is know, Irish emigration has mainly been to English-speaking countries. There have also been important Irish
settlements on the continent of
in this case, I will try to point out the existence of a different type of
migrant who chose non-English speaking regions of the world and which has been
determined by multiple circumstances.
I’m referring in particular to the Irish migration to
The very earliest Irish presence in South America
many years we have tried to find out if there was any Irish presence in Admiral
Cristobal Colon’s armada (1) or in any other Spanish or Portuguese naval
expedition that contributed to the discovery of the new World. We do not accept the theory that the first
Irishman to set foot on South American soil was Father Thomas Field, a Jesuit
missionary and a native of
we announced in
the early Spanish and Portuguese colonial administration many Irishmen came to
Among many others, we can mention Frs. Thomas Browne and Thaddeus Ennis and Br. William Leny in Paraguay; Frs. Richard Carey and John Almeida (Martin) and Br. William Lynch in Brazil; Frs. Francis Lea and Robert Kyne and Br. Thomas Lewis in New Granada - at present Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador; Brothers Ignatius Walter and Maurice O’Phelan and Frs. John Brand and James Woulfe in Peru; as well as Fr. Michael Lynch in Bolivia.
first attempt to establish an Irish settlement took place in the Amazon region
as of 1612. Phillip and James Purcell,
Irish traders, established a colony in Tocujos, on the mouth of the
Another settlement, leaded by Bernard O’Brien, was established nearby in 1620, in an area with English and Dutch establishments as well. But the prosperity did not last long due to the Portuguese government who wanted total control of the trade in that area. The importance of these Irish settlements are well documented in Joyce Lorimer’s “English and Irish Settlements on the River Amazon, 1550-1646” (4).
In Colonial Times many Irish held important positions in the military and civil administration during the colonial period, in areas that were ruled by the Spanish monarchy, due to the warm treatment Irishmen received from their “cousin”, the Spanish king (5).
the most outstanding Irish man of this group was Ambrose O’Higgins, a native of
Co. Sligo, who fulfilled important positions in two different countries. He was the Governor General of
others Irish immigrants, like the Murphys, O’Haras,
Carrs and O’Donnells acted in military capacities in
them, we can mention the Lynchs, Butelers (
was also a different form of Irish migration to
of them, commanded in 1763 by Captain John MacNamara, an Irishman in the
British service, was defeated in Colonia del
Sacramento, presently located in
In this document they declared they were “grateful for the good hospitality and full of enthusiasm for the rights of men, and that they could not see with indifference the risks that threatened the country, and they were ready to take up arms and give their last drop of blood, if it was necessary, in its defence” (6). Some of the signatories were John Heffernan, W. Manahan, Timothy Lynch, John Brown, John Young, Thomas Hughes, William Carr, Daniel MacGeoghegan and others.
British attempt, and successful for a short period of time, took place in
the “criollos” (Spanish people born in South America) who fought against
the invaders we can recall Domingo French and Ignacio Warnes, who belonged to
Irish families established in Spain, whose descendants came to America, as well
as general Juan de Pueyrredon, whose mother was a Dogan (Duggan). Here we have
a clear case of Irish fighting against Irish, as we will see many times in
prisoners of these frustrated military adventures, as well as many others who
deserted from the British, decided to establish themselves in the River Plate.
The most famous was Peter Campbell, who later became a prominent figure in
must also mention other British expeditions to South American shores, such as
those commanded by Admirals Anson and
is also worth mentioning that, among the pirates who devastated Spanish
this period, and in subsequent years, there was an active trade between Irish
and South American ports. It was not
surprising therefore to see merchandise in
At the time of independence
different movements for independence in the world, such as the French and North
American revolutions, as well as the Napoleonic war, affected the Spanish and
Portuguese crowns. They also influenced
the citizens of
The Irish, totally integrated into the local communities, where not immune to these ideas. At the beginning of the 1810’s different Irishmen held important positions in the newly independent countries. As a brief example, we can mention that James Roth (Ross) was President of the first government formed in Venezuela; general John Mackenna - born in Clogher, Co. Tyrone (1771-1814) and John Michael Gill where signators, respectively, of the Chilean and Paraguayan declarations of independence; and Joaquin Campana (Campbell) demanded the dismissal of the Spanish Viceroy in the town council held in Buenos Aires in 1810. The following year he served in the local government.
The Irish were involved not only in politics. They were very active in the struggle for independence, with remarkable presence in the military and naval forces.
Generals Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar were the two most important leaders in the wars of independence of the former Spanish South American colonies. They both had large armies in which there was an important Irish presence.
One of San Martin’s officers was General Bernard O’ Higgins, the son of Ambrose O’ Higgins, who was also a politician and became the first President of Chile. That nation regards him as the father of the country’s independence.
many other officers of Irish origin, we must also recall General John Thomond
O’Brien, who was aide-de-camp of general San
Martin. We should pay attention to this
man, a native of Co. Wicklow, who after the war ended dedicated his personal
efforts to business, especially in the mining sector, in
the most important Irish contribution to independence was in Bolivar’s
army. In 1818 General John D’Evereaux
Bolivar had a noted preference for Irish officers. For many years several countrymen acted as
his aide-de-camp. We must mention the
names of Charles Chamberlain, James Rooke, William Ferguson - who died in
Bogota saving the life of the Liberator in an assassination attempt in 1828,
and finally, the greatest, General Daniel Florence O’Leary, another Cork man,
who is the author of “Memorias” (9) a monumental work that describes in
32 volumes the events of those days in the northern countries of South
America. He was also involved in
politics and in the diplomatic career in both the Venezuelan and British
services. In 1852 he visited, once
many Irishmen died due to war or bad climatic conditions, or returned to their
homes, many others settled in
similar cases are those of Charles Minchin, from Co. Tipperary, who settled in
The numerous participation of Irish people in the campaigns for independence is well documented by the Irish historian Eric Lambert (12). Among others, we must also add the surnames of Phelan, French, Reynolds, MacLoughlin, Byrne, Thomson, Hogan and Keogh, as well as Maurice O’Connell, a relative of Daniel O’Connell, with whom Bolivar exchanged correspondence.
the navy there was also a very important Irish participation. Undoubtedly, the most prominent was Admiral
William Brown (1777-1857), a native of Foxford, Co. Mayo, and founder of the
Argentine Navy, whose biography is now available in English, thanks to the
contribution of Dr. John de Courcy
also fought against the Spanish forces in
We must not forget to mention Admiral Thomas Charles Wright, who after fighting against Napoleon and in the Anglo-American War, offered his services to Bolivar. Later on, he founded the Ecuadorian Navy, as well as Peter Campbell, from Co. Tipperary, who fought with General Artigas and founded the Uruguayan navy.
We also recall the memory of outstanding Irish officers in the Chilean naval service, such as George O’Brien and Richard Morris, among others.
were also Irish officers in the Portuguese service in
were not all soldiers, since there were some notable physicians in Bolivar’s
army, such as Thomas Foley, Richard Murphy and Charles Moore. Also, we must recall
Doctor John Oughan, who acted in General Belgrano’s army in
as has occurred many times worldwide, we can-also find “Irish fighting against
Irish” at the time of emancipation, as not all the Irish took part in local
politics. Some of them remained loyal to
the Spanish crown. Of these, the most
notable were General O’Reilly in
we must mention that in 1820 Count Henry O’Donnell was organising a military
The first steps towards Irish immigration in the new republics.
We can not establish any pattern regarding Irish migration to the new republics immediately after the independence campaigns were concluded.
First of all, as has already been indicated, we have the case of several Irish officers who decided to settle, especially in the Northern state countries.
Trading was a major activity for many Irish in this early period. Some of them established merchant houses in different ports; others were involved, in some way, in ship transportation; others held professions, mainly in the medical sector; others were educators; and some dedicated themselves to agricultural business.
number of them became wealthy powerful businessmen, who in turn gave employment
to many newly arrived Irishmen. In those
days, skilled labour was scarce and well remunerated. This was a link for many Irish people and the
beginning of new industries. In the
River Plate region particularly, the “saladeros” grew intensely, due to
the Irish labour force and, in some cases, with Irish owners, such as Peter
Sheridan and George Dowdall, who were among those who founded the first meat
packing houses in
must also point out the importance of the “Irish Yankees” – a group of
Irish born or Irish descendants from the
was also some Irish-Canadian emigration, and I have even found information
about an Irish-Australian connection that established a colony near
of these Irish decided, however, to establish an agricultural colony in the
North-Eastern state of
The large immigration to
In the early 1820’s and 1830’s many Irish people undertook the long journey to settle in Argentina, despite the fact that they knew little or nothing about such a far away land. They were attracted by opportunities in the rising wool and meat trades, low land prices and high wages in the new country. Some of them settled in the cities, where they took an active part in the initial packing-houses. But a great majority went to the interior of the country, where they had to fight against Indians and overcome climatic conditions very different to those of their native land.
Westmeathians William Mooney and Patrick Bookey, and Patrick Browne from Co.
Wexford, Irish merchants who had just established themselves in
1830 onwards until the 1880’s we can observe an increase In Irish immigration
special system known as “halves” was used, whereby the owner would
entrust 2,000 to 3,000 head of sheep to an Irish shepherd who was expected to
cover all expenses to maintain the flock during a specific period of time. At the end of the period the flock, which by
then had grown to 10,000 or 12,000 sheep, was divided 50 per cent for the owner
and 50 per cent for the shepherd. This
system, as well as the use of low interest rates, enabled many Irish men to
establish themselves quickly on their own farms. This in turn created new
opportunities for those who later arrived from
As a result of Mooney, Bookey and Browne’s first initiative, the largest immigration came from two specific areas, as has been very well documented by the Co. Meath historian Patrick McKenna (17): from South East of a line from Wexford town to Kilmore Quay in County Wexford (16 per cent) and from a quadrangle on the Longford-Westmeath border, stretching roughly from Athlone to Edgeworthstown to Mullingar to Kilbeggan (58 per cent). The remaining people (26 per cent) came from different places throughout the island.
Irish priests took an active role in the life of the community and in holding
it together. The first “Irish
Chaplain” appointed in Buenos Aires in the 1820’s was a Dominican, Father
Edmund Burke (18), but we must recall especially another Dominican, Father
Anthony Fahy, a native of Loughrea, Co. Galway, who was appointed chaplain in
1844. He soon became the adviser, banker
and administrator of many compatriots.
He also created a welfare system and introduced many lrishwomen to
Irishmen living in the country to get them married. A Protestant, Thomas Armstrong, a wealthy
merchant and banker from Garrycastle, Co. Offaly, who became a member of
Irish people built their own churches, hospitals, clubs and schools, in
vast majority had a rural lifestyle, so it is not surprising that horse racing
was the principal sport and social activity.
These race meetings were, it is claimed, as good as “the best ever seen
in Mullingar.” In this regard, the
Jockey Clubs are nowadays prestigious social institutions in
The first settlers did not integrate with rest of the Argentine community. They had their own churches, hospitals, schools and clubs, as we have pointed out, so it is not a surprise that they inter-married exclusively with other Irish families.
received Irish newspapers and it was usual to have more discussions on Irish
politics than of
Mulhall, a native of
names of John Murphy, James Gaynor, Edward Maguire and Michael Duggan may be
recalled from among many other Irish pioneers who amazed large fortunes. Duggan claimed to be not only the richest
more than half a million people in
of all, they are not an English speaking community any more as a result of
their total integration with the Argentine life and intermarriage with other
ethnic groups. Many of them also lost
their rural roots, as they moved into the cities and began working in British
cities, towns, streets, railway stations and monuments recall the memory of
outstanding Irish people or their descendants.
Some of them, like Murphy, Gahan, Maguire or Duggan are named in honour
of their founders, which had considerable tracts of land nearby; others where
named in memory of distinguished Irishmen, such as Admiral Brown, Volez
Sarsfield, General O’Brien or Vicuna Mackenna.
Also the respectable Irish-Argentine businessman, Edward Casey, who was also
one of the founders of the Jockey Club and its first vice-president, founded
some cities, such as Venado Tuerto or Pigue, in the provinces of
Also in many charitable institutions it is possible to trace an Irish presence, especially in the Irish Catholic Association and in the Ladies of St. Joseph’s Society. Some clubs, like the Hurling and Fahy clubs, maintain a very important social activity among some members of the community.
The most significant organisation is the Federation of Irish Argentine Societies, founded in 1961, which gathers all the associations concerned with the local community under one umbrella. The Board, on which I serve as treasurer, is presided over by Louis Flynn, who has his roots in Clara, Co. Offaly. This institution co-ordinates an annual gathering, the “Encuentro”, where different delegations from distant places come together to maintain the spirit of the community.
is also quite usual to find in some cemeteries various graves with Celtic
crosses and inscriptions in English in honour of Irish ancestors. Also, it is not surprising to find Irish
descendants in rural areas speaking with a notable Westmeath accent, though
they have never been to
is impossible to enumerate the very long list of descendants of Irish people
who hold prominent positions in
outstanding members of society are: James Fitz Simon, Septimio Walsh and John
Scanlan - educators; Cecile Grierson and John P. Garrahan - physicians; John
Coghlan - an engineer; James O’Farrell - a lawyer; Edward Casey - founder of
many cities; William Furlong and James Ussher -historians; General Anthony
Donovan and Admiral Edward O’Connor - army and naval officers; Robert Cavanagh
and Louis Duggan - as polo players; Edward Mulhall, James Kiernan and Frederick
Richards - journalist; Monsignor Alfonso Buteler – the first-Irish-Argentine
Archbishop; or Benito Lynch, John Walter Maguire, Mary Ellen Walsh and Mario
O’Donnell - as writers. There are others
who came to tragic ends, such as Camila O’Gorman, whose life was the theme of a
movie film, or notable sportsmen, Edward Bradley, who crossed the
a special note, we must recall Edward Coghlan, the most notable Irish-Argentine
genealogist, who died in
is also important to point out the existence of “The Southern Cross”,
the oldest Irish newspaper edited outside the island. It was founded in 1875 by Irish-born
Monsignor Patrick Dillon, who was also deputy in the
present Fr. Kevin O’Neill, the historian of the Palatines in
Descendants of this large body of emigrants also spread world-wide and formed small communities in some places, such as in the case of the Irish-Argentine Society of New York, United States, which is presided over by Mario Dolan, a third generation Irish-Argentine, originally from Ballymore, Co. Westmeath.
interest of Irish people in their distant relatives who immigrated to
is much more we could say about the importance of the Irish presence in
The Irish presence in other South American countries
Irish presence in other South American countries is quite different from that
can trace two different types of migration to these countries. The first represents those who came as of the
XVIth. century in the colonial period, through
second group came directly from
the first group we find many Irish families who translated or hispanized their
surnames, or even, changed it completely to a Spanish form, as in the case of
Francis O’Farrell who changed his name in
this respect, for example, we can mention the Molfas and the Ricardos in
was also an important Irish migration to
the oldest lrish-Paraguayan family is the Gils, who hispanized their surname
Gill. Many prominent people are
descendants of the first Thomas Gill, who settled in
is also worth mentioning Eliza Lynch, known world-wide as Madame Lynch. She was a
of 1879 to 1883
the very beginning there was Irish presence in
noble O’Donnell family, through its Spanish branch, has links in
In addition to the Belfort family, mentioned before, there were other Irish families who translated their surnames into Portuguese, such as the Bruno (Brown), Luise (Lynch), Calehano (Callahan) and Quetin (Keating) (27) families, which are hard to trace. They, as the “Irish-Spaniards”, are those of the type called by Patrick O’Sullivan as the “lost Irish”, which must also be considered as part as the Irish migration world-wide (28).
present, about a dozen orders and congregations from
is, in a very brief synopsis, a guide to the Irish presence in
numerically, emigration to
have described the importance of the Irish presence in this continent, which
was very different from that who took place in other parts of the world. The only similar situation we can trace is
that regarding the earliest settlers spread throughout
synthesis, we can point out some differences between the Irish emigration to
1. It is a migration located in a non-English
speaking region, where the first Irish settlers knew little or nothing of such far
away lands and did not speak Spanish or Portuguese, with the exemption of some
of those who came through
2. Their social insertion was very different
3. Although the immigrant ancestors of most
South American Irish came from many scattered areas in lreland in the specific
4. For many reasons, mainly economic, the
5. As a result of this lack of contact, it is possible to meet people, whose families left Ireland three or-four generations back, who speak with a Westmeath accent though they have never travelled to Ireland.
6. Although some of the first emigrant families were Protestants, the vast majority were of Catholic origin.
7. Since 60 years ago, the local community In Argentina is no longer an exclusive English speaking group and there is much intermarriage with non Irish Argentines.
8. Most Irish descendants, especially from the early period, have translated their surnames or adopted a Spanish of Portuguese form, so without a genealogical background it is hard to trace their ancestery.
9. Because of different British attempts-to conquer Spanish colonial positions, or as a result of the struggle for independence, it is possible to find various cases of “Irish fighting against Irish”.
10. Not all the emigrants came directly from
Finally, I would add that it is necessary to integrate these “forgotten people” to the vast Irish Diaspora. They are awaiting the destiny God and history have preserved for them.
This Migration Conference and the establishment of an Irish Centre for Migration Studies presents a unique opportunity, which will enable many colleagues to take a closer look at this different type of migration whose members are still very proud of their roots and of the great contribution that their forefathers made in their adopted lands.
MacLoughlin, The Irish in
(2) Guillermo MacLoughlin, The Irish in South America”, Aspects of Irish Genealogy, Proceeding of the 1st. Irish Genealogical congress, Dublin, Ireland, 1991, p170 -177.
(3) Thomas Murray, The Story of the Irish in Argentina, P. J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, United States of America, 1919, p. XXV.
(4) Joyce Lorimer, English and Irish Settlements on the River Amazon, 1550-1646, Halkluyt Society and Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United kingdom, 1989.
One source for this is to see Micheline Kerney Walsh, Spanish Knights of Irish Origin, printed in four volumes by the Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, Ireland, 1960-1970.
(6) Bartolome Mitre, Historia de San Martin, Imprenta Diario “La Nacion’, Buenos Aires,Argentina, 1875.
(7) Murray, op.cit., 21
(8) Ennque Marco Dorta, Cartagena de Indias, Fondo Cultural Cafetero, Bogota, Colombia, 1988 - p. 290
(9) Daniel F. O’Leary, Memorias, 32 volumes, Caracas, Venezuela, 1879-1888.
Francisco B. O’Connor, Recuerdos, Talleres La Estrella, Tarija, Bolivia, 1895.
Eric Lambert, Voluntarios Britanicos e Irlandeses en Ia Gesta Bolivariana; volumes I to III, Ministerio de Ia Defensa, Caracas, Venezuela, 1993. Also see his numerous works published in “Irish Sword”, organ of the Military History Society of Ireland.
Michael G. Mulhall, The English in South America, The Standard Office, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1878, p. 294.
Luisa Moyano de Nekhom & lone S. Wright, Historical Dictionary of Argentina, The Scarecrow Press, New Jersey, USA, 1978, p.243.
McGinn, “The Irish in
McKenna, “Irish Migration to
The Southern Cross, Numero del Centenario, Editorial Irlandesa, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1975, p. 24.
MacLoughlin, “The Forgotten People”, Irish Roots magazine, Vol. 4,
MacLoughlin, “The Hibernian-Argentinian: A
forgotten branch of the Irish Diaspora’ lecture pronounced at the Irish
Genealogical Research Society,
Roberto Quevedo & Manuel Pena Villamil, Silvia, Criterio Ediciones, Asuncion, Paraguay, 1987, p. 165-169.
Maria Concepcion L. de Chaves, Madame Lynch, Ediciones Peuser, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1957.
MuIhall, op. cit., p. 610.
MuIhall, op. cit., p. 214.
Hugh Fenning, O.P., ‘Irishmen ordained at Lisbon”, Collectanea Hibernica, No. 31-32, Leinster Leader Ltd., Naas, Co. Kildare, Ireland, 1990.
Patrick O’Sullivan, ‘Introduction’ - Pattern of Migration, The Irish World-Wide collection, volume one, Leicester University Press, London, United Kingdom, 1997, p. XX.
Kelleher, Mission to the New World, Icon Communications Ltd.,
Juan C. Korol & Hilda Sabato, Como fue Ia inmigracion irlandesa en Argentina, Editorial Plus Ultra, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1981.
Eusebio Ballester Sastre O’ Ryan, “Irlandeses en Ia Historia de Espana, de Francia, de las Dos Sicilias, de Austria, de Rusia”, Revista Hidalguia, Madrid, Espana, 1990.