathered in the streets, exuberantly celebrating his life.
Really? His story starts when he was taken as a child from Scotland to Ireland as a slave, escaping after a dream from god. He grew into a pious man who returned to Ireland spending his time converting the pagans and living in poverty. Not sure where to find the part of the story where he became the patron saint of binge-drinking!
My favourite part of the St. Patrick story is his banishing of the snake population of Ireland, chasing them into the sea.
I thought today was a good day to share the story of Sir Henry Browne Hayes and his home in Vaucluse Sydney, bear with me, there is a St. Patrick connection!
In 1797 Sir Henry Browne Hayes was a 40-year-old Irish widower. He fell in love with a rich Quaker heiress named Miss Mary Pike.
He decided to kidnap her and force her into marriage, believing that the romance of his actions would change her mind.
Unsurprisingly she didn’t fall for his charms, having a warrant issued for his arrest after she was rescued by relatives.
Hayes was quite an influential man and a captain in the South Cork Milita. His confidence in his position in society is probably what led him to give himself up to the authorities a few years later, no doubt expecting leniency in his sentencing. Unfortunately for him he was sentenced to death, later commuted to transportation for life, arriving in Australia in 1802. (Lesson- Don’t mess with an Irish bankers daughter.)
Sir Henry Browne Hayes hardly lived the harsh life of a convict, he was wealthy and openly disrespectful of authority. Even before he arrived in Australia he was losing friends in high places with his behaviour, annoying the ship’s surgeon enough to earn him six months imprisonment upon his arrival.
In 1803 he bought a run-down property near Sydney and named it Vaucluse (now one of the most exclusive areas of Sydney). He built a cottage and cleared 50 acres of land, planting thousands of fruit trees. Unfortunately for snake hating Sir Henry, he found Vaucluse to be snake infested. In order to remedy this he had 500 barrels of soil sent over from Ireland.
The following St. Patrick’s Day he had a trench dug all around the house, and filled it with the supposedly snake-repelling soil, expecting that the influence of St. Patrick would follow. Surprisingly this magic moat is rumoured to have done the trick!
Unfortunately, here is nothing left of the original plantings, and the cottage built by Sir Henry has been absorbed into the Gothic mansion built by the later, and more famous owner, the explorer William Charles Wentworth.
Vaucluse House is now open to the public and owned by NSW Historic Houses Trust.