John O’Brien (Monsignor Patrick Hartigan)
Patrick Joseph Hartigan (1878-1952), priest and poet, was born on 13 October 1878 at O’Connell Town, Yass, New South Wales, eldest surviving son of Patrick Joseph Hartigan, produce merchant, and his wife Mary, née Townsell, both from Lisseycasey, Clare, Ireland. After attending the convent school at Yass, he entered St Patrick’s College, Manly, in February 1892 but, uncertain of his vocation for the priesthood, left for St Patrick’s College, Goulburn, where he studied under the noted classicist Dr John Gallagher, later bishop of Goulburn. He returned to Manly in 1898 and was ordained priest on 18 January 1903. After a curacy of seven years at Albury, he became inspector of schools for the vast diocese of Goulburn in 1910 and was based at Thurgoona near Albury. He was one of the first curates in the State with a motor car; in 1911 he took the last sacraments to Jack Riley of Bringenbrong, said to have been A. B. Paterson’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’. In 1916 he was appointed priest-in-charge of Berrigan and next year parish priest of Narrandera.
All this time Hartigan was a keen student of Australian literature. In 1906 he began publishing verse in such journals as the Albury Daily News, Catholic Press and the Bulletin under the pen-name ‘Mary Ann’. Encouraged by George Robertson, C. J. Dennis and others, he published Around the Boree Log and Other verses, under the pseudonym ‘John O’Brien’, in November 1921. Recording with humour and pathos the lively faith, solid piety and everyday lives of the people around him, Hartigan successfully combined the old faith of Ireland with the mateship and ethos of the bush, towards the end of an age when the small selectors and squatters went by sulky or ‘shandrydan’ to ‘The Church Upon the Hill’.
Hartigan was a popular figure in the town and community. His years at Narrandera were happy if arduous. His poems and short stories regularly appeared, many in the religious journal, Manly. Advancing age, ill health and a desire to carry out more historical research led Hartigan to retire as pastor of Narrandera in 1944; he became chaplain of the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Rose Bay. In Sydney he was a familiar figure in the Mitchell Library and wrote a series of articles, ‘In Diebus Illis‘, recording the struggles of the pioneer clergy, published in the Australasian Catholic Record in 1943-45 and posthumously in book form as The men of ’38. Still much in demand as occasional speaker and preacher, in 1947 he was appointed domestic prelate with the title of right reverend monsignor in October 1947. His main comforts in his semi-retirement were the love of his near relations, receiving visitors (especially from Narrandera) and watching the shipping on the harbour. Ill with cancer from 1951 he completed On Darlinghurst Hill (Sydney, 1952), written for the centenary of the Sacred Heart Parish.
Hartigan died in Lewisham Hospital on 27 December 1952 and, after a requiem Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral, was buried beside his parents in North Rocks cemetery.
[From an article published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983]
The John O’Brien Festival
Since 1994 Narrandera has held an annual Festival in honour of the town’s beloved poet and parish priest, with 2014 marking the Festival’s 20th anniversary. The John O’Brien Festival showcases the works of John O’Brien himself along with other bush poets from across Australia, and sees wonderful performances each year of both original works and traditional classics.
The John O’Brien Festival seeks to inspire a new generation of bush poets by hosting a number of poetry writing and recital competitions each year, along with an appropriately themed short story writing competition. The Jim Angel Memorial Award is presented annually for the best performance of an original poem.
The Festival likewise celebrates the culture and community of country Australia that inspired so many of John O’Brien’s poems. A market day, bush dance, street parade, children’s activities, numerous concerts and performances by poets and musicians alike, a busking competition, and many other events are included in the program each year.