Michael was born in Whitegate, County Cork, probably about 1853, only a few years after the devastating potato famine. His father was a blacksmith or labourer and the family was large and poor. With few prospects at home, Michael and his younger brother John emigrated to Australia. They had a cousin who was an engineer involved in the construction of the railway in Central Western Queensland and the young Ahern men were hopeful of getting some work.
Michael and John arrived in Rockhampton on the 18th of June, 1875. John becomes difficult to trace after this arrival, but Michael was working as a labourer in Blackwater by 1877. That year he married Caroline Retchless, an 18-year-old domestic servant who had been working in Dingo. There are a few hints that Michael was somewhat a reluctant bridegroom. The couple were married in the Fitzroy Street Methodist Church, despite Michael being a catholic. The story goes that he was Mr Retchless had threatened the young man with a shotgun to ensure he did the right thing by Caroline.
Michael and Caroline moved around for many years as continued to work as a railway labourer and lengthsman. Caroline gave birth to thirteen children over the next 27 years.
Eventually, the family settled in Emu Park. Caroline was a beloved and respected member of the community, and for many years was the local midwife. Michael, on the other hand, was famed for his bare-knuckle boxing matches on the beach and was (affectionately?) known as “Tiger”.