Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Irish born Statesmen Abroad - NEW ZEALAND

Much has often been written about the ancestral connections of US Presidents with Ireland but Irish citizens have travelled the world becoming much loved and treasured statesmen in other nations. Ireland has produced three Irish born Prime Ministers of New Zealand. These are their stories.


On July 8th 1875 Daniel Pollen became the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Daniel was the son of Hugh Pollen, a dock master at the mouth of the newly opened Grand Canal as it entered the River Liffey and Elizabeth O’Neill. Daniel was born on June 2nd 1813 when the family lived in what later became known as Pollen Cottage in Ringsend. Hugh Pollen received both the house and an annual salary of £100 per annum for his role as dock master.

Little is known about the early part of his life, but it is supposed that he grew up in Ringsend before emigrating to New Zealand in 1840, shortly after his father died in 1837 and the role of dock master and use of the house was taken over by Thomas Pollen, brother of the late Hugh. He arrived at the Bay of Islands settling in a town called Parnell near Auckland which probably made him feel right at home. He practiced as the local doctor but Daniel also became actively involved in politics with the formation of the Auckland Province in 1852 and was well regarded as a great debater and famous for his wit.

Two years after he was appointed the local coroner in 1846 he had married Jane Henderson a daughter of a Royal Naval officer and they went onto to have four sons and four daughters. Pollen entered politics first serving on the local provincial council representing Auckland East and then became a member of the New Zealand Parliament on May 12th 1873.  He rose through the political ranks and served in the Government of Julius Vogel as Colonial Secretary but when that Prime Minister left New Zealand to travel to Great Britain, Daniel Pollen from Ringsend in Dublin was appointed July 6th 1875 as Prime Minister of New Zealand. He held the position until the return of Vogel on February 15th 1876 when he returned to the position of Colonial Secretary and continued in that position under the following Prime Minister Harry Atkinson before he retired from politics.

Pollen died at his residence ‘The Whau’ in Avondale in 1896.


The 14th Prime Minister John Balance was born in Ballypitmave near Lisburn in County Antrim in March 1839. Born into a farming community to father Samuel, John Balance was the eldest of eleven children. As an eighteen year old he headed for Belfast City before crossing the Irish Sea to live in Birmingham. While there in 1863 he married a butcher’s daughter Fanny Taylor. His new bride became ill and the decision was taken in 1866 to immigrate to New Zealand where Fanny’s brother lived.

Once in New Zealand after a brief period as salesman he studied to become a journalist and from journalism he found his way into local politics. The move for the Balance couple down under proved futile as two years after their arrival down under Balance’s wife passed away. Two years later he married Ellen Anderson and the couple adopted a daughter Kathleen.

He was first elected to parliament in 1879 only to loose his seat in the subsequent election by just four votes when a horse drawn coach shed a wheel and seven of his supporters inside failed to register their vote. He won the seat back in 1884 and joined the Julius Vogel cabinet as Minister for Native Affairs. Out of Government, Balance accepted the role as leader of the then opposition Liberal Party. When the Government of Prime Minister Atkinson resigned, Balance became the Prime Minister in January 1891.

As Prime Minister he attempted to turn his Liberal party into a nationwide party rather than just regionally based. He was not known as a charismatic leader or a good public speaker, he was described as honest, courteous and displayed great patience and integrity. His wife became a leading figure in the fledgling feminist movement in New Zealand. His success as a Prime Minister was short lived as he developed cancer and passed away on April 27th 1893 receiving a state funeral in his home town of Wanganui. His wife Ellen outlived her husband by forty two years. 


The 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand was William Massey who was born in Limavady, Derry in March 1856. He was a member of the Reform Party, a political force he helped to found, when he became PM in 1912. Born into a farming Presbyterian family, the family moved to New Zealand in October 1862 without young William who remained in Ireland to complete his education. He followed the family over to the far side of the world in December 1870.

He became involved in local politics through the local school board before being elected in an 1894 by election for the constituency of Waitemata before contesting the 1896 General Election for the neighbouring constituency of Franklin which he represented until his death in 1925.

After founding his reform Party in 1909, they became the largest party after the 1911 General Election but the incumbent Liberal Party remained in power with the support of Independents. The Liberals lost a vote of confidence in Parliament and Massey was invited to form a new administration and officially became Prime Minister on July 12th 1912. His first years in power were a period of great industrial unrest and his use of force to break strikes did not endear him to either his electorate or party colleagues but like many other politicians across the world the intervention of the First World War diverted attention from domestic matters. In the 1914 General Election no party won enough seats to be effective as a Government and Massey invited the leader of Liberal Party Joseph Ward to be party of a national unity Government in time of war.

Massey signed the Versailles Peace treaty on behalf of New Zealand at the end of the war. With war at an end the unity coalition fractured and in the 1919 General Election despite the rise of the new Labour Party, Massey and his Reform Party won a majority. He governed a troubled New Zealand both socially and economically until the 1922 General Election where he failed to win his majority winning just 37 of the 80 available seats but clung to power with the support of Independents.

His health deteriorated in 1924 and he passed away in 1925.