Galway emigrant from 1837 honoured in Western Australia
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Galway emigrant from 1837 honoured in Western Australia

A GALWAY man who emigrated to Australia in 1837 has been honoured by the Irish embassy and the Western Australian Government for helping other emigrants settle after the Great Famine.

Thomas Little left Athenry, Co. Galway for Banbury, Western Australia 183 years ago. Despite his generosity in donating money for the construction of a community hall, church and school, as well as giving 50 acres of his farm in 1852, Little regrettably still ended up in an unmarked grave in 1877.

Not only did Little provide land and finances for the construction of a hall and Catholic Church in Dardanup, but he also had a building erected beside the Church that was later used as a Catholic School.

Thankfully, last weekend this failure was in part amended by Irish Government envoy Harriett Sexton Morell, West Australian Minister for Sport Mick Murray MP, and Bishop Gerard Holohan of Banbury. These three have now officially rededicated the refurbished Thomas Little Memorial Hall in memory of the Galway man in Dardanup, WA, where he once lived.

The rededication ceremony was attended by hundreds, many of which were descendants of Irish emigrants who were initially encouraged to settle by Thomas Little and his family, who prospered after arriving from Galway in 1838. One of the guests of honour in attendance was 97-year-old Vivian Warden, who was a student of the school in the 1920s.

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Harriett Sexton Morell, second secretary at the Irish Embassy in Canberra, heaped praise onto Little's pioneering efforts and told those in attendance that Australia is now "the most Irish Country, outside of Ireland!". Morell went on to add "Over 2.4million Australians claim Irish ancestors, and there are over 120,000 Irish currently living here in Australia".

Most of the money raised for the new hall was provided by the West Australian Government, who was able to provide a grant of $500,000 towards the refurbishment of the hall. Additional funding was raised locally, by a committee spearheaded by community activist Danny Harris, whose ancestors came to Australia from Ireland.

The rededicated Thomas Little Hall will continue to be used by the students and staff of Our Lady's Primary school for "hopefully another 100 years" according to Minister Murray.

Besides the school playground is an old graveyard with headstones naming some early Irish settlers. One of the withered inscriptions on the stones remembers Thomas Littles as "benefactor and founder of the Catholic parish of Dardanup (1800-1877)" who is buried there in an unmarked grave - very far from his beloved fields of Athenry!