Perhaps it is surprising then of the level of immigration from Ireland to Argentina, in which 500,000-1,000,000 people are of Irish descent. Estimates are difficult to verify, due to inefficient record-keeping during the main period of Irish emigration, 1830-1930. If true, the diaspora in the South American country would be the fifth largest Irish community in the world.
The impact the community has made there is vast. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara – probably the most well-known person to come out of South America – was born in Rosario, Argentina and is a relative of Patrick Lynch, born in Galway, Ireland in 1715.
Guevara’s father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch , advanced the link between ancestral homeland and son when he said “the first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels.”
The revolutionary was certainly aware of his Irish roots and referenced the journey made from Galway to Argentina in an interview with a Sunday Tribune journalist during an unexpected trip to Ireland (the plane he was flying on suffered mechanical problems and had to land at Shannon airport) aged 37.
How aware he was of Irish history and culture remains rather unclear with his musings making few references to Ireland. But considering Ireland’s history of rebellion against a colonial power, Guevara’s ideology and his actions in Cuba until eventual death in Bolivia, it certainly makes for a convenient fit.
The Cuban fighter isn’t the only revolutionary of Irish descent. Walk along Dublin’s Sir John Rogerson Quay and you’ll see a statue of the founder of the Argentine navy, Admiral William Brown. Revered in Argentina – several military ships, four football clubs and over 1,000 streets in Argentina bear his name – he was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo in 1777.
Rising to Commander-In-Chief of the Argentine Navy, he led victories against the Spanish during the War of Independence, against Brazil and scuppered a blockade by the British and the French of Río del la Plata, which is the sea area around Buenos Aires.
Brown, incidentally, wasn’t the only military leader of Irish descent to lead an Independence struggle against the Spanish. In Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins, whose father was born in Sligo, Ireland and Juan McKenna – himself born in Monaghan, Ireland – played prominent roles in Chile’s struggle against their colonisers 1810-1821. O’Higgins is particularly revered with a city in the south and a central avenue in the capital Santiago named after him.
Revolution isn’t the preserve of Irish emigrants to Argentina however. Father Anthony Dominic Fahy – born in Loughrea, Co. Galway – became leader of the Irish community from the mid-1830s to his death in 1871. He helped the newly-arrived Irish immigrants into Argentina and raised £411 of relief during the Great Famine of 1845-49.
He is buried in Argentina’s most revered cemetery, Recoleta, in the north of Buenos Aires and the Fahy Club was set up in Buenos Aires to honour his legacy and still exists to this day. Current President Michael D. Higgins visited there in October 2012 saying “in this Club it resembles a little corner of County Westmeath or County Longford from which most of your ancestors came.”
Father Fahy also played a part in a famous story with the Irish diaspora at its heart. Camila O’Gorman, born in Buenos Aires but of Irish descent, was eight months pregnant when she was executed by firing squad aged 20 in 1848.
She escaped to the northern Argentine state of Corrientes with Father Ladislao Gutiérrez after he was sentenced to the death penalty for sacrilegious theft. When found – by an Irish priest named Fr. Michael Gannon – she refused the claim she was raped by the priest, and stated that in fact she initiated the elopement. The pair were both brought to a prison near Buenos Aires, where both were killed. A 1984 movie about the affair, entitled ‘Camila’, became the second Argentine movie to be nominated for an Academy award.
Another area in which those of Irish descent excelled is in journalism. The most famous is a Rodolfo Walsh, who was murdered by members of a special military group on the streets of Buenos Aires in 1977 – a time when Argentina was ruled by military dictatorship.
Walsh was heavily critical of the junta and considered himself to be not just a journalist, but an activist as well. He wrote his most famous work, ‘Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta’, the day before his murder, in which he criticised the economic policies of the military as almost worse than their human rights abuses.
In the areas of politics, Ricardo López Murphy lasted only nine days as Economics Minister as Argentina lay on the brink of default in 2001, while, in sport, Santiago Phelan is current head coach of the Argentine rugby team. A nice fast fact is that Argentina’s first Miss Universe is of Irish descent. By the name Norma Nolan, she won the prize in 1962.