Volume 6, Number 1

March 2008

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The Sporting Dimension to the Relationship Between Ireland and Latin America

By John Kennedy


During Buenos Aires North vs. South cricket match, Palermo, 5-7 March 1905
(Robert Sparrow, 1905 - Enrique Raimondo Dillon Collection)

The Standard’s editorial generally represented a distinctly British viewpoint. Another separate English-language newspaper, The Southern Cross, was founded in 1875 by Rev. Patrick Joseph Dillon for the Irish Catholic community, and presented a Catholic and Irish nationalist viewpoint. The Southern Cross was also an important organ in the diffusion of sport in the Irish community. William Bulfin, the editor of the paper in the early 1900s, is credited with the formal introduction of hurling to Argentina, though it had been played earlier in the country in an unorganised fashion. In August 1900 a lengthy article on the rules of hurling were published in the paper. The Southern Cross also played an important role in women’s hockey, when it published an article in June 1930 seeking players for the Argentine Federation of Hurling. Since then, Hurling Club has gone on to become one of the more successful teams in the country in both women’s and men’s hockey.  

Sporting Contacts between Ireland and Latin America


The most enduring and frequent sporting contact between Ireland and a Latin American country is that with Argentina in the sphere of rugby. The earliest international contacts with Argentina were through the British Isles team (colloquially know as the British Lions and, from 2001, the British and Irish Lions), who toured the country in 1927 and again in 1936, and included Irish players. However, it was not until 1952 that the first Irish team visited Argentina, making history in the process by becoming the first Home [10] rugby union to do so. ‘The tour was nearly aborted due to the death of Eva Perón’ (Cronin 2007: 48). The two international games against Argentina in Buenos Aires were non-cap internationals. Whilst Argentina lost the first test by six points they drew 3-3 in the second test in Buenos Aires, which was almost considered a victory for Argentina, as they had avoided defeat against a major rugby nation.

The Irish visited Argentina again in 1970 and lost the two tests, signalling the emergence of the Pumas as a rugby power. The Pumas reciprocated Ireland’s gesture of being the first Home Nation to visit Argentina by making their first appearance in Europe in 1973 at Thomond Park in Limerick against Munster. The Irish Times commented: ‘that Ireland should be the first hosts is extremely fitting, for we are pioneers among the Home Countries to tour South America, when we sent a party out in 1952’ (MacWeeney 1973: 3). The Pumas returned again in 1978, but only played one game against Leinster. Ireland planned a tour in 1985, but it was cancelled in the aftermath of the Falklands / Malvinas war.

It was to be 1990 before sporting links were re-established. In a report in the The Irish Times the restoration of playing links with Argentina was warmly welcomed (Van Esbeck 1990:30). In that particular encounter the Pumas won 28-24. Perhaps the most infamous night in the history of Irish rugby was when the Pumas deprived Ireland of a place in a home 1999 World Cup quarter-final in Dublin. The Argentine team upset their Irish counterparts with a score of 28-24 in the final pool game in Lens, France. Since then, encounters between the Pumas and Ireland have metamorphosed into one of the most bitter rivalries in the sport, though this has been confined to invectives among the team and coaching staff as opposed to the fans. Ireland was drawn in the same pool against the Pumas again in the 2003 World Cup in Australia and in France 2007. At club level there has also been a lot of contact between the two countries. Club Atlético de San Isidro (C.A.S.I.) was one of the first clubs to tour Ireland in 1973.

Sporting contact has not always generated a forging of cultural understanding. One of the most bizarre incidents in sporting contact between Ireland and Latin America occurred in August 1978 in Buenos Aires. Irish rugby international Willie Anderson was on tour with the Penguins rugby club (an international touring club based in the UK), when he was arrested for stealing the Argentine flag from a government building (Cronin 2007: 58) and demeaning a patriotic symbol. An editorial in The Buenos Aires Herald labelled the act ‘brainless buffoonery’. Two companions, fellow Irish internationals David Irwin and Frank Wilson, were also arrested, prompting calls for intervention from the British and Irish governments. The matter was even raised by an Argentine journalist with an irascible General Galtieri, who was then army commander-in chief and senior member of the military junta. His response was ‘do not bait me. No one here is going to touch any flag and he who does will pay the consequences’ (The Irish Times, 16 August 1980). Although Wilson and Irwin were released after three weeks, Anderson was to spend over three months in prison before being cleared of any charges.  


In the area of football the contacts between Latin America and Ireland have generally pertained to friendlies. The first Latin American country to play Ireland was Argentina, who came to Dalymount Park in Dublin in 1951 and defeated the Republic of Ireland team by 0-1. The next encounter with a Latin American country was perhaps the most divisive in the history of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). In 1974 the FAI planned a foreign tour of Chile, Brazil and Uruguay. The proposed tour included a match against the Chilean national team in the National Stadium in Santiago de Chile. In doing so the Republic of Ireland team would become the first foreign side to play in Chile since General Augusto Pinochet’s military coup against the government of Salvador Allende in September 1973. Playing in the National Stadium would be particularly symbolic, as it was used as a detention centre following the coup for ‘at least 7,000’ political prisoners (Collier & Sater 2004: 360) and became the main centre for interrogation.


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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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