Links between Brazil & Ireland




Ireland and the Irish Diaspora: A Comparative Perspective.


The forgotten people: The Irish in Argentina and other South American countries


By Guillermo MacLoughlin, Buenos Aires


Based on an address given at University College Cork, September 1997.  In memory of Edward A. Coghlan




As is know, Irish emigration has mainly been to English-speaking countries.  There have also been important Irish settlements on the continent of Europe.  Political changes in the European context opened a new migration link with former Communist countries.


But, 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 Argentina as well as to all the South American countries.  As an introduction, we must emphasise that Argentina was the destination of the largest Irish emigration to a non-English speaking land, where nowadays more than half a million people can claim some Hibernian origin.  It is also important to point out that Irish emigration to Argentina, as well as to South America, is different to that which took, or is taking place world-wide, as we will see in this work.  


                                           The very earliest Irish presence in South America


For 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 Limerick, who arrived at Brazil on 31 December 1577.  Saint Brendan’s voyages could be mentioned, but it seems that he visited mainly North and Central America, rather than the South.


As we announced in Dublin during the first Irish Genealogical Congress in 1991 (2), three members of the crew of the Spanish Admiral Hernando de Magallanes, who arrived in South America in 1520, were natives of Galway.  We consider them the first Irishmen to reach South America.  Immediately after that event, some documents revealed more Irish presence.  For example, when Buenos Aires city was founded in 1536, the names of John and Thomas Farel (Farrell) are well documented.  Other Irishmen seemed to have been present at the foundation of other cities, like Asuncion, in Paraguay, or Corrientes, in North-Eastern Argentina.  We must also point out, as Thomas Murray indicated in his work regarding the Irish in Argentina (3), that it is hard to establish the exact origin of various conquerors, such as Moran, Martin, Colman or Galvan, whose surnames could be as much Spanish as Irish.


During the early Spanish and Portuguese colonial administration many Irishmen came to South America as soldiers, officers or members of the administration, as well as priests of the Dominican, Franciscan or Jesuit Orders.  The largest group of priests were Jesuits, spread through the entire continent until their expulsion in the second part of the XVIIIth. Century.


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.


The 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 Amazon River. They were interested in tobacco, dyes and hardwoods that they could obtain and that they could later sell with good profit.


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).


Undoubtedly, 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 Chile in 1787 and was subsequently appointed Viceroy of Peru in 1795 - the most powerful government position in South America - until his death in 1801 at the age of 80.  He was also named Baron of Ballenary and Marquis of Osorno in recognition of his services.  He was also the founder of the first Irish-American political family dynasty, as his son Bernard later became the Liberator of Chile and its first Supreme Director (President).


Many others Irish immigrants, like the Murphys, O’Haras, Carrs and O’Donnells acted in military capacities in Argentina and other neighbouring countries.  Merchants and members of local governments who were Irish born came after spending some time in Spain, or were descendants of distinguished ‘Wild Geese’.


Among them, we can mention the Lynchs, Butelers (Butlers), Sarsfields, Cuelis (Kellys), O’Ryans and other families and especially Michael O’Gorman (1749-1819), a physician from Ennis, Co. Clare, who was appointed the first chairman of the Medical School of Buenos Aires in 1799.  We can also trace other Irish families who came through Spanish possessions, such as the Cullen family, who came from the Canary Islands.


In Brazil, there were similar cases, such as Lawrence Belfort, a Dubliner, who had a very respectable family, which is still remembered in that country, with one of Brazil’s most highly prized soccer awards named after one of his descendants.


There was also a different form of Irish migration to South America as a result of political affairs in Europe.  For many years Spain and England were at war, so it is not surprising that there were some British colonising attempts in Colombia and in the River Plate region, which were rejected by the local people.


One of them, commanded in 1763 by Captain John MacNamara, an Irishman in the British service, was defeated in Colonia del Sacramento, presently located in Uruguay, where 262 men were killed and 78 taken prisoners and confined in the country. These English, Scotch and Irish people, after sometime, raised local families and their descendants signed a presentation to General Jose de San Martin, the Liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, when he was forming his army in Mendoza in 1817.


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.


Another British attempt, and successful for a short period of time, took place in Buenos Aires in 1806.  It was commanded by the Irish-born General William Carr Beresford, who was proclaimed Governor of Buenos Aires.  Bereford, who was afterwards named Viscount, acted as British Minister in the court of Rio de Janeiro. The following year there was another English expedition under the command of General Whitelocke.  In both British armies, many officers and soldiers were of Irish origin, such as Browne, Nugent, Kenny, Donnelly, Murray, Mahon, Cadogan and Duff.  Duff was in charge of the 88th. Connaught Rangers Regiment, formed entirely by Irishmen (7).


Among 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 South America.


Some 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 Uruguay.


We must also mention other British expeditions to South American shores, such as those commanded by Admirals Anson and Vernon, with military presence in the northern part of the continent, which had Irish soldiers among their crews.  On the Spanish side there was also an Irish presence in the person of Brigadier John Baptist MacEvan, who was in charge of designing the defense of the fort of Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia (8).


It is also worth mentioning that, among the pirates who devastated Spanish fortifications in Colombia and Venezuela, there where many Irish men and women, some of whose descendants later came to South America through the Antilles.


During 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 Cork or Belfast consigned to different places, such as Mejico, the West Indies, or South America.


At the time of independence


The 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 South America, where the new movement towards independence of the colonies began to flourish, especially in the Spanish possessions.


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.


Among 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 Peru and Bolivia, as well as in promoting Irish immigration to America.  In 1824 he signed an agreement with the Argentine authorities to settle 200 compatriots in that country, but the proposal failed due to the opposition of the British government.  Moreover, in 1828, General O’Brien gathered a group of distinguished Irish people together in Buenos Aires to decide how they could best help the struggle for Catholic Emancipation in Ireland.


But the most important Irish contribution to independence was in Bolivar’s army.  In 1818 General John D’Evereaux organised in Dublin a famous “Irish Legion”.  Many ships left Irish and British ports carrying some 6,500 men, mainly Irish, for service in the Liberator’s force, where they played an active role in securing the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia


General 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 again, Ireland, donating a collection of South American minerals, plants and birds to Queen’s College, which is now University College Cork, where this Migration Conference is taking place (10).


Although many Irishmen died due to war or bad climatic conditions, or returned to their homes, many others settled in South America, raising important families. The most prominent was General Francis Burdett O’Connor, from Connorville, Co. Cork, to whom we pay homage here in this county where he was born.  After serving under Generals Bolivar and Sucre he settled in Bolivia, where he married a distinguished local lady.  He became Minister of War and wrote his famous “Recuerdos” (memoirs) (11).  His descendants are still important members of Bolivia’s ruling class.  One of his great-grandsons was Ambassador Edward Trigo O’Connor, who became Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs.


Other similar cases are those of Charles Minchin, from Co. Tipperary, who settled in Venezuela and integrated the cabinet of that republic, and Arthur Sandes, from Co. Kerry, a politician and educational innovator in Ecuador.


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.


In 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 Ireland (13).  He won the naval battle of Montevideo, on 17 March 1815, which assured the independence of Buenos Aires from Spanish rule.  Brown began the action with the band playing the song “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning” in honor of the Saint’s feast day.  That song is now one of the official tunes of the Argentine Navy.


Brown also fought against the Spanish forces in Peru and Ecuador and was Commander-in-Chief in the war against Brazil, which ended with the independence of the Republic of Uruguay.  He was also Governor of Buenos Aires in 1828, which at the time was equivalent to being President of the Argentine Republic.  In his numerous campaigns, many Irish officers, such as Craig, King, accompanied Admiral Brown, Kearney, Turner and others.


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.


There were also Irish officers in the Portuguese service in Brazil, since we could trace the names of James Keating, James O’Grady and George Cowan, among others.


They 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 Northern Argentina.  Later on he became the first president of the Catholic Society of Buenos Aires.


And, 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 Peru, Colonel Fitzgerald in Venezuela and Major Thompson in Paraguay.


Finally we must mention that in 1820 Count Henry O’Donnell was organising a military expedition in Spain of some 25,000 men to recover Peru and Colombia, but the expedition never left the shores of Spain because of internal revolts in the Peninsula (14).


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.


A 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 Argentina.


We must also point out the importance of the “Irish Yankees” – a group of Irish born or Irish descendants from the United States, who settled in South America.  They came, mainly, seeking new opportunities in the new countries.  We must also clarify that the United States’ commercial agent, John Devereaux, took an active role in promoting a two million US$ loan granted by his government to the Argentine authorities to help the emancipation’s cause (15).


There was also some Irish-Canadian emigration, and I have even found information about an Irish-Australian connection that established a colony near Asuncion, in Paraguay, called “Nueva Australia”. A few “half-Irish” people also came from France, Austria or Russia, or mixed as “vascos” (from the Basque region, on the Spanish-French border), as in the cases of Gehan, Lacey, Holmberg and Quirn, among others.


The war between Argentina and Brazil (1825-1828) was also a link for Irish migrations.  Colonel William Cotter, an Irish officer in the Brazilian service went to Cork in 1827 to recruit a regiment.  As a result of his efforts, 2,400 men, women and children sailed from Cork to Rio de Janeiro.  They got caught up in a bitter political feud between the Emperor Don. Pedro 1st  who favoured European immigration, and nativist ministers who detested foreigners.  Most of the Irish returned home in 1828, disillusioned and destitute, as is mentioned by Brian McGinn (16).


Some of these Irish decided, however, to establish an agricultural colony in the North-Eastern state of Bahia.  When this initiative failed, most of the survivors drifted south to Argentina during the 1830’s.


The large immigration to Argentina


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.


The Westmeathians William Mooney and Patrick Bookey, and Patrick Browne from Co. Wexford, Irish merchants who had just established themselves in Buenos Aires, saw opportunities for their countrymen, so they contacted the people from their counties of origin, and invited them to settle in Argentina.


From 1830 onwards until the 1880’s we can observe an increase In Irish immigration to Argentina.  It was not all the time the same kind of people coming to the new republic.  The first were the younger, non-inheriting, sons of large Irish tenant farmers, with the education and management skills that allowed them to become rich farmers within a few years (“estancieros”).


A 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 Ireland looking for work, and were able to find employment in the establishment of their own compatriots.


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.


Many 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 Argentina’s high class, supported him.


The Irish people built their own churches, hospitals, clubs and schools, in Buenos Aires and in almost every city or town in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Cordoba, where the largest group of emigrants had settled.  Also, Rev. John Armstrong, formerly of British Honduras, was appointed as the first Church of England chaplain in 1825, who had a few Irish Protestants under his care as well.


The 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 Argentina. The most important one is located in Buenos Aires.  Founded by many Irish turf men, it is currently presided over by Alfred Lalor, a grandson of John Lalor, a wealthy merchant and farmer, who was a native of Blessington, Co. Wicklow.


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.


People received Irish newspapers and it was usual to have more discussions on Irish politics than of Argentina’s situation.  The major political movements of the nineteenth century in Ireland were reflected in Argentina.  Daniel O’Connell’s activities and the Catholic Emancipation cause were supported in the 1820’s and an Irish Relief Fund for the Great Famine was established in 1847.  Among the many contributors to this fund, I have traced Cornelius Garrahan, my great-grandfather.  A Fenian Prisoners Fund, a Land League and Gaelic League branch, Sinn Fein clubs and a march in Buenos Aires City after the death of the hunger strike of Terence McSwiney, the Lord-Major of Cork, in 1920, are examples of their continued interest in Ireland, and especially in Ireland’s independence movement.


Edward Mulhall, a native of Dublin, was a well known writer and journalist who founded “The Standard”, which for many years was the oldest newspaper in the Argentine press, described in many articles the prosperity of the local community.  In 1878 he wrote: “The Irish owned an aggregate value of land and stock that cannot fall short of two million sterling.  Some of these men have from 50,000 to 200,000 sheep, and run immense tracts of land which average 1,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds per year.  In no other part of the world have Irishmen been more prosperous, and nowhere do they constitute a more orderly and industrious community than in Buenos Aires”.


The 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 Irishman in Argentina, but the richest in the world (19).


The Irish-Argentine


Currently, more than half a million people in Argentina can claim Irish descent, but there have been many changes in their social conditions from those of the first settlers.


First 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 or U.S. companies, taking advantage of their bilingual condition.


Numerous 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 Santa Fe and Buenos Aires.


The Palatine and the Passionists orders are spread throughout the country, as well as the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers. The latter group runs the distinguished Cardinal Newman College, nearby Buenos Aires.


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.


It 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 Ireland and are grandsons or great-grandsons of Irish emigrants to Argentina.


It is impossible to enumerate the very long list of descendants of Irish people who hold prominent positions in Argentina’s society.  As a brief example we can recall General Edelmiro Farrell, grandson of an Irishman, who was President of the Argentine Republic in 1944.  Many descendants also held important positions in the cabinet, such as Dalmacio Velez Sarsfield, Mathias Frers Lynch, Thomas Cullen, Charles Hogan, Mario Amadeo French, Edward McLoughlin, Lucas Lennon and others (20).


Other 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 Andes by balloon.


On a special note, we must recall Edward Coghlan, the most notable Irish-Argentine genealogist, who died in Buenos Aires City, on 1st August 1997, and to whom this study is dedicated.  In his monumental book, “Los Irlandeses en Ia Argentina” (21), he traced the descendance of 3,667 Irish ancestors who settled in Argentina.  This book is an invaluable source for any research concerning the local community.


It 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 province of Buenos Aires and for some time Irish chaplain in the Malvinas islands.


At present Fr. Kevin O’Neill, the historian of the Palatines in Argentina, directs it but its most relevant director was William Bulfin, the author of “Rambles in Eirin” and “Tales of the Pampas”.  He was also the father of Eamonn Bulfin, born in Buenos Aires in 1894, who raised the first Irish flag in Dublin in 1916 during the memorable Easter Rebellion, as well as father-in-law of Sean McBride, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.


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.


The interest of Irish people in their distant relatives who immigrated to Argentina in the last century is also the link for the formation of Irish-Argentine Societies in Mullingar and Dublin.


There is much more we could say about the importance of the Irish presence in Argentina, as of the XVIth. century, but the tyranny of time and space prevents me from doing so, but I may conclude mentioning that the first ever Irish Diplomat sent abroad was posted to Argentina.  He was Lawrence Ginnell, M.P., who was appointed by the Dail in 1919 and who took up office in Buenos Aires in 1920.


The Irish presence in other South American countries


The Irish presence in other South American countries is quite different from that of Argentina where a distinct community was formed.


We 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 Spain or Portugal, or as a result of the war for independence of the new Republics.  They were mainly individuals who took an active role in various social, political, military and economic environments.  Most of them married ladies belonging to local distinguished families and their descendants where automatically integrated into high level social groups.


The second group came directly from Ireland or through the United States, Canada, or even, Australia.  It could have been as an individual, as well as couples or small groups, who settled throughout the continent.


In 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 Colombia to Francisco Puyana, where he raised a notable family.  Among his descendants is the well-known Alvaro Muttis, one of Colombia’s leading writers.


In this respect, for example, we can mention the Molfas and the Ricardos in Venezuela, formerly Murphys and Richards; or the Borges Roth in Colombia, who were Burgess Ross.  In Uruguay, the Campanas, Verdes and Beterton where known before as Campbells, Greens and Whetherton.  General Bartolome Mitre belongs to the latter family.  He was a notable military man, journalist, historian and statesman in Argentina, and was President of the Republic from 1862 to 1868.


There was also an important Irish migration to Uruguay coming from Argentina, which was dedicated to the rural sector.  The Dillons, Gaynors, Hanlons, O’NeiIls, Whites, Mooneys and others were among them.  Also, as of 1860, a Dr. Fleury, son of a famous Protestant Devine in Dublin, was surgeon-general in the Charitable Hospital in Montevideo.


Perhaps 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 Asuncion in 1730.  Among them is John B. Gill, President of the Republic in 1877 (22).  John O’Leary was a notable Paraguayan historian and we can mention there the Cadogan, O’Higgins, Chase and Kelly families.


It is also worth mentioning Eliza Lynch, known world-wide as Madame Lynch.  She was a Cork woman who became the mistress of Marshall Francisco Saloon Lopez, the ruling President of Paraguay.  She was the First Lady of that country for some time, but her good life ended dramatically as a result of the War of the Triple Aliens (1865-1870) where her lover and their first son, Francis JR., were killed (23).


Chile, after Argentina, is the country where we can trace most Irish presence.  In the old days there were Clarke, Garland, O’Shee and other families. We must also mention the noble family of the Mackenna’s from Co. Tyrone. General John Mackenna (1771-1814) was, as was mentioned before, one of the leaders of the Chilean independence movement who died untimely in Buenos Aires because of political reasons.  One of his grandsons, Benjamin Vicuiia Mackenna, was a notable writer and statesman, who should have been President of the Republic.  Another outstanding family of Irish origin was Blest.  Others were the Hamiltons, Browns, O’Carrolls, Walkers, O’ Ryans and Price.


As of 1879 to 1883 Chile fought against Perth and Bolivia.  In this struggle many naval officers of Irish origin played a great role.  Some of them are mentioned in Dr. de Courcy Ireland’s notable book “Ireland and the Irish in Maritime History” (24).  They are Charles Condell and Patrick Lynch, who is remembered as the country’s foremost naval hero.


Since the very beginning there was Irish presence in Perth, especially in the clergy, as has been noted.  The most outstanding was Monsignor James O’Phelan, Bishop of Ayacucho.  But there were two important tradesmen: James P. Cahill, an industrialist in the sugar-planting business, and another Cork man, William Russell Grace (1832-1904), who was very wealthy.  He amassed a fortune with the shipping, sugar and textile business and some time later settled in the United States, where he was elected major of New York city, in 1880.  Charles Williams, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, established the first English School in the country, and George Nugent, from Co. Westmeath, acted as British Vice-Consul in Africa for many years (25).


In Ecuador we must mention the Nugents and Mackeys, as well as the Dillons.  One of its members, Louis Dillon, integrated the national government in the 1920’s.


The noble O’Donnell family, through its Spanish branch, has links in Colombia, where Lino Pombo O’Donnell was Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Nowadays, the Kirbys and the Ricardos (Richards) are prominent families of Irish origin established in Colombia.

In Bolivia the Irish gentleman Edmond Temple was involved in the mining sector for some time.  There we can also find the “Irish-Yankee” Garrett family.  One of its members, Julio Garrett AylIon, was recently Vice president of the Republic.  We have also mentioned before the noble family of O’Connor, with great connections in Bolivia’s life.  And we can not avoid mentioning that Bolivia was the land where the famous Ernesto “Che” Guevara died.  His grandmother, Ann Lynch, though born in the United States, belonged to the same family established in Argentina in the XVIIIth. century.




In Brazil, different Irishmen were involved in public works or in the press, as was the case of William Scully, the founder of the Anglo-Brazilian Times newspaper in 1864.  There is also the important O’Connor family, which is closely related to the same family in Bolivia, of which one member was Monsignor Fergus O’Connor da Camargo.  We can also trace the Kelly, Doherty, Dillon, Browne and other families.  Also, General John Frederick Caldwell, although born in Portugal but into an Anglo-Irish family, was the oldest soldier in the Brazilian army when he died in 1873 at the age of 63.  There was also a Field-Major Gustavus Henry Brown, an Irish-Prussian in the Brazilian service (26).


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).


At present, about a dozen orders and congregations from Ireland maintain priests and nuns in South America (29).  Also, the Bishop of Cork and Ross has created a diocesan mission in Peru.




This is, in a very brief synopsis, a guide to the Irish presence in South America as of the XVIth. century, with an emphasis on the Irish community in Argentina.


Although, numerically, emigration to South America was not large in comparison to Europe, North America and other destinations, the migrants played a very important role in their adopted land.  According to the Argentine authors Korol and Sabato (30), between 1851 and 1900, 3,772,942 Irish people emigrated from the island.  Of these, 85.3% went to the United States; 5.6% to Canada; 7.9% to Australia and New Zealand and the remaining 1.2% (or 36.302 persons) went to other countries.  In the latter group are those who came to South America, which is the subject of this study.


We 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 South America, as they are closely related to the “Wild Geese”, the noble Irishmen who settled in Europe during the XVII and XVIIIth. centuries.  Although they were under the protection of Catholic Kings (Spain, France and Austria), they settled in non-English or non-Gaelic speaking regions.  The leading members of this migration are well documented by Eusebio Ballester Sastre O’Ryan (31).


In synthesis, we can point out some differences between the Irish emigration to South America from other places of the world:


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 Spain or Portugal.

2.  Their social insertion was very different from the USA or Australia.  Most of them reached high positions immediately, and there was no discrimination against them.

3.  Although the immigrant ancestors of most South American Irish came from many scattered areas in lreland in the specific case of Argentina the large migration has its roots in two specific areas of Ireland. (Longford-Westmeath-Offaly border and Wexford).

4.  For many reasons, mainly economic, the emigration to South America, and specially to Argentina, ended in the 1880’s, so there is a lack of contact with Irish relatives among the local community and, in some way, the traditions kept by the Irish-Argentines are “old-fashioned” in current Ireland.

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 Ireland, as there are cases of Irish people coming from other parts of Europe, as well as the United States or Canada, and even from Australia.


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.




(1) Guillermo MacLoughlin, The Irish in South America during the 16th. century’, Dun Laoghaire Genealogical Society Journal, Vol. 1 no. 3. Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, Eire, 1992, P. 87

(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.

Peadar Kirby, Ireland and Latin America, Trócaire and Gill and MacMillan, Dublin, Ireland, 1992, p. 101.

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.

John de Courcy Ireland, The Admiral from Mayo, Eamonn de Burca Editor, Dublin, Ireland, 1995.

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.

Brian McGinn, “The Irish in Brazil”, Irish Roots magazine, Vol. 2, Cork, Ireland, 1997, p. 24.

Patrick McKenna, “Irish Migration to Argentina”, Pattern of Migration, The Irish World-Wide collection, volume one, Leicester University Press, London, 1997, p.63-84

The Southern Cross, Numero del Centenario, Editorial Irlandesa, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1975, p. 24.

Guillermo MacLoughlin, “The Forgotten People”, Irish Roots magazine, Vol. 4, Cork, Ireland, 1993, p. 6.

Guillermo MacLoughlin, “The Hibernian-Argentinian: A forgotten branch of the Irish Diaspora’ lecture pronounced at the Irish Genealogical Research Society, London, United Kingdom, 1997. Eduardo A. Coghlan, Los Irlandeses en Ia Argentina. Su actuacion y descendencia, Editorial Casares, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1987.

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.

John de Courcy Ireland, Ireland and the Irish in Maritime History, Glendale Press, Dublin, Ireland, 1986, p. 230.

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.

Fr. Thomas Kelleher, Mission to the New World, Icon Communications Ltd., Cork, Ireland, 1992.

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.