Orphan Girl by Brendan Graham

Ballinrobe’s Orphan Girls were part of the Earl Grey Scheme…….

Brendan Graham writes in his introduction to his Song/Music book of 3 of his creations

Orphan Girl

The Whitest Flower

You Raise Me Up


…you are 16 and female, orphaned by Famine and in one of Ireland’s many workhouses. The workhouse is overcrowded, disease rampant. It is likely you will not leave there again, alive.

BUT…the British Crown is sending girls to Australia. You volunteer to go.

If, during the Great Famine of 1845-1852, Ireland was a land of too many people, Australia was a land of too few people, particularly females. With his Orphans and Paupers Scheme, Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies reduced the demand on Irish workhouses and helped populate Australia.

Over 4,100 female orphans aged mostly between 14 and 18, arrived in Australian ports between 1848 and 1850.

And what did Australia think of the Irish Orphan Girls?  “A set of ignorant creatures whose whole knowledge of household duties barely reaches to distinguishing the inside from the outside of a potato.” Melbourne Agus.

However, Yass in New South Wales considered they were “a decent set of girls”.

In Australia the girls led tough but fruitful lives and did ‘populate the colony’, with descendants today of up to two million Australians.

Orphan Girl was first performed by Sarah Calderwood and the Australian Girls’ Choir in August 2012, at the Irish Famine Commemoration at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. The Glass Memorial Wall there carries the names of some hundreds of the Orphan Girls. On one side their names, as it were, fade out of history…on the other side they fade in to history.

I hoped the song might be part of the fading /.n to history for today’s Orphan Girls’ descendants, some of whom were present for that first performance.

Brendan Graham -January, 2015©

Listen to Brendan Graham’s tribute to Ireland’s Orphan Girls in his song  sung by 3 different artists at:

Nicola O’Haire – Words & Music Brendan Graham © Peermusic (UK) Ltd. P&C Half-Door Songs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BtflooA5FE:

Karen Matheson – Still Time CD https://musicscotland.com/products/karen-matheson-still-time

Mairéad Carlinsinging Orphan Girl -? Paper Boat Records – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOUmhC3qU-M


I am an orphan girl, in Westport I was found,

The workhouse is my world, since the praties took us down;

What time in life is left to me, if I don’t leave Westport Town?

But the Crown is sending girls to sea, for far Australia bound.


Sail, sail, sail me away,

Sail to Australia;

Sail, sail, sail me I pray…

Sail me away…to Australia.


They say Australia’s fine, they say Australia’s fair,

Australia’s on my mind, and the fields of praties there;

I pray when this inspection’s done, that they’ll say me fit to sail,

For they don’t just send out anyone, oh, Lord don’t see me fail.


Sail, sail, sail me away,

Sail to Australia;

Sail, sail, sail me I pray…

Sail me away…to Australia.


I am scarcely turned sixteen but I’m ready now to go;

I am decent and I’m clean, fit for any man to know;

And I will be some good man’s wife, if there I settle down,

And find myself a better life, if I get to Sydney Town.


Sail, sail, sail me away,

Sail to Australia:

Sail me away…sail me I pray…

Sail me away…to Australia.


Sail me away…sail me I pray… sail me away…to Australia.

I am an orphan girl…oh! I am… an orphan girl


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