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My Grandfather –

A New Life in New Zealand

By Pete O’Shaughnessy

In The Beginning…

My Grandfather Dr James Joseph (Joe) O’Shaughnessy was born in 1918 into a country in the midst of a great conflict, the Anglo Irish War of Independence which was fought between Irish citizens and the British Army. The Irish were seeking self governance, free of the rule of the British.

Joe was raised in a small market town in County Mayo in a West of Ireland (Eire) town called Ballinrobe. Joe was one of seven children born to Kate and James. My great Grandfather James fought for the U.S Army in the 69th regiment better known as ‘Fighting Irish”. My great-grandfather died when Joe was only thirteen years old.

His mother sent him to school when he was only three years old, mainly to avoid him being injured by the British armoured vehicles driven by the ‘black and tans’ which sped through Ballinrobe.

Joe was a very smart boy and he was sent to a Christian Brothers school in Dublin where he studied all his subjects in Irish Gaelic. After finishing school Joe spent two years studying to be a Catholic priest at Maynooth, a seminary just outside of Dublin. However, Joe decided against priesthood and he enrolled to study medicine at University College Galway (UCG). After graduating UCG, Joe worked in several hospitals in England as a House Surgeon and became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and a qualified surgeon. During this time Joe was also a member of the Irish Army Medical Corps at a time when Eire was a neutral country during WWII.

The Journey…

In 1948 Joe was eager to see the world and much to the sadness of his mother he got a job as a Ship’s Surgeon on a passenger ship called the SS Atlantis run by the Royal Mail Line. Joe never saw his mother again. This ship’s job was to carry immigrants from the Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere countries like Australia and New Zealand (NZ).

In 1949 his first encounter with NZ was entering Wellington Harbour on the SS Atlantis. Joe was impressed with the beauty of this new country and promised to return. In 1950, he did return. He got off the boat and did not return.

Joe’s first job in NZ was in the rugged West Coast town of Reefton where he worked as a locum (temp). Joe loved the wild West Coast where he developed a taste for pig hunting and rubbed shoulders with miners. Joe also recounts in 1950 meeting the then Lions rugby captain and fellow Irishman Carl Mullins when they played Buller in Westport.

A Life in Hawkes Bay…

In the early 1950’s Joe was looking for a change and accepted a position at the old Napier Hospital as a House Surgeon. It was there that he met a young nurse called Pat Sugden and they quickly fell in love and got married. Joe was keen to continue his surgical work, though a very conservative NZ medical system at the time would not recognise his Irish qualifications. On the advice from a Napier Doctor, Tony Foley, Joe established a general medical practice in Taradale. The next fourteen years were a very busy time for Joe and my Grandmother Pat. They balanced seven children of their own, a large

Obstetric (babies) workload and a general practice of several hundred patients, including the students and priests of Mount St Mary’s seminary, St Joseph’s Maori Girls College and large Maori communities in Moteo, Fernhill and Waiohiki. Joe retired from medicine in the 1990’s.

Even though Joe went back to Ireland only once in 1972, he never forgot his true Irish roots. The family home in Taradale, the surgery and the bach at Kinloch were full of irish literature, music and history. Joe was equally tied to the Catholic Church and his nationalist beliefs. He strongly disliked the British occupation of Northern Ireland.

Joe and Pat died in 2010….


Joe’s love of Eire rubbed off on his children. In 1992 my Dad Paul while studying in Ireland, met a beautiful Dublin girl called Linda. They too fell in love and the result was me and my brother Tom.


Auntie Anna Swindell’s

Uncle Mike O’Shaughnessy

Paul O’Shaughnessy

Officer’s on the SS Atlantis
Joe, second from the right back row

The SS Atlantis

The Foley’s, Pat and Joe and the Buckley’s at a social gathering of Doctor’s, Napier

The brass sign Joe used for his general medical practice

Original digital file


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Business / Organisation

Hereworth School

Format of the original

Computer document

Date published


Creator / Author

  • Pete O'Shaughnessy


  • Dr Tony Foley
  • Carl Mullins
  • James O'Shaughnessy
  • Dr James Joseph (Joe) O'Shaughnessy
  • Kate O'Shaughnessy
  • Linda O'Shaughnessy
  • Mike O'Shaughnessy
  • Pat O'Shaughnessy, nee Sugden
  • Paul O'Shaughnessy
  • Pete O'Shaughnessy
  • Anna Swindells

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