Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography

Patrick J. Dillon
(The Southern Cross, Número del Centenario)

Dillon, Patrick Joseph (1842-1889), Roman Catholic priest, editor and politician, was born in Tuam, east Co. Galway, the eldest son of John Dilon (b.1808) and Julia Rigny. John Dillon's brother Michael Dillon (1820-1891) emigrated to Argentina and settled in Navarro. Patrick Joseph Dillon's brother John Stephen Dillon (1844-1915) was involved in a government colonisation scheme to bring Irish emigrants, usually known as the Dresden Affair.

In his early boyhood Patrick Joseph Dillon was sent to school to Banagher, Co. Offaly, and subsequently entered All Hallows Catholic seminar to study for the priesthood. On 25 October 1863 Patrick J. Dillon was ordained in Dublin. Shortly after Fr. Dillon arrived in Argentina and was appointed Irish Chaplain in Merlo and then in Cañuelas. At the end of 1865 Dillon travelled on mission to Falkland/Malvinas Islands to attend 200 Irish and other Catholic islanders. A year later, Fr. Dillon was appointed professor of theology, canon law and sacred scriptures at the diocesan seminary of Buenos Aires. In 1869 he was made canon of the cathedral, and in 1871 succeeded Fr. Fahy as the Irish Chaplain of Buenos Aires. Fr. Dillon opened St. Brigid's Irish chapel in La Choza in 1872, in John Brown's estancia. In 1873, he was appointed to the chaplaincy of the Irish Hospital in Buenos Aires. 

Patrick J. Dillon is best known for his role as founder of the Southern Cross paper. On 16 January 1875 the first issue was distributed in Buenos Aires. In a previous circular, published on 2 November 1874, Dillon stated that he was about to found a "Weekly Catholic Newspaper in the English language […] to supply the wants of an Irish and Catholic organ in the country. […] The tone of the paper will be liberal (like the Freeman of Dublin). The paper will not adhere to any particular party in this country. The events of the week will be narrated with those comments which proceed from a strictly impartial pen. The paper will contain general Irish, English and North American news, and the Catholic news of the world, as well as the news of the country in which we live." (Murray 1919: 393). Mr. Barry assisted Fr. Dillon, and later Frank H. Mulhall became its editor and manager. In the beginning the Southern Cross was published in the office of The Standard, the established English-language daily, and at its inception its editors the brothers Mulhall helped both technically and financially.

In spite of the promise of not adhering the Southern Cross to any political party in Argentina, Dillon supported several activities and groups, all of them in the sphere of the growing landed bourgeoisie of Irish Argentines. On 1 March 1879, under the leadership of Fr. Dillon, a meeting was called at Larroudet's Hotel, Plaza Once, with the purpose of organising "the Irish citizens into a body to secure representation in the Legislature of the Province, and fuller representation on local boards and commissions. There were present Ed. Casey, M. Hearne, John Moore, L. Garrahan, Patrick Ham, J. Murphy, Ed. Murphy, J. B. Gahan, J. P. Browne, Mr. Dillon, W. D. Lowe (Herald), F. H. Mulhall (S. Cross), W. Cook, J. Cowes, Mr. Ramsay, C. Davis, J. Dowling, Mr. Kelly, F. Dennehy, and many others. […] David Suffern moved and J. Murphy seconded 'that a club be formed to carry out the ideas expressed in the circular, to push the registration of voters and to treat with other political centers about putting forward one candidate or more at the next election.' […] In April, under the name of the General Brown Club, issued a manifesto proclaiming the objects they aimed at, which were all round reform, and in an especial mode of procedure; also protection and encouragement of immigrants; and the moral and material uplift of the 'paisano." […] There were some 300 members present" (Murray 1919: 390). But hardly any of them were of the poorer classes, and Fr. Dillon was criticised for this reason. In 1876, Fr. Dillon founded St. George's College, aiming at Irish and other English-speaking boys from wealthy families.

In 1880 Patrick J. Dillon and Eduardo Murphy - his sister Kate Murphy (1849-1932) was married in 1881 to Fr. Dillon's brother John Stephen - were elected MPs to the Buenos Aires parliament with the sponsorship of the Autonomist Party. In 1883 Fr. Dillon was elected national Senator for Buenos Aires. 

Fr. Dillon met strong opposition among a group of Irish women who wished to have independent management for their charities. In 1879, Mary Brennan (née Colclough), president of the Ladies' Irish Beneficent Society, published a history of the Society. "Some have thought that it has been by mistake that the Society has been named the Ladies' Irish Beneficent Society, instead of the Irish Ladies' Beneficent Society. It has not been so. The majority of those who will benefit by the accomplishment of the object of the Society are undoubtedly Irish; but English, Scotch and North American Catholics are equally anxious for an English Catholic Church, and have united together with the Irish ladies. The Argentine and foreign ladies have also warmly sympathised with the Society's efforts. It would, therefore, be neither just nor grateful to call the society the Irish Ladies' Beneficent Society" (Murray 1919: 382). Fr. Dillon refused to turn over a large sum of money subscribed to the Society and wanted to dissolve it. Next issue of the Southern Cross, he announced the termination of the Ladies' Society, but the Standard included a notice that "the ladies of the above Society beg to correct an error made in the Southern Cross of Thursday, last, which was, that they had come to the conclusion of dissolving the Society for the present." Thomas Murray remarked that "Canon Dillon and his friends opposed with more spirit than good taste and Christian charity". 

However, the most controversial event in Patrick J. Dillon's life was his responsibility - still not completely understood - in the immigration policy of the Argentine Republic. On 18 April 1881, being a Senator at the Buenos Aires Parliament, he traveled to Europe as a provincial and national agent to promote Irish emigration to Argentina. Back in Argentina in January of the following year, he recommended that the government provide free or assisted tickets to attract emigrants, as well as to grant land and other benefits. If the authorities agreed with his plans, Fr. Dillon would commit himself to travel back to Ireland to personally guarantee the success of the project. Consequently, with the support of the president Juarez Celman, the government granted 50,000 free or assisted passage tickets to emigrants from Europe. In 1887 Fr. Dillon's brother John Stephen and Buckley O'Meara were appointed agents of the Argentine government in Europe. They operated conjointly, getting a bonus of approximately £5 (about £327.12 of 2002) for every emigrant landed in Buenos Aires. During the first two years they could not convince enough numbers of emigrants. But in early 1889 they managed to fill the German steamer City of Dresden with 1,774 destitute and poor emigrants mainly from Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. These emigrants were convinced to leave their land and settle in Argentina by Dillon and O'Meara through promises that they knew would not be fulfilled. The passengers of the Dresden underwent numerous sufferings and most of them died or vanished. 

Shortly after Patrick J. Dillon went back to Ireland and died in Dublin on 11 June 1889. He was buried on 13 June 1889 at Glasnevin, close to the O'Connell monument. Buenos Aires was represented at the funeral by Dr. and Mrs. James P. Kelley, Dr. Laurence Kelly of Suipacha, Miss Clara Cunningham, Miss Josefina Murphy, Mr. Rath, Mr. P. Gannon, Mr. James P. Kavanagh and Mr. John J. Dillon.

Thomas Murray observed that Fr. Dillon was "much more popular with the rich than with the poor among his countrymen, and at that time [1877] there was a very considerable number of the two classes of our people in the Capital. […] The Canon did not measure up to the type of priest to whom the term Sagairt aruin [dear priest] is sincerely applied by the Irish. He was too much in politics for a city Chaplain" [Murray 1919: 397]. 

Edmundo Murray


- Coghlan, Eduardo A., Los Irlandeses en la Argentina: Su Actuación y Descendencia (Buenos Aires, 1987), p. 246.

- Murray, Thomas, The Story of the Irish in Argentina (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1919). 

- The Southern Cross, Número del Centenario (Buenos Aires, 1975).

- The Southern Cross, Special Golden Jubilee Number 1875-1925 (Buenos Aires, 28 August 1925).

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

Online published: 1 November 2005
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, '
Dillon, Patrick Joseph (1842-1889)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" November-December 2005 (


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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