In 1977, New Zealand adopted "God Defend New Zealand" as its national anthem. Did you know that the song was written by an Irish immigrant more than 100 years previously? 

Irish-born poet Thomas Bracken was born in Clonee, Co Meath, in 1841 and moved to Australia at the age of 12 after both of his parents died at a young age. 

The young Irish immigrant spent several years working in various jobs in the Australian region of Victoria before moving to Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1869 at the age of 27. 

At the time, New Zealand was a British colony and therefore used "God Save the Queen" as its national anthem. However, the arrival of a young Irish writer would eventually change all of that. 

Bracken quickly came to prominence as a talented writer in New Zealand, winning the Otago Caledonian Society's prize for poetry in January 1869 before landing a job as a journalist at the Otago Guardian.

In 1875, he helped establish the Saturday Advertiser, a weekly newspaper where he would eventually publish New Zealand's national anthem. 

According to RTÉ, Bracken published his five-stanza poem "God Defend New Zealand" in the newspaper on July 1, 1876, and asked readers to put the words to music. Local teacher John Joseph Woods, whose parents were Irish, was announced as the winner of the competition and the song became an instant hit. 

Bracken awarded Woods ten guineas for his efforts and eventually gave him the copyright to the poem, allowing Woods to publish the poem in several publications. 

The song remained popular in the early 1900s and the Government of New Zealand officially purchased the rights of the song in 1940, making it a national hymn. 

The song was used at the British Empire Games throughout the 1950s and became an integral part of New Zealand's culture.

It became even more rooted in New Zealand's culture in 1972 after it was played at the Olympic Games in Munich when New Zealand's eight-man rowing team was presented with gold medals. 

The 1972 Olympic Games marked a turning point in the song's history, and advocates launched a campaign to make it the national anthem in the following years.

In 1976, Dunedin resident Garth Henry Latta presented New Zealand's government with a petition to make "God Defend New Zealand" the country's national anthem. One year later, the song became New Zealand's second national anthem after Queen Elizabeth II gave her permission. 

Bracken, meanwhile, swapped his writing career for a life in politics and represented Dunedin in New Zealand's parliament from 1881 until 1890. 

He proved to be a liberal politician and strongly criticized the government's treatment of the native Māoris, while he also condemned Britain's treatment of Ireland. 

Bracken died in Dunedin in February 1898 at the age of 56. 

You can listen to The Royal New Zealand Navy Band's rendition of "God Defend New Zealand" here:

*Originally published in 2021, updated in Oct 2023.