Volume 6, Number 1

March 2008

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The Sporting Dimension to the Relationship Between Ireland and Latin America

By John Kennedy


Irish-Argentines also contributed to the national team in the early days of football in Argentina, a time when the team was almost exclusively of British origin. In the second international match played between Argentina and Uruguay in 1902, Eduardo Duggan of Belgrano Athletic Club was one of the team members, as was Juan Moore. Other famous players with Irish surnames who played for the national team in that era were Martín José Murphy (1890-1966), who was a member of the 1908 team and later an estanciero in Venado Tuerto (Coghlan 1987: 708), and Harry and Ernesto Hayes of the 1910 team.  

Undoubtedly, Irish members of cricket clubs, from which rugby union emerged, were active in the game from the beginning. As the game transformed from an exclusively British sport to ‘rugby criollo’, through the medium of universities, schools and new clubs, Irish-Argentines made their mark. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was an inside centre and played for three clubs: Atalaya Polo Club, Yporá and San Isidro Club (Lapaque 2007). If not one of the most accomplished players, he was certainly the most famous. An Irish-Argentine, Mario Dolan, a contemporary of Guevara, was one of the founder members of San Isidro Club (SIC) which split from Club Atlético San Isidro (CASI) in 1936 and today is one of the most successful clubs in the country. Following the demise of hurling, Hurling Club took up the sport in the 1940s and finally got promoted to the first division in 1997. Some Irish-Argentines also achieved caps for the Pumas: Jaime O’Farrel was captain in 1956, and the most prominent Irish-Argentine in recent times was Santiago Phelan. Recently Agustín Creevy played for the Under-21 team. On the management side there have been two Puma coaches of Irish origin, Adolfo ‘Michingo’ O’Reilly during the 1980s and Dermot Cavanagh during the 1960s. The Irish Christian Brothers also made a contribution to rugby in the wider River Plate region, particularly through the Stella Maris School in Montevideo and the Cardenal Newman School in Buenos Aires. 

Luis Duggan, Manuel Andrada, Roberto Cavanagh, and Andrés Gazzotti, winners of the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic Games, Berlin.

Since the introduction of polo to Argentina, Irish-Argentines have played a prominent role in the game. The Argentine polo team that won the gold medal in the 1924 Summer Olympics included Arturo Kenny and in the 1936 summer Olympics Roberto Cavanagh and Luis Duggan were gold medallists. Juan A.E. Traill was the first to achieve the top handicap of ten in 1913. Indeed two of the most prominent teams in the 1940s, Venado Tuerto and El Trébol, were mainly composed of Irish-Argentines. The dominance of Irish-Argentines in the sport continues to the present day with Gonzalo (Jr) and Facundo Pieres, and Pablo MacDonough, all possessing the maximum ten handicap.  

From the introduction of hockey to Hurling Club in 1930, the club became a major force in the men’s and women’s game. The men’s team dominated Argentine hockey for a seven-year period, winning the first division championship in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1956. The Argentine hockey team that competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics included four members of Hurling Club. The women’s hockey team won their first division championship in 1958. In more recent times Irish-Argentines continue to be prominent in the sport. Alejandro Doherty represented Argentina in the 1988 Olympics and Tomás MacCormik competed in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games and the 2004 Summer Olympic games. Others of note include Ian Scally from Buenos Aires who is a member of the USA team, and whose father Gabriel played for Argentina at the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympic Games.

Given the strong links that Irish-Argentines have developed with equestrian sports, it is unsurprising that they also left their mark in the national game of pato in the modern era. One of the most successful teams in the recent history of the game was San Patricio, which was originally founded in the early 1960s by the Reilly brothers from Marcos Paz in the province of Buenos Aires. From the late 1980s to early 1990s, the team, which included Luis Von Neufforgue y Reilly, dominated the game, winning the Argentine Pato Open in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995. Other notable players in recent times include Diego Kelly, Nucho Kelly, Juan Ganly, Guillermo Kennedy, and Gustavo Fitzsimons. The Rossiter brothers Carlos, Normando and Patricio from Estancia Santa Susana in Campana, were also involved in pato from 1980 to 1998, winning many national tournaments.

In the area of the management and promotion of sports, a number of Irish-born Argentines have made a distinguished contribution to the evolution of sport in Argentina, perhaps none more so than Dr. Santiago Fitzsimons, who is considered a pioneer in the field of physical education and had the foresight to see the benefit of physical exercise as part of a holistic educational experience. In 1888, as director of the National College of Corrientes, he received permission from the Federal Minister for Public Instruction Filemón Posse, to employ Thomas Reeve, a Cambridge graduate, as a physical education teacher (Lupo 2004: 77). This was a first for Argentina. Two years later, Fitzsimons was appointed National Inspector General of Public Instruction. One of his key initiatives was to introduce physical education as part of the curriculum in all National Colleges and normal schools in the country, thereby bequeathing a lasting legacy to generations of Argentine schoolchildren.

Fitzsimons was to have another major impact on Argentine sport, albeit in a more indirect manner. In 1891 he was appointed director of the National School of Commerce, located in Bartolomé Mitre Street in the centre of Buenos Aires. One of the people Fitzsimons hired was Paddy McCarthy from County Tipperary, a physical education teacher, and a former boxer and footballer, who himself had a major impact on sport in Argentina (Murray 2005). In fact he participated in the first professional boxing match in Argentina in 1903 against the Italian Abelardo Robassio. As part of the physical education curriculum McCarthy introduced football and boxing. Among his students were three teenagers of Genovese origin from the port district of La Boca: Esteban Baglietto, Santiago Sana and Alfredo Scarpatti (Resurgimiento Boquense). McCarthy’s football lessons had a major influence on them, so much so that the three along with the Farenga brothers went on to found Boca Juniors football club in Plaza Solís in La Boca in 1905. Indeed McCarthy became one of the first coaches at the club.

In the sphere of sport and politics, Irish-Argentines have also been prominent. Rodolfo ‘Michingo’ O’Reilly, a former rugby player with Club Atlético San Isidro (C.A.S.I) was appointed the Secretary of Sport under the Alfonsín government following the restoration of democracy in 1983. In addition to his governmental duties, he also exercised the role of manager of the Pumas. Another Irish-Argentine Dr Santiago Leyden was appointed Secretary of Sport for the City of Buenos Aires in 1996 during the governorship of Fernando de la Rúa.

The role of the Irish-owned press in the development of sport in the River Plate

The media have played a key role in the diffusion of organised sport, and nowhere more so than in Argentina. One of the key organs of this phenomenon was The Standard, Argentina’s first English language newspaper, founded in 1861 by two Dublin brothers Edward and Michael Mulhall. It would be for almost a century the most influential newspaper in the English-speaking community. The newspaper played a central role in reporting administrative developments in sports clubs, such as reporting on Annual General Meetings, as well as coverage of the games themselves. The Standard was regularly used as a means of recruiting new members, a good example being an announcement by Buenos Aires Cricket club on 5 May 1864 seeking new members and supporters for the first proposed cricket international against Uruguay in Montevideo. It also announced exhibition boxing matches such as one between Johnny McKay and William Valley on 4 March 1864. The paper advertised the meeting to form the first football club in South America ‘in a pension in Calle Temple, today Viamonte, where many young British resided’ and the paper also reported on the first football game. As well as team sports, The Standard was a fervent promoter of athletics (Raffo 2004).


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2008

Online published: 12 March 2008
Edited: 07 May 2009

Kennedy, John, 'The Sporting Dimension to the Relationship Between Ireland and Latin America' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 6:1 (March 2008), pp. 3-14. Available online (www.irlandeses.org/imsla0803.htm), accessed .


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