Heffernans recall ‘where they come from’


THE HEFFERNANS enjoy a significant presence in Candelo, so much so, that family get-togethers could nearly pass for a local town reunion.

The family came to the Bega Valley when Patrick Heffernan, who had emigrated from Ireland in 1838, selected land at Sandy Creek.

After selecting the farm, Patrick returned to Moruya, but was killed in a farm accident before he could develop the Sandy Creek property, which was left to his widow Ellen.

There were two sons, one of whom was Thomas, then aged about 14.

Thomas and Sarah (nee Grealy) from Pambula were the first couple to be married in the old Eden Catholic church, built in 1881.

It is now used as the MacKillop Heritage Hall.

They eventually set up home at ‘Caralla’ just outside of Candelo.

Because of Thomas and Sarah Heffernan, more than 200 of their descendants filled the local hall to share faith, laughter, food and memories.

Families travelled from the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong, the South Coast and Brisbane for the occasion.

The original ‘Caralla’ homestead is now owned by Thomas and Sarah’s great-grandson, Rick Heffernan.

Although it is in ruins, the homestead was visited during the reunion.

Brother and sister Thomas and Sarah Heffernan, aged in their 20s and named after their pioneer ancestors, were among those who attended.

“Never ever forget who you are and where you have come from,” organiser Gerard Heffernan shared with his younger nieces, nephews and cousins.

The idea of a family gathering stemmed from a Facebook discussion when one of the younger members of the family didn’t recognise their great-grandmother and uncle in a photograph.

The youngest of the attendees at this year’s event were five generations removed from the first Thomas and Sarah.

“We think getting together as a family is really important, because it helps to understand who you are and where you have come from,” Mr Heffernan said.

“Our last reunion was in 2009 and the one before that was in 1989.

“It’s a chance to connect with our roots.”

The convenor of the 2009 gathering was Gerard’s first cousin, Carmel Toohey (nee Heffernan).

She shares her cousin’s love of family and is the Heffernan’s oral historian.

“Over the years I’ve been able to recall stories and facts passed on by my grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents,” she said.

Mrs Toohey was also one of the prime movers of the recent gathering, collecting and collating the photographs and stories that adorned the walls of the town hall.

The same hall came alive with the family’s music and dancing talents on display, while the Heffernan family song was sung and a number of humorous stories were told.

The glue holding the Heffernan’s together is their Catholic faith passed down from their Irish ancestors.

The family gathered at St Joseph’s Candelo to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word on the Sunday of the gathering.

The church, dating from 1875, has a holy water font dedicated to the original Thomas and Sarah. The liturgy was led by Roger Heffernan with Gerard and his nephew Matthew Heffernan providing the music.

Pioneers Thomas and Sarah are buried in unmarked graves at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery. Over the course of the reunion, family members collected money to have headstones erected.