Patrick J. Dillon
(The Southern Cross, Número del Centenario)
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.
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
Cañuelas. At the end of 1865 Dillon travelled on mission to
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
observed that Fr. Dillon was "much more popular with the rich than with the poor among
his countrymen, and at that time  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].
Coghlan, Eduardo A., Los Irlandeses en la Argentina: Su
Actuación y Descendencia (Buenos Aires, 1987), p.
Murray, Thomas, The Story of the Irish in Argentina (New
York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1919).
The Southern Cross, Número del Centenario (Buenos
The Southern Cross, Special Golden Jubilee Number 1875-1925
(Buenos Aires, 28 August 1925).