Kō Sarah Doherty ahau

In 2010 my uncle Jack and I were having lunch in the sun on the Nelson waterfront. My parents had not long died and Jack had been abruptly and prematurely thrust into the role of kaumātua (elder male) in our family. I asked Jack to take me to Ireland and show me where I come from; in 2012 we took that trip together with Jack’s wife, and my aunty, Joanne.

Only it wasn’t really a trip. It was a Pilgrimage to the Homeland.

I was so curious to know what was it like there? Which direction did the wind come from? What did the earth smell like in my hands? Where did the moon rise? Where were my maunga (mountain) and my awa (river)? What would it feel like?

Doherty Girls
Sarah, Kathy, Liz, Claire

I was born the third of four little blonde girls.  I grew up in New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s – a seminal period in the history of New Zealand. Car-less days, Spring Bok Tour, Nuclear Free NZ, Rogernomics, Homosexual Law Reform, Mother-of-all-Budgets. Politics were always part of any family gathering. My world view was formed through Catholic social teaching and I loved our school and parish and the sense of connection and belonging in our community.

I also had some sense of being ‘other’ – we were the kids that wore a uniform to school. We were picked on by the bullies on the corner; my mother’s mother armed us with taunts of our own and sent us out to stand up for ourselves and our Catholic heritage.

It was heritage, it still is heritage. Much more than religion or mass-going.

My first recollection of being Irish was around age 10 or so. I remember Dad and Jack telling us we were descended from High Kings of Ireland. Kind of an over-reach but I loved feeling royal and noble and it helped make sense of the very high standards of integrity and behaviour that we were raised with.

In 1988, as a young woman, I had my first encounter with not being ‘of this land’. I was at a large gathering for a few days, “Hui Whanau”, where we were exploring biculturalism and the pākehā (European New Zealander) response to tangata whenua (indigenous Māori) with the approaching 150-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. I recall a confusing sense of being a refugee. I became very curious to understand, if I’m not indigenous here in New Zealand then where am I from? Where on Earth was I from? The land I was from.

At about this time I began to identify strongly as Irish Catholic. This is very different than being Roman Catholic and is as much a statement of ethnic identity as it is of religion, or spirituality.

There are lots of cultural similarities between tangata whenua (the Māori people in Aotearoa-New Zealand) and Ngāti Irish (ngāti is the prefix for a tribal group). I noticed more and more resonance with Māori culture as I began working in the community sector, in Education and ultimately in Government.

Māori people whakapapa (recite genealogy) back to a mountain and a river, always they identify to their place, the land, the whenua.

Increasingly I needed to know the mountain and the river.

When I got to Donegal I can’t explain how “at home” I felt. I can only say it was a DNA thing.

The deepest feeling in me was that I made sense. In Donegal I don’t laugh too loud, my temper is not too fiery, I am not too emotional or too philosophical, my skin is not too sun-sensitive. In Donegal I am not too much. Loving the wind and stones, needing privacy and connection at the same time, my deep love for family, for clann. In Donegal I make sense to me.

During that first visit I made sense to me in a most profound way that will never leave me.

Sarah & Jack hi res
Sarah at Te Wakaiti marae, supported by Jack, greeting with her pepeha. (Photo: Chris Hawker)

In 2012 I had the amazing privilege of travelling with Jack, our Chief Storyteller. I began to think of my sons and nephews and cousins, the young ones and the ones yet to be born. I want them to feel that sense of belonging, identity, connection, sense making.

I see the cost when people are adrift to themselves. This sense-making is about coming home to self.

We are Clann O’Dochartaigh and we are Walking to Donegal.

Now when I introduce myself I say:

Kō Slieve Snaght tōku maunga

(Slieve Snaght is my mountain)

Kō Crana tōku awa

(Crana is my river)

Nō te rohe o Inishowen ahau

(I am from the place of Inishowen)

Kō Clann O’Dochartaigh nō Arihi tōku Iwi

(The O’Dochartaigh Clann from Ireland are my people)

Kō Jennifer Hatchard me Paul Doherty tōku mātua

(Jennifer Hatchard and Paul Doherty are my parents)

Kō Sarah Doherty ahau

(I am Sarah Doherty)

Becoming and Being Irish O’Dochartaigh in Aotearoa – New Zealand

Jack Doherty laughing

Born 1950 in New Plymouth under the gaze of Taranaki, my strongest early influence was Irish Catholicism. The Catholic theme dominated my upbringing and education, more than being Irish.  Even the annual St Patrick’s Day athletics in Stratford was all about the free train ride, the picnic lunch and the events with all the Catholic primary schools – and nothing to do with being Irish. Many of the teachers and priests were Irish born and on a missionary zeal in the South Pacific

The first time I realised I was Irish was on a St Patrick’s Day in New Plymouth. My father went off to work as a civil servant, proudly wearing a bright green ribbon on his jacket lapel. This was a profound statement linking him to a message his father, Barney, had passed on about being proud of who he was.

I completed my Catholic education as the Catholic Church was seeking to reform after the Vatican Council. I left with basic secondary school qualifications and a yearning to find out about what the world around me could teach me – things my teachers hadn’t.

Australia provided an environment that encouraged my development into manhood. The experiences were enjoyable as I began to learn I was a Kiwi. Old Australian First- and Second World War soldiers told me Kiwis had saved their lives and how honoured they were to be seen as their mates. My sense of being a Kiwi has always been enhanced by my overseas experiences more than at home.

When I first arrived in Australia, en route to Kings Cross, I dined with an expat uncle and aunty living at Bondi Beach. I remember his welcome and warning in a serious tone, ‘Enjoy yourself, son. There are many opportunities in this land. Just a word of warning, don’t go near the Aboriginals.’

Three weeks later I was farming on a large outback station and living with three Aboriginal brothers. My contact with these three men taught a naïve New Zealand boy that Australia had a deep secret. White Australia had a distrust and dislike of the indigenous Aboriginal people and I had my first experience of racism.

My parents, my Church, my schools and my community in New Zealand had never taught me about this topic. My life has never been the same, after this real life lesson.

Returning to New Zealand two years later, I lived with Hemi Baxter at Hiruharama, and eventually with a group of others, established Te Wakaiti in the South Wairarapa. My work with indigenous tangata whenua (the people of the land) was often preceded with two most significant questions,

Kō wai koe, Haki? Nō hea koe?’

‘Who are you, Jack? Where are you from?’

No one asked me this question more than Aunty Kahumanu Walker, a Tainui kuia (elderly woman) from Waahi Marae in Huntly who came to work at Te Wakaiti with the rangatahi (youth).

One day in 1993, I knew the answer to these two questions, in my heart and in every cell of my body. I was 43 years of age and part of a Commonwealth scholarship group being welcomed in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Paddy ‘Bogside’ Doherty, stood in front of us and called out, ‘Which one of you is the Doherty boy?’ I missed his call, not understanding his broad northern accent, and one of the Kiwis in our group nudged me saying, ‘Isn’t that you he is talking about?’

When he repeated his call, I stumbled to my feet nervously saying, ‘That’s me’.

Paddy looked across the room at me simply announcing, ‘Welcome home, boy.’

 He explained how Derry was the city of the Doherty’s and began to talk of his involvement in rebuilding Derry after The Troubles.

I was emotional and still cry 25 years later, at this man welcoming me home and telling me, once and for all, who I was and where I was from. I visited Paddy ‘Bogside’ whenever I was home in Ireland and now pay my respects at his grave in Derry.

In 2001, while living in Ireland, I was invited to summarise the presentations at a conference for 400 Irish nurses. I was introduced as ‘Jack Doherty from New Zealand, however, we all know that with a name like that, he is really a Donegal boy.’

Once again, I was claimed. I knew I was home, who I was and where I was from.

The conference was on empowerment so I shared my own personal ‘empowerment’ story as a patient in New Zealand. I was reeling with the side effects of my cancer treatment when the nurse asked if my surname Doherty was Irish or English? When I weakly whispered, ‘Irish’ she cheerily replied ‘Oh well, English – Irish, all the same.’ I sat up in bed, for the first time in three weeks, gasping, ‘No! It’s bloody not!’ I turned a corner in my recovery that day, realising my work was not complete, and once I recovered, decided to go and live in Ireland, rather than just be a tourist.

For two months I lived in Donegal – home!

On the surface it was hearing the pronunciation of my name, seeing the many different spellings, and the daily surprises noticing the numerous shop frontages owned by Doherty’s and reading the high percentage of people bearing this name in the local school roll or parish newsletters.

At a much deeper level it was learning the painful history of the Doherty clan in Inishowen in Donegal, visiting the castle ruins at Burt, Inch Island, Malin Head and Greencastle. Hours were spent and tears were shed wondering and wandering about the Grianan of Aileach, the Doherty Keep in Buncrana, knowing and feeling Sir Cahir O’Doherty’s clan defense at Doon Rock and coming to know significant tūpuna or ancestors like Columbcille.

Jack Doherty
Jack Doherty

I traced, followed and lived my own Doherty family history, meeting cousins whose grandparents were siblings to my own grandparents, reading old family letters written from New Zealand to Ireland and back again, and walking across the same field my grandfather had walked across as he left for New Zealand.

I cried for months and months. I know who I am and where I am from.

My answer to Aunty Kahumanu, and to my Māori whanau, friends and colleagues is simply this.

Kō Slieve Snaght te maunga 

 (Slieve Snaght is my mountain)

Kō Lough Swilly te moana

(Lough Swilly is my sea)

Nō Inishowen te whenua

(Inishowen is the land)

Nō Donegal tōku rohe

(Donegal is my region)

Kō O’Dochartaigh tōku iwi

(O’Dochartaigh is my clan)

Kō Columbcille me Sir Cahir O’Doherty ōku tūpuna

(Columcille and Sir Cahir O’Doherty are my ancestors)

Kō Doherty Aotearoa tōku whanau

(The New Zealand Dohertys are my family)

Kō Kevin Bernard Doherty tōku ingoa

(Kevin Bernard Doherty is my name)

Kō Jack Doherty āhau

(I am Jack)