Volume 6, Number 1

March 2008

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Catholic, Male and Working-class: The Evolution of the Hurling Club into a Wide-Ranging Irish-Argentine Institution (1920-1980)

By Ronnie Quinn


The Fahy Boys, c. 1926
(Hurling Club collection)

Generally those that played hurling in the early days were urban middle-class workers who had settled in the western districts of the city of Buenos Aires, principally Villa Devoto, Belgrano, Flores and Caballito, and worked for such firms as Swift, [5] Agar Cross, [6] Duperial, [7] and the railroads, or were clerks for the insurance companies and banks. In the rural areas it tended to be more popular among labourers rather than landed Irish-Argentines. Not only was the game likely to appeal to these social groups, but it was also heavily promoted by the Roman Catholic Church as a way of nurturing identity and ensuring the preservation of religious adherence in a social and commercial environment dominated by Protestantism.    

Following the end of World War One, the importation of hurleys resumed and there was a revival of the sport. In August 1920, Miguel Ballesty (1876-1950) of Salto, son of County Westmeath immigrants, convened a meeting with delegates from four of the most prominent hurling clubs in the country: Buenos Aires Hurling Club, Mercedes, Bearna Baoghail [8] and Wanderers. At the first meeting it was decided to create a commission, which subsequently became the Argentine Federation of Hurling, to examine the feasibility of renting, on a long-term basis, a dedicated space where the game could be played. Hitherto, hurling clubs had rented football fields and other sports fields on an ad-hoc basis. The first committee was formed by Miguel Ballesty (president); S. Farrell (secretary); Jack Dowling (treasurer); J. Clinton, P. Murtagh, P.J. O’Reilly, E. Ennis and M. Kennedy (committee members). 

Initially the committee rented the grounds of Club Singer, located at Alberdi 400 in the district of Boedo, which was accessible by the new metro. On 21 October 1921 a special game was played in Mercedes in honor of Laurence Ginnell, diplomatic envoy of the Irish Republic who was visiting the country. Another game that would go down in the folklore of the club took place on 8 October 1922 between Irish-born players and another composed of Irish-Argentines in which the Irish-Argentines convincingly defeated their opponents (The Southern Cross 1975:58). The game itself was a re-run of another game that was played in 1914 just before the outbreak of World War One.

Game of bochas (boules) in Devoto. Miguel
Ballesty (right)
(Hurling Club collection)


A short time afterwards the committee moved to the sports grounds of Banco Nación in the neighbourhood of Floresta, acquiring a longer lease. The site was redeveloped and two hurling pitches and tennis courts were built, as well as a wooden clubhouse, painted in the colours of the Irish flag: green, white and orange. Other sports played there included pelota a paleta and bochas (a type of boules). It was inaugurated on 15 August 1922 and a week later on 22 August 1922, the Argentine Federation of Hurling, the forerunner of the modern Hurling club, was founded.

After only twenty months at the Banco Nación site, the Argentine Federation of Hurling was to move again when in April 1924, they had to vacate the site due to a road building scheme. A new ground was located in the western district of Villa Devoto, located near the intersection of Santo Tomé and Sanabria streets. Although the original intention was to buy the site, Miguel Ballesty could not convince the other committee members to agree. Some felt the ground was too remote from a transportation perspective and the area was underdeveloped, whilst others felt that it was more prudent to continue renting. Finally, it was decided to rent part of the land. In front of a large audience in Villa Devoto on 13 July 1924 the grounds were opened and blessed by Monsignor Santiago Ussher. [9] The inaugural match was between Capilla Boys and Saint Patrick’s Alumni.

Some of the clubs that played hurling during the early days of the new Argentine Federation of Hurling were: Buenos Aires Hurling Club, Mercedes, Wanderers, Bearna Baoghail, La Plata Gaels, Almirante Brown Capilla Boys, Saint Patrick’s Alumni, Saint Patrick’s Mercedes, Fahy Boys, St. Pauls, Irish Argentines, Juniors, New Lads, Santos Lugares, [10] Club Nacional and Belgrano. There was to be a strong influence from the Catholic Church and many teams had in their ranks priests or students of the Pallotine or Passionist religious orders, who had either come from Ireland or were of Irish-Argentine descent.

The Decline of Hurling

It is generally accepted that the advent of World War Two led to the demise of hurling as it once again became impossible to import hurleys. Although the potential of sourcing wood from the Delta region north of Buenos Aires was investigated, no suitable substitute could be found to replace the strength and resilience of ash. [11] Arguably, and notwithstanding the impact of the war, the importation of hurleys would have become problematic anyway, as Argentina’s economic policy moved towards import substitution industrialization, or ISI, from the 1940s onwards.

However, there were more important social factors leading to the disappearance of the game. The small numbers playing hurling and the small number of clubs led to an unacceptable level of violence, causing much discord in the community. It was felt by the community leaders and the clergy that the only way to deal with the issue was to put an end to the playing of hurling. From that point on, hurling would only be played as an exhibition game once a year on 25 May, known locally as Revolution of May Day and a public holiday.

A Permanent Abode

In May 1941, a number of clubs that were members of the Argentine Hurling Federation came together to form the Hurling Club. It was a major challenge to integrate what had until then been a number of disparate clubs with bitter rivalries. As hurling had been abandoned, many of the ex-hurlers began to take up field hockey.

The newly formed Hurling Club was soon on the move for a second time, as a consequence of the city government’s street building programme. Exasperated by the repeated need to relocate its grounds, the committee decided in late 1942 to find a site for purchase. An ambitious fundraising initiative was commenced, which included a small bond issue. By the end of 1945 the club had raised sufficient funds to enable the purchase of seven and a half hectares of what had been agricultural grazing land in the district of Hurlingham, in Greater Buenos Aires. The club was finally inaugurated on 25 May 1948 and for the first time in its history it had a permanent premises. The first official game to be played at the new grounds was a men’s hockey match against the Chilean-German team, Club Deportivo Manquehue from Santiago in Chile. There was also a rugby game against the Pacific Railway & Athletic Club de Saénz Peña, now Club Atlético Ferrocarril General San Martín, which Hurling won by 8-6. The club went from strength to strength in the early 1950s.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2008

Online published: 12 March 2008
Edited: 07 May 2009

Quinn, Ronnie, 'Catholic, Male and Working-class: The Evolution of the Hurling Club into a Wide-Ranging Irish-Argentine Institution (1920-1980)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 6:1 (March 2008), pp. 21-28. Available online (www.irlandeses.org/imsla0803.htm), accessed .


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