Angel in times of crisis Joan retires after years helping the Irish in Oz

Joan Ross with her extended family in Ireland
Joan Ross with her extended family in Ireland

In times of crisis the Claddagh Association, an organisation which Lurgan woman Joan Ross (nee Larkin) helped found in Australia, was there to help.

Joan was President of the Claddagh Association until her retirement last month.

Irish Fine Gael Minister of State for Justice, David Stanton (back right) meeting with the Claddagh Committee also Graham Harnett Embassy of Ireland Canberra and Marty Kavanagh Honorary Irish Consulate Western Australia.

Irish Fine Gael Minister of State for Justice, David Stanton (back right) meeting with the Claddagh Committee also Graham Harnett Embassy of Ireland Canberra and Marty Kavanagh Honorary Irish Consulate Western Australia.

It is an organisation she helped found almost 20 years ago after police in Perth found a homeless man with an Irish passport in his pocket.

Joan explained that the police contacted the Irish Club in Perth and the Irish community rallied round and raised funds to bury him.

“That is the way it is out here, Irish people rally round each other and help each other out,” she explained.

Joan said that they realised there was a need for a support network and they decided to form a welfare group.

“When I came back to Australia in 1995 we did see a need for support,” she said. “Over the years with the influx of Irish people with the downturn in the economy we were inundated with people who needed help,” she said.

However, she explained that the biggest job they do is to help repatriate the remains of Irish people who have died in the Western Australia area.

The Claddagh Association works in partnership with the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust which has helped many families here cope with the loss of loved ones abroad.

Joan was often on the telephone at unusual hours dealing with family members who are in distress and in need of support.

“I know what procedures to go through here, who to speak to in the Coroner’s office, what undertakers to speak to and travel agents to organise flights.

Two years ago Joan helped repatriate to Ireland the bodies of nine Irish people within two weeks after their sudden deaths in Perth.

She said: “After 20 years volunteering for the Claddagh Association I have made the decision to retire.

“I am so proud to have been associated with this organisation from its inception in January 1997.

“Over the years I have been very fortunate to have met many people from the Irish community both here in Western Australia and in Ireland.

“Our mission, to support the Irish community in times of crisis, was a challenge but more so in the past five years.

“This was mainly due to the influx of Irish people coming to Perth Western Australia to escape the economic financial crisis in Ireland.

“During the past 20 years I have experienced times of great sorrow and sadness to times of great pride in our Irish community in Western Australia.

“Our funds came mainly from donations and fundraising from the Irish community and the Irish Government through the Emigrant Support Program.

“We are indebted to the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust for their continued support in the repatriation of Irish people who died in tragic circumstances while in Perth we couldn’t have done without their help.

“Volunteering for your community is a very satisfying and I would encourage everyone to give it a go.”

The Claddagh Association is not just about helping those in crisis but also a place to meet and share with friends.

“We have a large Irish population here. When someone dies, we organise a Mass, we have counsellors.

“We want to make sure they are not dwelling on things particularly if they are homesick. It is very important that there is help.”

Although she works tirelessly, the 65-year-old tries to return to Lurgan every year to visit her large family.

Originally from Allenhill Park, she has five brothers and two sisters, Rosemary Haughian who owns Icons Coffee Shop in Lurgan, Joseph Larkin who owns the Shoe Repair shop in Church Place, Jim Larkin who trains horses at Scarva Castle, Leo and Paul Larkin live in Portadown while her other brother Alan lives in Aghagallon and her sister Collete in Lake Street.

“I Skype with them all the time so when I come home, it’s like I haven’t been away,” she said.

For more details see the website www.claddagh.org.au or find them on facebook at www.facebook.com/Claddagh-Association-369242429927