\"Argentine

Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner greets President Michael D. Higgins at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires Photo by: Reuters

President Michael D Higgins pays tribute to Argentina's Irish diaspora

\"Argentine

Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner greets President Michael D. Higgins at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires Photo by: Reuters

In his address at a reception in Buenos Aires for Argentina's 500,000-strong Irish community on Saturday, Irish President Michael D Higginsfocused on the contributions the Irish had made in creating modern Argentina.

The country has the largest Irish diaspora in the non-English speaking world. Entire villages from the Midlands in Ireland moved to Argentina in the 19th century fleeingfamine and oppression.

The community has the longest continuously published Irish newspaper outside Ireland, the Southern Cross, first published  in 1875.

Higgins praised the bonds between Ireland and Argentina, joking that "bonds in not a word used lightly any more in Ireland." He also received warm applause for the parts of his speech delivered in Spanish to the largely bilingual audience.

Higgins
delivered a speech earlier in the National Academy of Medicine on Ireland's relationship with the country who received an estimated 50,000 Irish emigrants in the second half of the 19th century.

He presented the coach of Argentina’s national rugby team, Santiago Phelan,  whose family originated in Co. Wexford, with a Certificate of Irish Heritage.

He also attended a ceremony in Buenos Aires' Plaza Irlanda in honor of William Brown, the man from Mayo who founded the Argentine navy.

While the Irish communitysustained its identity in Argentina by marrying other Irish, after five generations the diaspora is well integrated into Argentinian society, said Lyda O'Farrell, who attended the reception.

“My grandmother asked me why I was marrying a heathen when I told her I was engaged to an Argentinian,” remembers Mrs O’Farrell, whose family originally came from Wexford and Limerick.

“The community is fading away,” says Juan Clancy, whose great-grandfather arrived in 1844 from Wexford. “The president’s visit gets us together, but the modern way of life is diluting the old communities here in Argentina. It is not just happening to us but the German and British communities as well."

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