BY PAT NALLY
Secretary, Longford-Westmeath Argentina Society
The above title will surprise many readers. Even more surprising is that places in Argentina like Buenos Aires, Pergamino, San Antonio de Areco, Salto and Arrecifes are not only household names in certain parts of Ireland, but are places with relatives of people in Ireland in such places as Ballymore, Ballynacargy, Castlepollard, Moyvore in Co. Westmeath: Ballymahon and Carrick-Edmund in Co. Longford: Kilrane, Co. Wexford and Castletownbeare, Co. Cork. All their Argentine relatives, of course, speak Spanish, the language of Argentina and most of Latin America.
So how has this exotic family connection come about? To find the answer, we must take ourselves back to the beginning of the 19th century when Spain was the imperial power in Argentina. In this period of the early 1800s, a wave of wars of independence swept Spanish America, led by Simon Bolivar, Bernardo O’Higgins, Jose Artigas and Jose de San Martin. San Martin was the hero of the Argentine War of Independence which was achieved in 1816. Admiral William Brown from Foxford, Co. Mayo, played a prominent role in that war of Independence, being the founder of the Argentine navy. Another Irish man, John Thomond O’Brien from Co. Wicklow, also was prominent in the war of Independence, being adjutant to San Martin. It is said that San Martin asked O’Brien to go back to Ireland for 200 emigrants. Argentina was then a country of vast unclaimed lands. O’Brien spent the 1827/28 period trying to recruit emigrants in Ireland , but without success. However, he met a John Mooney of Streamstown, near Ballymore, Co. Westmeath. This was to be the start of the Irish emigration to Argentina from the Westmeath/Longford/North Offaly area............ In addition to John Mooney, his sister, Mary Bookey and her husband Patrick Bookey went with O’Brien. They were to achieve rapid success in farming in Argentina and , due to this success, Mooney wrote home to Westmeath for emigrants to come out and help him farm the vast lands they had found. People in Westmeath responded in large numbers, from the 1820s onwards and right through the 19th century, and even up to 1914, emigrated to Argentina......
Let us now move to the Wexford connection with Argentina. The shipping firm of Dickson and Montgomery had a man named John Brown from Wexford representing them in Buenos Aires. In 1827, this Liverpool based firm appointed Patrick Brown, a brother of the Brown already mentioned, to be their representative, to succeed his brother. He moved to Buenos Aires in 1824. He got involved in the meat industry and became prosperous enough to live in the San Isidro area of Buenos Aires which is an exclusive part of the city. In 1874, he returned with his family to Wexford. He returned to Argentina in 1888 on the death of John Brown there in the same year. He became a highly respected member of the Irish emigrant community in Argentina where he died in 1893. The arrival of Brown in Argentina in the 1820’s was the start of the Wexford emigration to Argentina which, though significant, was nothing like the numbers that went from the Longford-Westmeath area.
Indeed prior to this emigration there were a small number of Irish in Argentina who arrived as part of the abortive British invasions of 1806 and 1807. The first one was commanded by General William Beresford and both expeditions had Irish officers, Duff, Browne, Nugent, Kenny, Donelly and Murray. Some Irish members of both expeditions deserted and settled in Argentina such as Patrick Island, Michael Hines and Peter Campbell.......
It is reckoned that there were around 300 Irish emigrants in Argentina by 1830, enough to see the first Irish Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Patrick Moran, arrive as chaplain to the emigrants in 1829. ..... A survey of the male emigrants in 1827 shows the following sources of the new arrivals;
60% from Westmeath/Longford/North Offaly
15% from Wexford
3% from Cork
3% from Clare
19% from the rest of the country.
The emigration started by John Mooney saw Westmeath providing two thirds of all the emigrants throughout the 19th century. In 1844, a William McCann, during a 2000 mile ride through Argentina said, ‘at least three quarters of the emigrants are from Co. Westmeath.”
During the 1830’s, there was a continued rise in emigration to Argentina, coming from three sources: Ireland, Irish coming down from the United States and Irish coming in from Brazil. Some Irish had gone to Brazil but, on not receiving a great welcome, crossed into Argentina.
The famine of the mid 1840’s saw another stage develop. Names which occur in the first stage include Duggans, Murrays, Hams, Gahans, Kennys, Dillons, Mooneys and Brownes. People in this stage prospered enormously and achieved greater success than later emigrants. The emigrants of that early period would have been influenced by Daniel O’Connell, and were less nationalistic than emigrants of the post-famine era. By the time of the famine, many of the early emigrants had become part of the Argentine establishment.
The famine of the 1840s in Ireland boosted emigration to Argentina from Westmeath and Wexford. This movement continued onto the 1850s. 1844 saw the appointment of Rev. Antonio Fahy as chaplain. He was a native of Galway who had spent two years in Ohio in the United States. There he had seen the problems among Irish emigrants in cities, so when he arrived in Argentina, he urged Irish emigrants to avoid the cities and head for the vast countryside. He has been descried as the adviser, banker, matchmaker and administrator of a welfare system for the newly arriving emigrants. The records of the port of Buenos Aires for 1849 show 708 emigrants arriving from Ireland.
The 1850s show a lot of Irish owned estancias (ranches) which in turn employed new emigrants. Women began to arrive in greater numbers in the 1850s. They worked often as cooks, maids and governess’. Many married sheep farmers. At this stage, women comprised half of the emigrants. Irish married Irish and marriages with Argentines were rare. Indeed, up to the third generation they rarely married outside the Irish community. English was the household language of the emigrants throughout this period. The arrival of Edward Mulhall in 1852 was significant. Born in Dublin in 1832, he emigrated first to the United States and them moved to Argentina. His brother Michael also arrived. Mulhall went into the sheep trade, and in 1861, together with his brother, founded the Buenos Aires Standard newspaper which was the first English language paper, and was published for the English speaking community which at this stage comprised Irish, English and Scottish emigrants.
Another wave emigrants arrived in the 1860s bringing names like Ryan, McCormick, Mullally and Casey. At this stage, some people were arriving to join their relatives already in Argentina, while others arrived after the Fenian Rising in Ireland. As the 1870s approached, there was a clear political division among emigrants, with the early wealthy emigrants pro-Home Rule in Ireland, with this expressed through the Buenos Aires Standard paper. The new arrivals of the 1860s, like the post famine 1840s arrivals, tended to be more nationalistic. This led to the foundation of another English language paper, The Southern Cross.
An interesting picture of the Irish community in Argentina appeared in the first Southern Cross of Jan 16th 1875, stating,
‘In no part of the world is the Irishman more esteemed and respected than in the Province of Buenos Aires, and in no part of the world, in the same space of time have Irish settlers made such large fortunes. The Irish population in the Republic may have set down at 26,000 souls. They possess in this province 200 leagues of land or 1,800 miles or 1,500,000 acres. Almost all of this land is of the very best quality. They own about 5,000,000 sheep and thousands are worth 5,000,000 sterling. This vast fortune has been acquired in a few years.”
The 1880s witnessed a further influx from Ireland, many of whom were joining an earlier generation of relatives. During the 1875-1890 period, there was a great development of organisations and educational institutions by the Irish community. Newman College, St.Brendan’s College and St Brigid’s College were established and still exist. Branches of the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein were formed. The Irish Catholic Association was formed and hurling clubs were organised in Buenos Aires and Mercedes.
By the 1890s there were only limited opportunities for new emigrants. The sheep industry was in decline and cattle and tillage were taking over. With the decline in the sheep trade Irish emigration declined. Sheep had been the goldmine for Irish emigrants. The emigrants had been country people with agricultural skills who adapted easily to farming life in the great Pampas of Argentina. So when in 1889 1,800 emigrants from the cities of Cork and Limerick arrived, they met disaster and ended up settling in the Bahia Blanca area in the province of Buenos Aires. A trickle of emigration continued from Westmeath until 1914.
Today there are about 350,000 Argentines of Irish descent. Many of the younger generation have moved to the cities and are to be found in all walks of life. Of course many still work their estancias. Ireland has diplomatic relations with Argentina. The population of Argentina is currently 32 million, with 40% of Italian origin, followed by people of Spanish origin and the third largest grouping of Arabic descent. Some people have kept in touch with their Irish relatives, but for many people contact has been lost twenty, forty, sixty and eighty years ago. Now, there is the added difficulty of language for the people wishing to resume contact. The Buenos Aires Standard ceased publication in the 1960’s, but the English language daily The Buenos Aires Herald marked its 115th anniversary in 1991.
One Spring day , September 21st 1991, I visited the town of San Antonio de Areco in the Province of Buenos Aires, north of the city of Buenos Aires...... To visit the nearby cemetery was like visiting an Irish cemetery with tombstones showing Longford names like Farrell, Geoghegan and Campbell; Brennan from Wexford; O’Farrell, and Morgan from Cork and Brady, Geraghty, Murray, Mooney and Kelly from Westmeath. Of course, the intense heat reminded one that one was not in an actual Irish cemetery. It was hot enough to be bitten by mosquitoes.
Argentina is equal in size to all the Common Market Countries, and the Province of Buenos Aires is the size of France. It has four climates. It is the country which warmly welcomed Irish emigrants from the 1820s onwards, and is always assured of a special place in the hearts of people in Ireland with relatives there.
The above article has been extracted from LOS IRLANDESES EN LA ARGENTINA by Pay Nally, printed in the Ulster Historical Foundation Journal, FAMILIA, in 1992.