Ireland may be 18,000 kilometres away, but its people and culture are woven into the history of Australia.
Nearly a third of all British migrants to Australia in its early period were from the Emerald Isle; some convicts, some prisoners of war, and some free settlers freeing the poverty and hopelessness of famine.
Even today, some 30 per cent of Australians claim Irish ancestry, according to the Australian Embassy in Dublin.
The story of this ongoing diaspora will be told in Launceston this month through A Taste of Ireland, an Irish song and dance spectacular that follows the story of an Irish migrant who arrives at the Rocks, Sydney, in the 1920s.
Melbourne-born Irish dancer Brent Pace loves the form so much that he not only leads the show, but also helped to write, choreograph, and produce it.
Back when he was a child, though, there was nothing he wanted to do less.
“My mum was an Irish dancer, a teacher, and so is my partner who is also in the show,” he said.
“I never wanted to dance, I wanted to play footy. And then I saw Michael Flatley in the Eurovision song contest and he made it really cool.
“It used to be really folky; the guy all wore kilts and their arms were flat by their side. Then he came out with Riverdance and that changed everything.”
Pace has been performing for over 20 years since then.
His competitive dance career has seen him become a world medalist, a six-time national champion, and a recipient of top placings at every major Irish dance competition in the world. He was the youngest lead dancer in the history of the Rhythms of Ireland, and has now co-founded his own Australian-based company with A Taste of Ireland.
The company has between 25 and 30 dancers, including about five from Ireland. It was created as a way for professional Irish dancers in Australia to be able to perform without having to leave the continent, like Pace had to do when he was starting out.
“We’re probably the only company in the southern hemisphere that have world champions in our company, and they’re also part of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance,” he said.
He said their style was a blend of traditional music and dance and more a modern, humourous approach.
“It’s really passionate, the singing tells a lot of stories,” he said.
“The dancing is versatile, it’s got everything. There’s bits in it where people will be laughing and there’s bits that will bring a tear to someone’s eye.
“Irish shows have this tradition of being really powerful, and this one is, but we wanted to bring a little humour into the show, and into the dancing as well.”
A Taste of Ireland will run at the Country Club Casino Showroom, Prospect Vale, on Friday, September 21, $71.20 adult, $61 child 13 and under.