Generation Green: Felix McFayden, 21
News10 March 2021
Surfer and hospitality worker
My great-grandfather Manus McFadyen from County Donegal moved to Sydney with his family in the 1930s.
My Departed Dad's Irish Legacy
The McFadyen name is very Celtic. I am connected to that part of the world and my Irish heritage through my dad, who passed away when I was 12. My dad Pete was a very gentle man and the youngest of five. He was a top bloke who taught me so many things that are still with me to this day - like surfing and just being a nice, respectful young man. We’re real Aussie beach people. I have very happy memories of mucking around with dad on the weekends on Mackerel Beach, our home in a water access-only community in the waterways of the Northern Beaches, and at Maroubra Beach when we moved back to Sydney.
I still remember watching the Rugby World Cup with my dad.
He always barracked for Ireland in any match we watched: he had that heartfelt tie to the Irish team because it was his family bloodline.
My great-grandfather Manus McFadyen was born in County Donegal in 1887, which sounds so far away to me. He went to sea and became a Chief Steward on passenger lines, so he saw the world. After living in Montreal, where he married my great-grandmother, and San Francisco, he finally settled in Australia in the ‘30s.
The main reason I really want to go to Ireland is to fulfil dad’s dream of going back to see firsthand all the towns and villages where his forefathers came from.
He would have loved meeting all the distant cousins who have descended from Manus and the Irish McFadyens. I think that would be so much fun to do, so I am going to take that on for him.
When my dad died, we only had a few weeks’ notice. It was such a big loss - so fast but so permanent. The grief builds up and just washes over you, so my reaction was to clam up a bit.
The charity Canteen, a support group that helps people and families affected by cancer, really helped me process and express what losing my dad meant to me. I did a charity campaign with them that helped raise money to offer counselling to other families.
Losing my father made me more independent I guess, so I feel pretty strong for my age. You toughen up in a way because nothing worse can happen - it’s as bad as it gets. I feel a lot of sympathy and empathy for others because of that suffering, so there is always a positive to any life experience.
I first stood up on a surfboard when I was 4 or 5, but was always scared of the waves. Then one summer a few years later my mum, dad and I visited Byron Bay. We had this amazing day on the beach and everything just clicked. From that moment on I just loved it and knew that I was a surfer at heart. I still think about that day.
One thing that gave me confidence was starting Surf Lifesaving Club ‘Nippers’ training at 5, so it all came together. The Australian tradition of community beach clubs has been a big influence. You learn how to keep yourself and other people safe in the water, help bystanders in an emergency, train in competitive swimming and lifesaving. We all look out for each other. We also learn about the ocean and how it is teeming with life: octopus, fish, seals.... By the time you reach 12 you train for your Surf Rescue Certificate then your Bronze Medallion. Now I’m a fully qualified life saver: if somebody was drowning I could save them.
Each time I get out on the waves I can leave the world behind. It’s just you, the water and your thoughts. It is the most peaceful and happy I’ll feel all day. Nothing beats that amazing feeling of standing up, seeing the lineup of the wave and just following it. You are at one with the wave - with nothing else around besides the ocean. I feel really humbled and have the space and peace to start thinking about the things that are really on my mind. Surfing has 100% helped me deal with the grief of my father.
Riding the Wave to Ireland
For me Ireland is a medieval fantasy, so it’s hard to believe it’s real. I imagine leprechauns, four leaf clovers, red-haired maids in castles and big, burly blokes with red beards drinking out of a Viking horn telling raucous stories at the village inn.
I work in hospitality and we have a lot of Irish lassies come in. They have made a great impression on me: they are warm, such fun and always make everyone around them laugh. I would love to see Irish people in their own country and get to know their hometowns.
I was absolutely amazed to discover that there is a whole surfing culture in Sligo on Ireland’s west coast, with majestic cliffs and massive swells. I’ve heard about Strand Hill, which has nice tame breaks, and Mullaghmore Head, with the kind of intense wall of mammoth crashing waves that we get in the south of Australia. It may be way too much but I’ll still try to conquer it.
I dream of travelling and was all set to spread my wings for the first time when Covid hit. I was going to kick off my trip in Canada to snowboard, then head to Ireland to get a job teaching kids how to surf. Discovering this amazing, wild and woolly landscape in the west would open up a whole other kind of surf experience for me, and a work visa would allow me to fulfil that dream. I’d love to go into the community and teach the kids and the parents to get involved in the sport. Why not get the whole family doing it?
The beaches here in Australia are packed with surfers who were practically put on a wave since birth, whereas in Ireland surfers are rare, so there aren’t many people out there. On the Sligo coastline there are so many surf spots, strong intense swells and protected coves where you can have every wave to yourself. What a privilege! I can’t wait to get over there to the vast lands and open waters. I grew up in Aussie summers so it’s going to be very cold, I’ll have to buy a new wetsuit and a head mask.
I would love to travel to Ireland with my mates to check out the surf, pubs, nightlife and rolling mountains and hills. I just can’t wait to get over there and explore. I have my ‘wolfpack’ of best friends who all have Irish blood: Jimmy is a mix of Irish and Filipinowho loves fishing and free-diving and Fintan has bright ginger hair - matched with the thickest Aussie accent. I reckon the boys will suit Ireland: they have strong personalities and are always laughing, telling stories and cracking jokes, which is the vibe that I want to be around.
I want to delve deeper into my Irish roots too and see what relatives of mine are doing in the current day. I’m single, so I could end up meeting an Irish lassie - unless a Canadian girl gets me first.