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 (part 3)

by Pat Nally, Secretary, Longford-Westmeath Argentina Society

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.