This article was originally published in Familia, journal of the Ulster Historical Foundation (volume 2, no. 7, 1991). Published annually.

Los Irlandeses en la Argentina

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.'

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