Katikati on Irish airwaves

Stories of Katikati’s Ulster immigrants – and the town’s founder George Vesey Stewart – will be coming to life on Irish airwaves thanks to a visiting media couple from BBC Northern Ireland.

Visiting Irish couple Kathleen Carragher, of BBC Northern Ireland, and freelance journalist husband John Deering interview Debbie McCauley, a descendant of Katikati Ulster immigrants.

Belfast freelance journalist John Deering and wife Kathleen Carragher, who is head of news for BBC Northern Ireland, are recording a radio documentary of the Western Bay town’s Ulster immigrants while in New Zealand on holiday.

The arrangement came about after John contacted Katikati Ulster immigrant descendant Debbie McCauley of Tauranga, saying he wanted to make a half-hour radio documentary of the town’s history.

Debbie’s great great grandparents John and Rachel Hamilton were immigrants in the only planned Ulster settlement in the world – led by George Vesey Stewart – so she set about taking them on a five-day tour of Katikati landmarks, including Athenree Homestead where the documentary is being recorded.

Visiting Irish journalist John Deering and his wife Kathleen Carragher, head of news at BBC Northern Ireland, are making a radio documentary of Katikati’s Ulster immigrant history.

Other stops have included the cemetery, murals, Twickenham, the old flour mill site, George’s homestead site, Captain Mervyn Stewart’s Martray homestead location and Ongare Point – plus time is also being spent with Katikati historian Ellen McCormack.

“John told me while here on holiday he’d like to record a half-hour radio programme on Katikati, founder George Vesey Stewart, and the story of grandmother Rachel as well,” says Debbie.

John learned of Katikati and its founder from friends in New Zealand and Ireland. “I think it’s fascinating and I’ve been surprised how little is known about it in Ireland. 

“I am always interested in stories of people who emigrate to settle in another part of the world,” says John, who finds the many twists and turns in stories of Katikati’s Ulster settlement, and its people, engaging.

“It’s a great story for radio, filled with adventure, strong characters, and drama.”

Visiting Athenree Homestead Trust, the Irish couple say they are impressed at what its trust has been able to achieve in preserving and restoring the building.  John says there are parallels between the trust’s project and the restoration of Ballance House in Glenavy, Northern Ireland, by the Ulster New Zealand Trust. It was the birthplace of John Ballance who was premiere of New Zealand from 1891 to 1893, and who is commemorated in a statue outside of Parliament in Wellington.

Debbie, who has written an account of her great great grandmother Rachel Hamilton (nee Lennard), says John is also interested in the tales of pioneer women – including Athenree Homestead’s lady Adela Stewart, who held many of the settlement’s early social gatherings at her home.

 “It’s good for people to learn about pioneer women and what life was like for them, which was actually quite difficult,” says Debbie.

She thinks John’s interest in her family history – and that of Katikati – is “fantastic”.

“George was an important figure – over 4000 people came to NZ because of him to be part of the only planned Ulster settlement in the world – and I think he is an interesting character,” says Debbie.

The documentary capturing Ulster immigrant stories “is brilliant and important” says Debbie, who also believes the history of the settlement is not well-known.

“Anything that highlights it is great, and if we can get closer ties with where our ancestors came from, and they’re interested in the settlement and what has happened here because of it, that is great too.”

As for John’s story-telling, Debbie says there’s possibility of filming a television programme on the topic.

“I think it’s great for the Katikati community too – and to forge greater links with Northern Ireland is really good.”

The documentary, to air on BBC Northern Ireland, is being recorded August-September.

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