The First Irish Race Congress in South America

By Carolina Barry
Published in The Southern Cross Vol. 129 N° 5883 (January 2004)
Translated by Maggie O'Reilly

During the intense negotiations between Dáil Eireann President Eamon DeValera and British PM Lloyd George, a call was made to organize the first International Irish Race Congress, to be held in Paris in January 1922 in compliance with the strategy of making pubic the violence of the war. The initiator of the congress was Thomas Hughes Kelly from New York, who declared that 'Ireland's future is not limited to its geographic boundaries. She gave away to the world her strongest and most trustworthy sons. Now we compensate her with our support, which is the first offspring of that prolific seed' [El Boletín Irlandés, Buenos Aires, 24 December 1921]. In order to prepare the international congress and to unify strategies, it was firstly necessary to organize the Irish communities in all countries in which they were settled.

During 1921, with the purpose of gaining support to the Irish demand for a Republic, the Irish government sent special missions to South Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, and the US [Dáil Éireann Report on Foreign Affairs, Dublin, 26 April 1922]. Thus, Laurence Ginnell arrived at Buenos Aires as a representative of the Irish Republic to co-operate with Eamon Bulfin, who was the first envoy. Ginnell contacted members of the Irish community and worked to make public the state of affairs in Ireland. Ginnell also made great efforts to motivate and organize the Argentines of Irish ancestry. 

'Once it became known that the treaty had been signed, no Irish Republican Bond could be sold. And once Dáil Eireann had adopted the treaty, the Republic was universally regarded as at an end.'
[Ginnell to Gavan Duffy 4 March 1922, writing from Hospital Maria Morgan, San Antonio de Areco, where Ginnell was confined due to sickness].

Maria Clara Morgan Hospital in San Antonio de Areco, donated by Margarita Morgan in 1900.

News arriving from Ireland in Argentina generated support from such prominent representatives of the affluent Irish-Argentine community as the Irish Argentine White Cross. Following Ginnell's proposal, on 29 November 1921 the first Irish Race Congress in South America was held in Buenos Aires. Over 50 Irish-Argentine organisations sent their representatives to this Congress, and they founded a new Federation. Ginnell addressed the meeting and spoke about the following points:

1. Lack of organization in the Irish-Argentine community,
2. The future place of Ireland in the world,
3. The friendly support of Argentina, and
4. The peace strategy of Ireland

Ginnell expressed his favourable impression of the Argentine people and of their friendship towards Ireland. However, he was surprised by their 'almost complete lack of knowledge about Irish life. Your deficient organization would not help to support the human ideal of freedom, and would not maintain your distinct and valued identity' [El Boletín Irlandés, Buenos Aires, 10 December 1921]. He also acknowledged the 65 Argentine priests that in All Souls' Day celebrated masses for the heroes executed in Ireland: 'This was the most sacred and warm expression from one nation to the other, for the first time in the life of the Argentine Republic. This tribute was never ever dedicated to, or pleaded for by any other foreign nation. Yet if this was solicited by a certain powerful empire, it wouldn't be easily be granted. It was an expression that cannot be bought by empire money, and which cannot be voided or destroyed by that empire' [El Boletín Irlandés, Buenos Aires, 10 December 1921].

During the meeting a decision was adopted to report to the Congress in Paris the activities performed by the Irish in South America. Additionally, a grant of £50 per annum was established to students of Spanish language in the National University of Ireland. This would serve as a cultural link between Ireland and Argentina, with the hope that 'this link will flourish and be of advantage.' Many committees were established, including one to sponsor the Irish Loan in Argentina.

At the closing of the meeting five delegates were elected to represent Argentina in the International Irish Race Congress. Also, representatives were elected to represent Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Peru.

The first Irish Race Congress in South America achieved its goals thanks to people like Laurence Ginnell, who journeyed among the Irish abroad to seek their support for independence. The meeting was adjourned, and a message was telegrammed to the President of Ireland: DeValera, Mansion House, Dublin, Ireland. 'First Irish-Argentine Congress presents honours, support. Delegates appointed Paris.'

Laurence Ginnell (1852-1923)
Born in Delvin, Co. Westmeath, graduated in Law, author of The Doubtful Grant of Ireland, a book about the illegality of Pope Adrian's Bull allowing for the Norman Invasion of Ireland. Elected in 1906 to the British Parliament for North Westmeath, he was the first Sinn Féin MP. In 1905 he was expelled from the Irish Parliamentary Party for the offence of asking to see the party accounts. Known as 'The Member for Ireland'. In 1917 Ginnell resigned his seat in the House of Commons. He became the first, and only, MP to move from constitutional nationalism to republican separatism. Soon afterwards he joined Sinn Féin and was elected joint Treasurer. Jailed in early 1918, for inciting cattle driving in Westmeath. At the end of the six month sentence he was re-arrested and interned in England until the end of the 1918. On release he demanded an apology from the governor for his 'wanton imprisonment'. Elected to the First Dáil he was appointed Minister for Propaganda, a position he held for only 4 months until his arrest in May 1919 when he was jailed again, for unlawful assembly. The Dáil gave him the task of raising the Republican Loan and he spent a short period in Argentina as a delegate of the Irish Republic - effectively an Irish ambassador (25 July 1921 through April 1922). He returned to Ireland fearing the advent of partition, which he had spoken against as early as 1917, and determined to fight to prevent it. He took the Republican side in the Civil War. He fought his last, as an Anti-Treaty candidate, in 1922 and was again elected in North Westmeath. In late 1922 he was sent to America to assist in co-ordinating Republican work there. He was reportedly very upset at developments in the Irish Civil War, and was increasingly incapacitated by his declining health. In 1923 he wrote a book entitled The Seventh year of the Republic: A Defence of Erskine Childers. It was to be his final political act. He died in a Washington Hotel on April 17th 1923 [Glennon, Mags, Laurence Ginnell: 'The Member for Ireland].


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Copyright © The Irish Argentine Historical Society. 2004
ight © The Irish Argentine Historical Society. 2004