Potato strip a legacy of hardy Irish spirit

Potato strip a legacy of hardy Irish spirit
John and Julie McNamara at the NZ Century Farm and Station awards.

In the small farming locality of Waipipi a few minutes north of Waiuku on the Manukau Peninsula, there exists a small strip of land that for over 100 years was furrowed and ploughed, offering potatoes to generations of the McNamara family who settled the land over 150 years ago.
Initially grown from seed potatoes distributed to the early immigrants, the potatoes were a necessity – a response to a culture of insecurity for many pioneering families.
Today, only the remnants of the potato strip remain, but the hardy Irish spirit of the original pioneering family flourishes within their descendants, as does the land they farm.
The McNamara’s story starts in the 1860s in the years following Ireland’s great potato famine, when Martin and Johanna McNamara and their children joined the stream of Irish seeking new homes in America, England, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Initially obtaining free passage to the western districts of the Capetown colony, the hard, dry conditions and scarcity of work gave Martin and Johanna no choice but once again seek a better life elsewhere.
Fortunately, in 1864 they were chosen to receive assisted passage to New Zealand and on September 27th of that year, travelling in steerage on board the barque ‘Alfred’, the McNamara family, which included three children, set sail for the new colony.
Arriving in Auckland Harbour in mid-November, along with a full complement of immigrants, the family lived for several months in ‘pretty dreadful temporary accommodation’ in Onehunga.
Great-grandson John McNamara says that the ‘Alfred’s’ passengers were granted five acre lots of land at Waipipi as part of the Auckland settlement scheme of the 1860s.
“The flood of immigrants arriving here the summer of 1864 stretched Colonial administration beyond its capacity, causing long delays before settlers could be located on their land grants. Finally, on their arrival in Waipipi, my ancestors disembarked at the harbour edge and walked with all the possessions and three young children up through the trees and scrub with the objective of finding their allotment.”
Unable to find their allotment the first day, Martin, Johanna and their children slept the night under a bank, constructing a shelter made from nikau palms before resuming their search the next day.
Eventually fi nding their allotment, the determined Richard Loadercouple then had to clear scrub and bracken to build their first dwelling, living in their dirt-floored shack on their allotment for some time.
A government allocation of seed potatoes along with timber and iron helped, and by the time of their first winter in Waipipi, many families had built some kind of dwelling.
As daunting as it may have seemed, it was their very own slice of paradise
.“It’s easy to imagine that after twenty years of extreme hardship, New Zealand in springtime would have been seen as the green promised land—even though they would’ve had a lot of hard work ahead of them,” says John.
“I think they would’ve been very positive about it.”
Although hardship and discovery of gold caused many settlers to leave their land, Martin and Johanna expanded their holdings to five, five-acre allotments.
But John explains that under legislation they were required to repay the government half of their assisted passage fare and any seed and ration allowances before they could undertake the expansion.
This shows their early determination to progress.
“We now know that neither Martin nor Johanna could write their name and we must acknowledge that they kept their young family together, overcoming such disadvantage in the relative freedom of the New Zealand colony.”
Martin died in 1895, at the age of 75, after farming his land for 30 years.
The original land grants were passed on to his son John who had already purchased 90 acres in 1885 at the age of 27 years.
The McNamara’s settlement in New Zealand from their home land of County Clare in Ireland, set in motion a long period of persistence and enterprise from 1864 to date.
Through five generations the family has steadily expanded the McNamara Farm, with some land being sold, but always retaining the original acquisitions of the 19th century.
John says that his father was quoted as recalling that in early days it was customary for families to help one another in every need.
“He hoped that ‘this spirit of caring and giving live on in the generations to come’. I like to think that is still true of Waipipi 150 years later. Our family has gained strength through a work-life balance involving sport, music and our faith.”
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