Viva Irlanda! Exploring the Irish in Argentina


I remembered with Guillermo the untimely death last year of another Irish emigrant, the human rights campaigner  Patrick Rice , from Fermoy in Co Cork, who fought tirelessly for many years as a human rights campaigner in Argentina and suffered torture, with his future wife Fatima, at the hands of the brutal military regime .  As he was being released from jail, after sterling efforts by the Irish embassy officials to have him freed from near certain "disappearance," Patrick was asked by his jailers to write something positive and he simply wrote “I might have been treated better."

I took a taxi to Plaza Iranda which is in the  suburb or ‘barrio’ of Caballito. The driver had  garish medals of the Madonna hanging from the mirror entwined with the colors of Boca Juniors, a  local soccer institution. He looked to me like an evil unshaven cousin of what the legendary Maradonna might look like, and as he spat and gesticulated  at the other drivers I felt I might  be in serious trouble if I didn’t tip him properly.

Then I realized that he was actually pointing out the sights of Buenos Aires to me, a tourist, gruffly spitting out the names in Spanish through the open window as we careered around the hot and humid streets of the sprawling city. 

It is an image of Buenos Aires and its people that remains, the friendliness and warmth of the people which lies behind their often gruff demeanor.

Friendliness is also a defining character of the Irish and that  would have been a good  asset for the immigrants in Argentina. Plaza Irlanda is an example of how well they are still doing. In the large tree lined park, a haven of peace amid the bustle of the city, couples lounged together on the grass in the late afternoon shade, a group of pensioners practiced Yoga in a clearing, and a crowd of men in a clubhouse played chess. It was all under the  patronage  of the Argentinean –Irish society . Across the road was the Monsignor Dillon high school. Around the park were various memorials, including one to  Padraig Pearse, William Brown  and a recent commemorative stone in honor of  James Joyce.

Granted the original Irish have gone but there is a determined effort by their descendants to keep the link with Ireland going. At the  hurling club of Buenos Aires they are  teaching young Argentines to play the game, the original Irish schools are booming with students of all nationalities and Irish music and dancing  is still  alive in this city of the midnight tango.

Symbolic links are important too in this relationship between the two countries .
In 1814 , William Brown , a great Irishman, orchestrated  a monumental blow for Argentinean independence. In 1916 , a small reciprocal gesture was made by an Argentinean Irishman named Eamonn Bulfin , when he became the one to first hoist the tricolor over the beleaguered GPO.

Two great countries whose histories will always be entwined have leaned much from each other. When it comes to beauty, history and national pride they are well-matched.