Historical Archaeology

, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp 798–823 | Cite as

In Search of the Hidden Irish: Historical Archaeology, Identity and “Irishness” in Nineteenth-Century South Australia

  • Heather Burke
  • Susan Arthure
  • Cherrie De Leiuen
  • Janine McEgan
  • Alice Gorman
Original Article


Dominant historical models for conceptualizing the Irish in Australia emphasize their ordinariness, characterizing them as largely indistinguishable from their British counterparts except in religious terms. In contrast, archaeological analyses of architecture, land use, graves, and personal items from three colonial sites in South Australia demonstrate forms of “Irishness” that distinguished the Roman Catholic and Protestant Irish as a collective from the non-Irish around them, while at the same time indicating the existence of sectarian tensions within the Irish community. Moreover, material markers created different forms of identity depending on their relative degree of fluidity and the context in which interaction took place. Markers associated with the close interpersonal territory of the body, such as buttons and jewelry, signaled conformity to a new, common habitus of capitalism, while more stable and less mobile markers, such as architecture and headstones, signaled abiding forms of both individual and group difference.


Irishness identity clachan memorialization 


Los modelos históricos dominantes para conceptualizar los irlandeses en Australia destacan su ordinariez, caracterizándolos como prácticamente indistinguibles de sus homólogos británicos excepto en términos religiosos. En contraste, los análisis arqueológicos de la arquitectura, el uso de la tierra, las tumbas y los objetos personales de los tres sitios coloniales en el sur de Australia demuestran formas de “carácter irlandés” que distinguen a los irlandeses católicos y protestantes en su conjunto de los no irlandeses en su entorno, e indican a la vez la existencia de tensiones sectarias en el seno de la comunidad irlandesa. Además, los marcadores materiales creaban diferentes formas de identidad según su grado relativo de fluidez y el contexto en que tenía lugar la interacción. Los marcadores asociados con el territorio interpersonal cercano del cuerpo, tales como botones y joyería, indicaban conformidad con los nuevos hábitos comunes del capitalismo, mientras marcadores más estables y menos móviles, tales como la arquitectura y las lápidas, reflejaban formas de diferencia perdurables, tanto individuales como de grupo.


Les principaux modèles historiques utilisés pour conceptualiser la présence des Irlandais en Australie mettent l’accent sur leur banalité, les caractérisant comme largement indissociables de leurs homologues britanniques, sauf en matière de religion. Contrairement à cela, des analyses archéologiques de l’architecture, de l’occupation du sol et d’articles personnels provenant de trois sites coloniaux d’Australie du Sud démontrent des particularités qui distinguent collectivement les Irlandais catholiques et protestants de la population non irlandaise les entourant, tout en indiquant la présence de tensions sectaires au sein de la communauté irlandaise. Qui plus est, les indicateurs matériels créaient différentes formes d’identité en fonction de leur fluidité relative et du contexte dans lequel les interactions avaient lieu. Les indicateurs associés au territoire interpersonnel intime du corps, dont les boutons et les bijoux, font preuve de conformité à un nouvel habitus commun du capitalisme, tandis que les indicateurs plus stables et moins mobiles, dont l’architecture et les pierres tombales, représentent des formes respectueuses des différences individuelles et collectives.



In Kapunda the research into Baker’s Flat and St. John’s was enriched by the extensive knowledge and expertise of Simon O’Reilley and Peter Swann. David Pumpa provided access to the Baker’s Flat artifact collection, and Dale Hampel provided access to the Baker’s Flat site. The cemetery research was supported by the Irish Group at the South Australian Genealogical and Historical Society, the Christchurch Anglican Parish, the Clare Historical Society, Martin Smith from the Mintaro Historical Society, Pat and Mary Connell (the Navan Catholic Cemetery caretakers), and the Riverton Historical Society. Fr. Mark Sexton, Northern Light Catholic Parish, provided support to all three projects. Kelsey Lowe undertook the geophysical survey of Baker’s Flat, assisted by Lynley Wallis, Jordan Ralph, and Susan Arthure. Claire Smith, Penny Crook, and two anonymous referees provided helpful and insightful feedback that has enhanced this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ArchaeologyFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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