'Sam Weller [...] a three
years old, bay (Saino) in colour, and was bred by
Messrs. Casey, at their estancia in Chacabuco, He
was trained by Mr. James Casey'
(The Southern Cross, 12 October 1883)
As in Salto and other provincial towns,
horseracing was frequently organised and led by Irish
settlers and their families, who were keenly involved in
breeding and other phases of the activity. In Lobos,
Santiago Casey (1843-1899) became a distinguished
turfman (breeder) and owner of one of the most
important studs in his time.
Other Irish families, like
Duggan, Dowling and Gaynor, were prominent in the
organisation of races and in breeding.
In Venado Tuerto, a
place with large Irish and British populations,
Dublin-born estanciero John Macnie observed that
'riding amongst the peons has deteriorated, and much
improved among the leisured classes in the Argentine. The
first is due to the use of bretes and corrales for working
cattle, smaller paddocks, improved methods in marking,
etc., and tamer cattle in consequence. [...] As regards
the leisured classes, [...] they are now bitten with polo
and racing, and the time which the "joven distinguido"
gave to Calle Florida is now often spent on training polo
ponies and race-horses; and as the time passes on, there
is little doubt that the better class Argentine will give
himself wholeheartedly to polo, just as the less wealthy
has given himself to football and tennis' (Macnie 1925:
For the first English races in Venado Tuerto only polo ponies were used.
Among the first breeders to get a better class of horse for the
races and train them were George O’Connell, F. Bridger,
Pancho Thompson, and J. Hearne. Thanks to their pioneering
work, some twenty years later the Coronation Cup was held
to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902
(800 metres for any horse or mare, weight 75 kilos). Three
horses belonging to one owner (Pancho Thompson) arrived
first, second and third.
At another race meet, riding
in a steeplechase,
 Thompson ‘broke a girth at the first
jump and the other went at the second jump. Feeling the
saddle slipping, he realized what had happened, and
leaning forward he pulled the saddle from under him and
put it over his right arm. He took the rest of the jumps
barebacked, and although hampered by carrying the saddle,
he manage to scrape home a winner’ (Macnie 1925: 148).
In the 1880s the activity was mature enough
to be undertaken at a national level, which took place
with the inauguration of the Stud Book in Argentina. Names
like Duggan, Maguire, Murphy or Gaynor are intimately
associated with the development of thoroughbred activities
in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Eduardo
Casey (1847-1906), himself an exceptional rider, was a
passionate breeder and importer of famous stallions, as
well as a key member of the committee that commissioned
the construction of the La Plata race course in the
capital of Buenos Aires province. 
Eduardo Coghlan observed that almost twenty
of the one hundred founders of the exclusive Jockey Club
of Buenos Aires in 1882 were Irish or descended from Irish
immigrants (Coghlan 1987: xxv). This disproportionate
figure illustrates the social and economic advancement of
some of the former farming families who left Wexford and
the Midlands in the first half of the nineteenth century
to join the landed elites of the Río de la Plata. However,
the vast majority of the Irish in Argentina remained
landless peasants who could never hope to be anything
other than labourers on an estancia. The dream of
being landlords had to be abandoned, even if they
succeeded in riding the beautiful horses of the Pampas.
‘Enough of horseracing, no more gambling / a
hard-contested ending I will not see again / but if on
Sunday a pony looks like a sure pointer / I'll bet
everything again, what can I do?’
The first time the word gaucho appeared in print
was in Noticias secretas de América by Antonio de
Ulloa and Jorge Juan y Santacilia (1743), to describe the
rural inhabitants of the Chilean mountains. Furthermore,
one of the most curious – and indeed Anglo-centred – of
the many etymological interpretations is that of the
English painter Emeric Essex Vidal (1820): ‘all countrymen
are called by the inhabitants of Buenos Ayres gauchos,
a term, no doubt, derived from the same root as our old
English words gawk and gawkey, adopted to
express the awkward, uncouth manners and appearance of
those rustics’ (Essex Vidal 1820: 89).
Crioulo in Brazil, costeño and morochuco
in Peru, corralero in Chile, and llanero in
Other games on horseback included the sortija, in
which gauchos tried to stick a thin cane through a tiny
ring while riding their mount at full speed, and
tug-of-war between two or more riders.
From Ballinacarrigy, a town on the Royal
Canal in the parish of Kilbixy,
County Westmeath. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young Irish farmers and labourers
emigrated from Ballinacarrigy and its environs to
Argentina in the mid-nineteenth century.
Steeplechase is a horse race (originally with a steeple as
the goal) across the countryside or on a racecourse with
ditches, hedges, and other obstacles to jump.
 The race
course at La Plata was inaugurated on 14 September 1884
with an attendance of 4,000 persons.
fillies won the two opening races ‘Premio Inauguración’
and ‘Gran Premio Ciudad de La Plata’. The current
‘Premio Eduardo Casey’ is an important clásico,
celebrated every year at La Plata race course (1,400
metres, reserved for horses aged five or more years who
have won at least three races).
Joyce Collection, letters by John Murphy of Salto.
Society for Irish Latin American Studies, Manuscripts and
Rare Books Collection, Universidad de San Andrés,
Biblioteca Max von Buch. Website (http://biblioteca.udesa.edu.ar/colecciones/britanica/Joyce/index.htm),
cited 18 January 2008.
Matthew, Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simón
Bolívar, Foreign Mercenaries, and the Birth of New Nations
(Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2006).
William, Tales of the
(Buenos Aires: L.O.L.A., 1997). First edition by Fisher
Unwin (London, 1900).
Alexander, Travels in
South America, during
the years 1819 - 20 - 21: etc.
(London: John Murray, 1825). Two vols.
Graham, Land! Irish Pioneers in Mexican and
(Texas A&M University Press, 2002).
- Essex Vidal,
Emeric, Picturesque Illustrations of Buenos Ayres and
Montevideo consisting of
twenty-four views, etc.
(London: R. Ackerman, 1820). Reprint (Buenos Aires:
Mitchell’s English Bookstore, 1944).
Hanon, Maxine, Diccionario de Británicos en Buenos
Aires (primera época) (Buenos Aires: author’s edition,
William Henry, The Naturalist in
(New York: E. P. Dutton, 1922).
- Jones, Tom
(Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1949).
Races, website (http://www.kilbegganraces.com/). Cited
12 December 2007.
- Macnie, J.,
Work and Play in the Argentine (London: T. Werner
Laurie Ltd., 1925).
Thomas. The Story of the Irish in
(New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1919).
Richard W., Gauchos and the Vanishing Frontier
(Lincoln NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1992).