Patrick James O’Farrell (1933–2003) was born in Greymouth, New Zealand, the son of Irish immigrants. He was educated at the Marist Brothers High School, the University of Canterbury and The Australian National University. In 1959 he was appointed a lecturer in history at the University of New South Wales, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1972 he was appointed to a personal Chair. He retired in 1999 and the university conferred on him an Emeritus Scientia Professorship.

O’Farrell was the author of many books and articles on Australian, New Zealand and Irish history. They include:

Harry Holland: Militant Socialist (1964)

The Catholic Church in Australia, A Short History 1788–1967 (1968)

Ireland’s English Question: Anglo–Irish relations 1534–1971 (1971)

England and Ireland since 1800 (1975)

The Catholic Church and Community in Australia: A History (1977)

The Irish in Australia (1986)

Vanished Kingdoms: Irish in Australia and New Zealand (1990)

UNSW, A Portrait: The University of New South Wales 1949–1999 (1999)

He served for long periods on the editorial boards of the Journal of Religious History and the Australasian Catholic Record.

O’Farrell was an indefatigable collector and in the course of his life assembled a great deal of rare and unique material, especially on socialism, the Irish and the Catholic Church in Australia. In addition to scholarly articles and theses, he acquired many hundreds of pamphlets, newspapers, printed ephemera, transcripts from archives in Ireland and Australia, records of Irish organisations in Australia, and personal papers of Irish nationalists and Catholic clergy. He sought publications, such as centennial histories, from parish priests and diocesan archivists, and he came to the aid of people who had inherited fine archives or libraries. For instance, he was entrusted with the records of the National Council of Catholic Priests and he was largely responsible for the preservation of the books and papers of Albert Dryer, the founder of the Irish National Association of New South Wales.


O’Farrell had a close association with the Library from 1956, when he began his doctorate at The Australian National University, up to his death. As early as 1966 he transferred from St Mary’s Cathedral Archives a collection of pamphlets by Cardinal Moran. The manuscripts, archival records and personal papers were acquired, either by purchase or donation, in many instalments between 1980 and 2001. The photographs were donated by O’Farrell in 1998.



The principal groups of manuscripts and records collected by O’Farrell are:

  • Captain Edward Gordon and the Catholic Church in India—photocopies of letters written by Gordon in India to his family in Ireland (1850–57) and letters from priests and others in India, mostly sent to Catholic prelates in Ireland, 1781–1878
  • Michael Kelly (1850–1940), Archbishop of Sydney—original letters, cuttings, financial papers and photocopies of letters received by Kelly (1897–1928)
  • Patrick Hartigan (1878–1952)—photocopies of sermons, talks, poems and letters received by the Catholic priest and poet, 1904–43
  • Industrial Workers of the World—handwritten notes and transcripts of letters and minutes of the Australian clubs of the IWW, 1904–43
  • Socialist Labor Party of Australia—letters, minutes, cuttings and leaflets, 1914–31
  • Irish National Association of Australia—correspondence, reports, circulars, newsletters, financial papers, minutes and photographs, originals as well as photocopies, 1919–77
  • Australian League for an Undivided Ireland—photocopies of correspondence, minutes and leaflets, 1948–63
  • Senate of Priests—minutes, agenda papers, reports, correspondence, 1956–61
  • Subject files containing documents, either originals or photocopies, on the Catholic Church in Australia and South America, Irish in Australia, St Mary’s Cathedral marriage statistics (1856–99), St Patrick’s Day celebrations (1905–32) and other subjects
  • Austral Light—photocopies of the Catholic monthly magazine published in Melbourne, 1892–1920
  • New Zealand Labour Party—copies of records, including those of the National Conference, National Executive, National Secretariat and the Grey branch, 1917–50
  • Articles, lectures, conference papers, journals and theses mainly on Irish history, the Irish diaspora, the Irish in Australia and the Catholic Church in Australia.


The O’Farrell Collection contains about 1200 photographs, both originals and copies of photographs in books and newspapers. Some of them were used as illustrations in his books. Of particular interest are photographs taken by his son, Richard O’Farrell, of Australian places with strong Irish connections, such as Boorowa and Galong in New South Wales and Kilmore in Victoria. There are also photographs of immigrants, concerts, street musicians, churches, hotels and portraits of notable Irish Australians.

Printed Materials

The printed materials in the O’Farrell Collection consist of pamphlets, handbooks, leaflets, circulars, invitations, prayer cards, newspaper cuttings and periodicals. There are 1123 items. The main groups are:

  • Australian pamphlets, 1845–1987 (OFA 1–361)
  • Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, 1904–25 (OFA 362–69)
  • Irish pamphlets, 1836–1990 (OFA 370–882).

The remainder of the collection consists of Irish, British and American publications, including leaflets and pamphlets of the Gaelic League, leaflets of the Unionist Associations of Ireland (1908–10), official reports on Northern Ireland (1969–73), and pamphlets of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (1972).

Personal Papers

The Library has as yet acquired only part of O’Farrell’s personal papers. They comprise personal files (1963–92), organisational files (1966–92), drafts and research material for eight of his books, and articles and book reviews.


The manuscripts and records collected by O’Farrell and his personal papers are kept together as a single collection within the Manuscripts Collection (MS 6265). They are arranged in 26 series and occupy 146 boxes. An 81-page finding aid is available online at It does not cover the substantial consignment (83 boxes) received after O'Farrell's death.

The photographs are held in the Pictures Collection at P2215. They are housed in eight boxes. Most have not been catalogued, but the envelopes containing the photographs have O’Farrell’s captions.

The printed materials, both Australian and non-Australian, are kept together as a collection and housed in the Australian Collection. They occupy 16 boxes. They have been catalogued individually, the call numbers having the prefix OFA.


Fitzpatrick, David, Obituary of Patrick O’Farrell, Australian Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 4, 2004, pp. 1–6.

Fletcher, Brian, Obituary of Patrick O’Farrell, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 35 (123), April 2004, pp. 167–9.

Malcolm, Elizabeth, Obituary of Patrick O’Farrell, History Australia, vol. 1 (2), July 2004, pp. 321–4.

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)