“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Silver Blaze”
Some recent Australian cultural trends—massive Islamic immigration, for instance—are so obvious that even an economist can detect them. Others occur so stealthily that they attract no attention, until you suddenly look around and think, Hey, whatever happened to such-and-such?
Ireland’s influence on Australia falls into the latter category. Once it was inescapable; now it has faded. Its very fading is a momentous incident, like the silence demonstrated by the nocturnal dog. No Australian 30 years ago would have predicted such a decline.
From the country’s federation in 1901 until the 1970’s, the Australian Labor Party abounded in Irish surnames: O’Malley, Scullin, Lyons, Chifley, Calwell, Walsh, Cahill, Murphy, O’Halloran, McKenna, Daly, Kane (sometimes Anglicized as Cain), Cavanagh, Burke, Hanlon, Hogan, Gair. Study any list of Australian Catholic bishops’ surnames from this period, and you’ll see the...