John O’Brien 1872-1952

Patrick Hartigan, who wrote under the pen-name John O'Brien, was born in Yass, New South Wales, the son of a produce merchant originally from Ireland. He attended the convent school in Yass, then St Patrick’s College in Manly and finally St Patrick’s College in Goulburn. He was ordained as a priest in 1903 and was a curate at Albury for seven years. He then became an inspector of schools before being appointed priest in charge of Berrigan and a year later parish priest of Narrandera.

He had already started to write poetry in 1906 under the pen name of Mary Ann and in 1921 published a volume of poetry entitled Around the Boree Log and Other Verses using the pseudonym John O’Brien (the boree is the Aboriginal name for the wood of the weeping myall, acacia pendula, a species of wattle). This volume consisted of twenty poems and proved enormously popular. Some of them were set to music in 1933 and a silent film with that title portraying O’Brien’s life was made in 1925. Hartigan also wrote short stories and these and his poems appeared regularly in the religious journal, Manly. In addition he wrote a number of articles on early Irish priests in Australia in The Men of 38 and other Pioneer Priests.

Hartigan’s poetry celebrated the lives of the country outback folk he ministered to as a peripatetic priest. In addition to accurately capturing the contemporary scene, his poems are about friendship and caring for others in a tough, demanding environment. They are vividly written, full of humour and demonstrate what a keen observer he was of human behaviour. His best-known one is Said Hanrahan and among his finest are The Presbytery Dog, Tangmalangaloo and The Old Bush School.

Monsignor Patrick Hartigan retired as a pastor in 1944 because of worsening health and became chaplain of the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Rose Bay, near Sydney.He wrote a memoir, On Darlinghurst Hill, shortly before he died in 1952, aged 74. A selection of his poems, illustrated by the paintings of Patrick Carroll, was published in Around the Boree Log in 1978.

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