The Irish in Argentina:

This article was originally published in Familia, journal of the Ulster Historical Foundation (volume 2, no. 8, 1992). Published annually.
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 because Mooney went to Argentina in 1828 when O'Brien was returning. In addition to John Mooney, his sister, Mary Bookey (nee Mooney) 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. As it was John Mooney and Patrick Bookey who started off this emigration from the Irish Midlands, a few words about both of them is appropriate at this stage.

John Mooney was born in 1803 in Streamstown, Co. Westmeath, and arrived in Buenos Aires in 1828, where he became involved in farming. In the 1869 census in Buenos Aires, he was described as a bachelor but was actually a widower. The records show that he had children but no names are shown nor is his wife's name recorded. He died in Buenos Aires in 1873. His brother-in-law, Patrick Bookey, was, born in Ireland about 1810 and arrived in Buenos Aires in 1828, and his name appears in the 1869 Buenos Aires census. It is mentioned that, soon after his arrival, he was the owner of 900 acres containing magnificent gardens and plantations containing no less than two million trees. This became a model farm and is now the property of the University of La Plata. Bookey had a respected position among the Irish community in Buenos Aires. He was treasurer of the Irish Hospital. In 1835, he married Mary Mooney (sister of John Mooney) in Argentina. They had six children, Catalina, Margarita, Maria, Patricio, Guillermo and Tomas. Bookey died in 1883, and Mary Bookey in 1873 in Buenos Aires.

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. Patrick Brown was born in Wexford in 1806. He went to Liverpool to work for Dickson and Montgomery, and 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 1820s was the start of 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.

So one of the most amazing emigrations had started 'travelling in humble carts, drawn by donkeys carrying a whole family with their modest household goods and headed to Cobh, Liverpool and Southampton, looking for the dreamt of Argentinian Pampas.' The journey took many months travelling by sailing ship.

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. He was succeeded by Rev. Patrick O'Gorman in 1830. 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 1830s, 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. Argentina gave them a great welcome as it did to all Irish and other emigrants. Some such as Brown and Mooney became involved in the meat trade, but it was the sheep trade that attracted most of them. Irish and Basque emigrants became the mainstay of the sheep trade, and helped develop a wool based economy. Indeed, a Peter Sheridan from Cavan, who emigrated in the 1820s, became one of the largest sheep farmers in Argentina, and was instrumental in introducing the Merino sheep Which today are to be seen all over Argentina.

The Irish achieved great success with sheep, especially because the native gauchos preferred cattle and had no interest in sheep. Labourers earned up to ten shillings a day. A system of halves operated, i.e. the owner of land supplied the land and flock, and the tenant was responsible for all other expenses. In time, many became owners of large estancias (ranches). By 1880, there were 58 million sheep in Argentina.

The first stage of emigration can be dated from the late 1820s to early 1840s. The famine of the mid 1840s 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 into 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 described 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. Church building became part of the Irish scene around this period, with new churches built in Buenos Aires, Barracas, Coronel Brandsen, Carmen de Areco, Rojas, Arrecifes, Mercedes and Venado Tuerto.

The 1850s show a lot of Irish owned estancias which in turn employed new emigrants. Women began to arrive in greater numbers in the 1850s. They worked often as cooks, maids and governesses. 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 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 then moved to Argentina. His brother Michael also arrived in Argentina. 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. He disposed of his farming interests and settled in Buenos Aires city. He became a friend of Presidents Roca and Avellaneda and also a city councillor. He was a great promoter of the farming industry, through his own 40,000 acre estancia. He died in 1888, having been married in 1856 to Eloisa Eborall from England.

Another wave of 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 newspaper. 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 (La Cruz del Sur) in 1875, with Monsignor Patricio Jose Dillon as its first editor. He was born in the Diocese of Tuam and reached Argentina in 1863. The Southern Cross saw itself as somewhat greener than The Standard. Perhaps its most famous editor was William Bulfin, author of the famous book Rambles in Erin. He was editor from 1869-1906, being originally from Co. Offaly. The Southern Cross appeared as an English paper and remained so until 1964 when it changed to Spanish.

The interesting aspect about the early days of The Buenos Aires Standard is that not alone was it the first English language paper, but it was also bilingual - English and French. An interesting picture of the Irish community in Argentina appeared in the first Southern Cross of January 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 in Argentina. 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. Hurling continued to be played until the second world war. The hurling club of Buenos Aires still exists and now has rugby and hockey. However, the amazing news is that moves are currently afoot (July 1992) to revive hurling in Argentina, based in the Buenos Aires Hurling Club.

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. Two of my own grand-aunts, Julia and Ellen McCormick, emigrated from Westmeath as recently as 1910. Italy was the great 20th century source of emigration to Argentina. Viva Irlanda y Viva Italia.

So, such wonderful sounding places in Argentina as Rojas, Carmen de Areco, Salto, San Antonio de Areco, Monte, San Andres de Giles, Mercedes, Venado Tuerto (founded by Edward Casey), Chascomus, Canuelas, Realico (founded by Tomas Mullally), Mar del Plata, Pergamino, Villa Gral, Belgrano, Loberia, Tucuman and Bahia Blanca are household names in places in Ireland, like Ballymore, Streamstown, Moate, Moyvore, Bishopstown, Ballynacargy, Castlepollard, Walshestown, Athlone, Ballymahon, Carrick-Edmund, Kilrane and Castletownbeare.

As readers will have noticed, I have relations in Argentina. In fact, a multitude of relatives. All originated from Westmeath, and the family name was and is McCormick. My maternal grand-mother was McCormick. The first to go to Argentina was William McCormick who was born in 1844 in Bishopstown, Co. Westmeath1, and went to Argentina in 1866. It took him months to get there by sailing ship. He settled in Salto in Buenos Aires Province, married Margaret Maxwell in 1883, who was from Ballilnagore, Co. Westmeath. They had five children, Juan Jose, Julian, Santiago, Lucia and Brigida. Juan Jose visited Ireland frequently and also visited the United States. Lucia married a Bernardo Kenny. I have met a daughter of theirs, Margarita Kenny who has been a well known Argentine singer. William McCormick died in 1904, never having returned on a visit home. Margaret Maxwell, who had been born in 1855, died in Argentina. Her sister, Mary, and brother, Patrick, also went to Argentina. The next McCormick to emigrate was James, a cousin of William, in 1882. He also was born in Bishopstown, Co. Westmeath, in 1852, and married Ana Casey in Argentina, who was also from Bishopstown. James became an estanciero in Roque Perez in Buenos Aires Province, an area where few Irish people went. They had a family of nine, Juan Tomas, Catalina, Santiago, Daniel, Ana Maria, Guillermo, Patricio, Cornelio and Leon Bernardo. Three of their children were sent to Ireland to be educated with Juan Tomas and Santiago going to Rockwell College, Co. Tipperary, and Catalina to Dublin. The boys are to be seen on the rugby and cricket teams of Rockwell College in photos taken in 1914. Their brother, Daniel, became head of the Radical Party in Roque Perez, and also a member of the Provincial Parliament of Buenos Aires. Ana is still alive, aged 91, and living in Roque Perez. There are very few of this generation still alive, whose parents went from Ireland. In 1910, as already mentioned, two of my grand-aunts, Julia and Ellen McCormick, left for Argentina to join their cousins, the McCormicks, mentioned above. Julia married George Ronayne in Argentina. He was from Cork and she was from Walshestown, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. She returned on two occasions. They had three children, Con, Bridie and John. All are dead. I was at John's funeral last October, while in Argentina. Ellen married Louis Cloud (a French name). Their children were Horacio, Enrique, Beba and Roberto, with only the latter living. I met him for the first time in January 1992.

I have met descendants of most of my relatives who emigrated, while on three visits to Argentina since 1989. That was the year of my first visit when I went to see the country I had heard so much about for as long as I can remember. Lots of letters and photos from Argentina through this century had maintained contact. I encountered enormous warmth, affection and friendliness from all my relatives, only one of whom I had ever met, as well as great friendliness from everyone I met. This is typical of Latin Americans. 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, and its current ambassador is Mr Bernard Davenport who is also accredited to Venezuela which also has Irish connections. Names like Kavanagh and Rossiter crop up there.

Back in Argentina, I met lots of people of Irish descent. Some names I encountered were McCabe, Wade, Murphy, McCormick, Fitzsimons, Healy, Cunningham, Rush, Richards, McLoughlin, Fay, Ronayne, Kenny, Ennis, Leyden and Keamey.

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. Indeed, there are people of just about every racial background, and it has one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. 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 people wishing to resume contact. The Buenos Aires Standard ceased publication in the 1960s, 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 see its famous Gaucho Museum. The parish priest is a Palatine padre from Galway who took me to a big remate (auction). It was a cattle auction of 500 cattle on the estancia San Ramon of the Duggan family (originally from Ballymahon, Co. Longford). There is a town named Duggan in the same area, as well as one named Diego Gaynor. Prior to the auction, there was a big asado for a few hundred people comprising workers on the Duggan estancia, folk from neighbouring estancias, prospective buyers and visitors. Seated opposite me at the asado was a woman named McDermott of Wexford origin. Indeed, at that remate, there were others of Irish descent like Oliver Clancy, Michael Cox and Guillermo Keilliff. Elsewhere in San Antonio, I met another person of Wexford origin, Anselmo Devereux. 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 mosquitos.

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 stretches from the spectacular Iguazu waterfalls of the North to Tierra del Fuego in the South. Its vineyards, tea plantations, fields of sugar cane, oil fields, pampa grasslands, millions of cattle and sheep, potato fields, skiing resorts, seaside resorts and magnificent Buenos Aires, with eleven million people, give it resources beyond our wildest dreams, and made Argentina one of the richest countries in the world between 1870 and 1950. 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.