The Children of the Diaspora
Irish Schools and Educators in Argentina, 1850-1950

By María José Roger




In the 1850s, Ireland, for centuries the “isle of saints and scholars”, could be rightfully considered one of the world’s leading producers of immigrants. Due to unsustainable living conditions that exceeded the much debated Great Famine, about 1.5 million Irishmen left their country in search of a better future.

Their first option was to cross the Irish Sea to England and join the scores of workers that fuelled the world’s leading economy. Others crossed the Atlantic and contributed to the rapid growth of the United States. There were some who ventured farther, to the scarcely populated British dominions: Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But there were those -a mere ten to twenty thousand men and women [1] - who chose another country which yearned for hard working immigrants that would position it as one of the leading nations in the world: the Argentine Republic.

Through the 1840s and up to the 1860s, the landowners of the rich province of Buenos Aires hired skilled Irishmen to tend to their sheep. Encouraged by fellow countrymen who had tried their luck in the pampas, entire families -primarily from Co. Westmeath, Wexford and Longford- arrived to find that, although the language and culture differed, they shared a common faith and they had the opportunity to become landowners.

By 1870 approximately 85 % of the Irish immigrants were settled in the countryside. Through contracts that granted them a percentage of the sheep’s offspring, many shepherds created their own herds from scratch. They then leased land or bought it. Successful sheep farmers then became full fledged estancieros and mingled with the best of the Argentine society. However, these success stories became increasingly rare during the last quarter of the century … later arrivals were lucky enough to find a job with their fellow nationals.

The remaining 15 % of Irish immigrants lived in the cities, especially in Buenos Aires: port of entry, capital city and economic engine of the young Republic. Women could easily find employment as maids and cooks, while men usually worked for commercial firms. The increasing prosperity of some estancieros meant that towards the 1880s they could afford to have a house in the city.

Buenos Aires was also the home of a key figure in the history of Irish immigration to Argentina: Reverend Anthony Fahy. This zealous Dominican arrived to Argentina in 1844, and during the next twenty-seven years, he laboured for the well being of his countrymen. His tasks were so varied that he once defined himself as “consul, post master, judge, pastor, interpreter and job provider” [2] . He advised many to go to the countryside, save money and then acquire their own lands.

Thanks to the efforts of Fahy, other priests and the more fortunate members of the community the Irish were able to form their own community institutions and preserve their traditions. Local literature, music, sports, Argentine culture as a whole was enriched by the contributions of the Irish-Argentines. As we shall see throughout this article, education was greatly benefited by their efforts in the 1850-1950 period.

Education in the Argentine Republic

Since the times of the May Revolution (1810), education was one of the pillars of the Argentine Republic. Initially entrusted to private individuals, priests and religious congregations, it was gradually absorbed by the State. However this was a slow process, since the first decades of independent life proved to be difficult. Although independence was achieved in 1816, the definitive National Constitution was only sanctioned in 1853, following decades of external and internal conflicts, which would continue for decades.

The religious congregations had provided, since colonial times, a free education to the children of rich and poor families alike. Their schools were perceived as valuable, and through the mechanism of “incorporation”, the National Council of Education approved their educational plans, giving their degrees and diplomas an official status.

By 1883, only 156.325 children (31 %) who were of school age actually went to public or private schools. The following year,  the Act of Common Education (Ley 1420 de Educación Común) guaranteed that every child over six would receive a free, compulsory education that would last at least six years. It also opened the long debate between those who supported either lay or religious education. But, in the long run it assured the education of the majority of the Argentines.

Until the end of the 1880s, private schools -most of them linked to immigrant communities- were predominant. Approximately half of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires were foreigners. The government and the local elite, quickly realised that a state-controlled education could result in two benefits: the “education of the sovereign” (future voters) and the assimilation of those Argentines whose parents were immigrants.

In subsequent years, the majority of the immigrants privileged a solid education, rather than an “ethnic” education. This explains the fact that, while the number of public schools grew rapidly, the community schools lost pupils and many of them eventually closed their doors. [3] The situation of the Irish-Argentine schools was an exception to the general rule, and after studying their evolution, we will see the reasons for their survival.

The Irish Immigrants’ Concerns about Education

Since their arrival, the Irish immigrants showed their concern for the education of their young. Although the Argentine state developed a network of public schools, different factors contributed to their reticence to send their children to those establishments. Firstly, the great distances and the need to have their assistance in the rural tasks. Secondly, there existed a certain cultural prejudice. Many parents did not feel comfortable sending their offspring to local schools where they would mix with the “natives”, and absorb their culture and language, leading to the gradual loss of their own.

Thomas Murray, writing in 1919, deplores the effects of this policy, but tries to justify this exclusiveness which delayed the integration of new generations of Irish-Argentines:

“The poor native in those days was a rather lawless and unlovely character, while rich and poor alike in the country districts were, in the eyes of the Irish settlers, shamefully immoral [...]. The Irish father and mother were, therefore, quite satisfied that the less intercourse their boys or girls had with such neighbours the better it would be for them.” [4]

Camp Schoolmasters

Therefore, it’s not surprising to find that, up to the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the majority of the Irish families who lived in the countryside relied on picturesque “camp school masters”, an adaptation of the original “hedge school masters” of Ireland. The first of these masters, to our knowledge, worked for the Handy (or Handley) family, which in 1842 owned an estancia on the banks of the Salado River. [5]

By the 1860s many families had a camp schoolmaster in their midst, and some even became part of local folklore, as the first stanza of “Donovan’s mount” proves:

“I roved round the camp till I met with an Irishman
Whose houses and land give appearance of joy,
So I up and I asked if he wanted a pedagogue
As I tipped him the wink that I was the boy …” [6]

but this doesn’t mean that these men were fully integrated, since many of them were “undesirable citizens”:

“They were mostly men of poor or scarcely any education; deserters from English or American ships, outcasts from commercial or professional callings, because of their weakness for strong drinks, or once in a while, a ne’er-do-well who taught for a few months here and a few months there merely as resting spots on the vagrant course of life he had marked out for himself.” [7]

Fortunately, most of them did not remain with the same family long enough to influence their students decisively. And we must add that there were some honest schoolmasters who were later successful in other walks of life.

The camp schoolmasters taught reading, writing and some basic arithmetic, always keeping one step ahead of the most advanced students. They were also expected to help in household chores; knowledge of masonry and carpentry were also welcome! Tom Garrahan, who grew up in Lobos, recalled in his memoirs that during recreation, Mr. George Legates, a former Glasgow engineer...

“was always occupied at some mechanical work and always kept me to help him, […] so I picked up a lot of useful knowledge. He was very good at carpentry and he even made a steam engine, a model in wood. All I learned from him came in handy in after years”. [8]

Children had to learn their prayers and the catechism but parents had little time for this. According to Murray, most schoolmasters would not be useful in this crucial aspect of education, since many of them -especially the English and Americans- were Protestants, agnostics or atheists! [9] Such was the price that many Irish settlers paid to have their children educated in their mother tongue.

A less known aspect is the education of the children of labourers who had no means to pay for these itinerant teachers. According to an embassy report that explained the situation in the mid nineteenth century, this situation kept a wide sector of the Irish community “at the barely-literate level, and, coupled with their remoteness from urban centres, deprived them of opportunities for advancement in a country that was rapidly becoming prosperous”. [10]

For the members of the Irish-Argentine community with means, there existed an alternative option concerning the education of their children: a boarding school abroad. In 1916, The Southern Cross published advertisements for two boarding schools in Ireland: Saint Enda’s College (Co. Dublin) and Rockwell College (Cashel). The first one was termed “the Irish-Ireland Boarding School for Catholic Boys”, which is hardly surprising, considering that its headmaster was none other than Padraig Pearse, executed by the British that same year for proclaiming the Irish Republic. Many Irish-Argentine parents were comfortable with sending their children to English boarding schools.

The First Schools

In 1856 seven Sisters of Mercy arrived to Buenos Aires. This congregation established by Mother Catherine McAuley in Dublin (1831) has one peculiarity: to the traditional vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, they add a fourth one: “the care of the poor, the sick and the ignorant”. [11]

By 1857, they were in charge of a school for Irish girls in Riobamba Street, city of Buenos Aires.  The Irish-Argentine community owed this first school to Father Fahy who had made possible the arrival of the Sisters and the organisation of the Irish College. To begin with, it had five classrooms where 20 boarders had their lessons, and a school for the poor girls of the area.

In 1861 Father Fahy informed that the Sisters had “sixty five boarders, all of them daughters of Irish settlers, and also 160 daughters of the natives that received a free education” [12] The 1869 national census, reflects that the school and the Irish Hospital (which was located beside the school) were managed by 28 Sisters. There were 84 boarders (mostly Irish-Argentines), 37 of which were orphans. [13]

In 1865 the Sisters of Mercy opened their second school, Saint Peter and Paul, in  Chascomús, but in 1868 this rural district was severely affected by the cholera epidemic and the Sisters lacked the necessary medical and religious attention. At the same time, their countrymen started the exodus to the northwestern area of the province of Buenos Aires. 

Saint Peter and Paul closed down, and a short time later (1872) they inaugurated another school with the same staff in Mercedes, a flourishing district with 14,000 inhabitants and a resident Irish chaplain. The Sisters bought land close to the train station and built Saint Joseph’s, a school that had to close when the Sisters left the country. [14]

The departure was motivated by the uncertainty that followed the closure of the Irish Hospital in 1874 and the violent anti-clerical campaign in which the neighbouring Colegio del Salvador  was set on fire. The Sisters left the country in February 1880, and eventually arrived to Australia, where they established different institutions.

In May 1880, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart -many of which had Irish origins- took over the convent and school. Their report from September of the following year, informs that they had 75 orphans and 54 boarders under their care and 150 girls at the free school. [15] The aim of the Sisters was to “prepare them for the grave duties and responsibilities of life, and qualify them to hold an honourable position in society” [16] .

To achieve that aim, the pupils received a full programme which included: Christian doctrine, English, Spanish, History (sacred and secular), Arithmetic, and Natural Sciences. To these subjects, standard in most curricula, they added refinement of manners, Piano and Singing, Drawing and Painting, French, and even Astronomy.

We possess fragmented information about the other pioneering Irish-Argentine schools. Murray and Ussher refer briefly to some of them, and The Southern Cross published advertisements since its first issue, in 1875.

In 1861 Dr. Patrick Fitz Simons, a very learned Irishman, organised a school for boys in Lobos, province of Buenos Aires, which was later moved to Flores, closer to the capital, named Saint Patrick’s College. [17] According to Murray, Fitz Simons was not a good educator, since he sought to turn his pupils into good English subjects, teaching them only English history, and nothing about Ireland or Argentina. Argentine authorities had a completely opposite opinion, and actually trusted him with the task of organising and directing the National School of Corrientes which was inaugurated in 1869. [18]

Fahy had established the Irish College for girls, and by 1862 he reckoned that it was the turn of the boys. He therefore bought a plot of land, opposite the girls’ school. After the necessary repairs, he entrusted the running of the school to Fathers James Curran and Lawrence Kirwan, but their lack of pedagogical experience and their limited knowledge of Spanish, led to their failure. Fahy then sold the property to the Jesuits who then established the famous Colegio del Salvador, one of the most important catholic cultural centres in the Argentine Republic.

Under Father Michael Leahy’s (Irish chaplain of Carmen de Areco) encouragement, 1869 witnessed the inauguration of Saint Brendan’s College. The school, with a capacity for 60 boarders, was successful until Leahy’s death (1893). [19] That same year, Mrs. Colclough Brennan, who had directed a school in Manchester, opened a school for girls at the corner of Maipú and Lavalle streets, in the city of Buenos Aires. [20]

Throughout its inaugural year, 1875, The Southern Cross printed various advertisements which announced the services of 3 schools which were presumably Irish.

The Colegio de la Santa Fe (Holy Faith School), directed by Mrs. Hine and her daughters offered “a liberal education, including music, singing and other accomplishments, and all that is necessary to qualify them for domestic management”. Its location (Callao, corner of  Juncal), “close to the city”, allowed parents to visit their daughters easily. [21]

Meanwhile, Mrs. Macken, argued that her Windsor College, facing Lezama’s quinta, was situated in the healthiest area of the city. [22] The Sacred Heart College, directed by Mrs. R. Galbraith, did not publicize the advantages of its location but limited itself to listing the multiple subjects comprised in the programme. [23]

In June 1876 Father Dillon started in his house on Corrientes Street, a Catholic school both for Irish and other English-speaking boys, which he later moved to Cangallo Street. Saint George’s College accepted boarders, half-boarders and day-students, announcing that:

“The course of instruction includes elementary, commercial and superior education. […] The college [affords] facilities for the acquirement of modern languages, the programmes including English, Spanish, French, German and Italian; while particular attention is paid to those boys who are but imperfectly acquainted with the language of the country.” [24]

As from 1884, The Southern Cross shows no advertisements of its founder’s school. We can speculate that Saint George’s was short-lived due to the multiple occupations of dean Dillon. The existence of many Irish schools depended greatly on the determination of their founders. Such was the case of the unsuccessful Saint Patrick’s College in San Pedro, province of Buenos Aires.

At end of 1881, Michael Dineen, who had ample teaching experience [25] , announced to the readers of The Southern Cross that, on popular request, he would open on January 15, 1882, the afore mentioned school for boys, and presented an ambitious curriculum. However, on January 13, 1883, he dispelled the illusions of the Irish-Argentine parents:

Owing to the fact that Mr. Michael Dineen, having been appointed co-editor of the Southern Cross, cannot carry his intention of opening a college in San Pedro, he takes this opportunity of thanking the many friends who generously offered their patronage and support.” [26]

Henry Gray (1850-1928), member of the Congregation of Saint Vincent of Paul  (Lazarists) opened in 1877 the Colegio de Nuestra Señora de Luján, in Luján, 60 km. north of the city of Buenos Aires. [27] Its purpose was to give “a true Christian education and sound instruction to those young men who are desirous of following the ecclesiastical career or any profession, whether of the free or commercial style”. [28]

The prospectus spared no details, describing the subjects, conditions for admission (which included the presentation of various certificates: birth, good conduct, health) and also the boys’ wardrobe (it even specifies the number of socks that they had to bring along!).

The Sisters of Mercy

After intense negotiations, the Sisters of Mercy agreed to come back to Argentina, arriving in Buenos Aires in August 1890. In 1883, eminent Irish-Argentine citizens had founded the Irish Catholic Association (ICA) which had taken over the school in Riobamba Street.

Up to that moment, the free school for humble and orphaned girls, the school for boarders and the convent shared the same premises. The 1895 national census shows that 18 sisters were in charge of 136 students, which were still mostly Irish-Argentine. [29] The building was rapidly becoming inadequate, and it was sold to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who founded the La Salle School, which still stands to this day.

The Irish Catholic Association and the Sisters of Mercy decided to go separate ways: the association started building Saint Bridget’s School, while the Sisters began to build on the corner of 24 de Noviembre and Estados Unidos, the building which would serve as convent and Mater Misericordiae School.

Mater Misericordiae was solemnly inaugurated on August 15, 1897. The Sisters would run this establishment for almost 8 years, always seeking to teach Christian values, solid knowledge, physical health and good manners. Many other Mercy schools followed in the next two decades.

At the beginning of the 20th century, two Irish-Argentine ladies decided it was necessary to create Irish schools in San Antonio de Areco, a prosperous town in the northern area of the province of Buenos Aires. Santa María de la Asunción (Saint Mary’s) and Clonmacnoise stand as testimonies of the generosity of Mary Mooney and her sister Margaret Morgan (née Mooney), respectively.

Saint Mary’s -a girls’ school- was inaugurated on 16 March 1901. Mrs. Morgan had intended to find a male order to run the boys’ school baptised after the well-known monastery of Ireland’s golden age. Clonmacnoise opened its doors on 22 March 1922 and was run by the Sisters of Mercy until 1949, when the nuns decided to entrust its care to the Pallotine fathers. Both schools benefited from its easy access by train and the increasing amount of Irish settlers in the area.

The railway would also contribute to the creation of another school. This time it would be in Rawson (Chacabuco department). Mrs. Mary Anne Browne Casey, graciously donated a house in which the daughters of the Irish railway workers could be educated. The Sisters inaugurated Saint Anne’s on 19 April 1929. [30] Two years later, they established Saint Ethnea’s, in Bella Vista, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Meanwhile, the Irish Catholic Association decided that the new school should be an everlasting tribute to the memory of Father Fahy. With that purpose in mind, the ICA bought 7 hectares in the area of Flores (at that time, the outskirts of the city). The construction of the new building, executed by Inglis & Thomas, caused a big stir in the community and was closely monitored by The Southern Cross.

The result was a grandiose neo-gothic building. Saint Bridget’s, so christened after the patron saint of Ireland and of students, which was inaugurated in the presence of hundreds of Irish-Argentines by the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Mgr. Castellanos, on March 19, 1899. The building, which is 3-stories high, featured bedrooms that could house 250 boarders and enormous gardens. Ten years later, a chapel was added.    

Seeking to enforce a “new” educational programme, the ICA entrusted the care of their school to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart [31] but due to the demands of the Irish-Argentine community, the Sisters of Mercy were summoned and took the reins of the institution by the end of 1902.

In 1926 the ICA informed of 186 students who had passed their exams. [32]

The Pallotine and Passionist Schools

In 1885, as a result of his visit to Mercedes, Father William Whitmee (1851-1909) was able to persuade the authorities of the Pallotine Institute about the convenience of establishing a school in the area, since the Irish settlers accounted for two thirds of the local population and Mercedes was an important railway centre.  Besides, they could make good use of the building left by the Sisters of Mercy [33] . By mid-1886 Whitmee was assisted by 2 other Pallotines: Bernard Feeney and Joseph Bannin. [34]

Saint Patrick’s School, which also served as the congregation’s first residence in Argentina, opened its doors in February 1887. The school accepted pupils from different ethnic origins and had as its motto: “The fosterage of the best Irish race principles and the high traditions of that race in Argentina”.

Its first head was Bernard Feeney, who added an industrial school as an annex, probably the first of its kind in Argentina. He also started a printing press and published the magazine “Flowers and Fruits”. At the end of 1887, the industrial school was moved to Azcuénaga -a promising village, 40 km. away- and christened Saint Bridget’s. Aided by his 25 students, Feeney launched a weekly publication “The Irish Argentine”. Regrettably, his newspaper ceased to appear and the school was closed in 1889. [35]

In its early years, Saint Patrick’s had to face economic difficulties and finance the enlargement of the existing building. Pupils posed another difficulty: up to that moment they had depended on the rural schoolmasters, and therefore it was difficult to classify them by age group or educational level. The Pallotines, with the help of teachers and former students soon put an end to this and managed to teach a wide array of subjects.

The requests of satisfied parents, led the Order to open a school for external students, Saint Stanislaus, which worked independently until 1925, when it was once more incorporated into the parent school. [36] We must not fail to mention, that Saint Patrick’s brought together the community of Mercedes in its ceremonies and sports competitions.

Another male religious order would open a school in the northern area of the province of Buenos Aires, and run it along similar lines: that is the case of Saint Paul’s School founded in Capitán Sarmiento by the Passionist Fathers.

Father Victor Carolan (1846-1898) had originally built a monastery in the area, but later decided to build a school as an annex. Saint Paul’s -named after the founder of the order- grew around Saint Patrick’s chapel, built by chaplain “Largo” Michael Leahy in 1868, and was inaugurated on January 7, 1900. [37] Once again, the short distance to an important railway station was crucial for the school’s success.

José de Moal has left us a detailed account of the school in which he taught for decades. Thanks to him we know that the modest amount of 40 students of 1905 were already 107 in 1908. This growth led to the incorporation of former pupils as teaching assistants every single year. De Moal also reminds us that health conditions were different in those days, for example, in 1908 a burst of scarlet fever:

“forces the director to send all the students back home. The building is disinfected using the means that science and law prescribe, with all the care, neatness and goodwill that can be asked for. [...] The boy Michael Cormack died a few days after his father took him back to Arrecifes.” [38]

The Ladies of Saint Joseph’s Society

In 1889, the “City of Dresden” arrived to port with 1800 Irish immigrants, despite the repeated warnings that they would receive no help from the Argentine government. After two years of hardship, which caused the death of many, and the discouragement of further immigration schemes, a group of Irish-Argentine ladies decided to deal with the orphaned boys, which resulted from this venture. They formed the Ladies of Saint Joseph’s Society and subsequently created the Fahy Institute (May 14, 1891), which fulfilled the cherished project of the notorious Father Fahy after whom it was named.

To begin with, the school had its premises on Cochabamba street, Buenos Aires. It was later moved to Capilla del Señor. [39] By 1895, the Sisters of the Order of Saint Joseph had 70 boys who were between 5 and 10 years old, under their care. Two years later, the Fahy Institute became an industrial school and the Brothers of Saint Joseph of Lyon replaced the Sisters, but since they were not able to teach English lessons, they too were replaced. After years of incertitude, the Marist Brothers were put in charge of the establishment (1908-1933) and were in turn replaced by the Pallotines.

Almost 40 years after its creation (December 16, 1929), the Ladies of Saint Joseph’s Society inaugurated new premises in Moreno (49 km. away from the city) and added to its name the defining term “Farm”, referring to their key aim: “to teach the young boys to love the land, learning from it while they toiled it” [40] . The new building had a capacity for 200 students. The boys under 10 remained in Capilla del Señor.

The annual balance of 1943 [41] gives us some useful information about the Institute. Two priests, 6 local teachers and 4 prefects in charge of discipline aided the rector. One hundred and seventy three students were matriculated that year. Pupils in the upper courses took English exams in the British Cultural Association and accountancy in the Pisonero Mercantile Academy.

In 1912, Cristina Keating offered a generous donation to build a girls’ school in Estados Unidos street, right in front of Holy Cross church, neuralgic centre of the Irish-Argentine community. The new Keating Institute, was entrusted to the Sisters of Mercy, who once again set out to educate the orphaned Irish-Argentine girls. [42] Thirty years later, 6 Sisters and 2 teachers were responsible for the education of 120 pupils. [43]

Later Religious Foundations

For decades, the Irish-Argentines sent their children to the schools administered by the Sisters of Mercy, and the Pallotine and Passionist Fathers, most of which were located in the province of Buenos Aires.

However, during the early 20th century, the urbanisation process particularly affected the ascending Irish and the city of Buenos Aires had a magnetic influence. Therefore it was only natural that most of the new foundations took place in the city or its outskirts.

In the 1920s and 30s, the English speaking Catholics of Buenos Aires, began to feel the need of a school where their children could be educated in the Catholic faith, preserving their mother tongue. Back then, English schools like Saint Andrew’s, Saint George’s, Saint Hilda’s and Northlands failed to fulfil the first condition. A 1932 memo explained that most of the 24 British schools of Argentina were Protestant and that the parents of 228 boys were interested in establishing an exclusive Catholic school in Buenos Aires. [44] Two new orders would arrive to educate the children of the wealthier Irish-Argentines.

The Passionists, in particular Father Luis Hochendoner, were instrumental in encouraging the female branch of the order, already installed in Chile, to cross the Andes and establish a school for girls in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. When Mother Margaret Mary Reilly visited the city in 1923 she was a guest at the stately residence of Michael Ham (1857-1924) and Ana María Lynch (1863-1943), distinguished members of the Irish-Argentine community. [45]

The Hams had considered presenting a donation for the future school, but when they realised that the Sisters were unable to find a suitable place for their school, they decided to donate their own house. Its size and proximity to Vicente López train station made it ideal for the purpose. The 17,000 m2 property was transferred to the Passionist Sisters in 1924, shortly before Mr. Ham’s death.

In 1926, Sisters Scholastica and Aquinas arrived to organise the new school and gave it the name Michael Ham Memorial College. It was inaugurated on March 9, 1926, with 22 boarders and 20 day pupils. During the next years, the rooms of the mansion became rooms for the boarders, a library, and a chapel. New wings were added to it and in 1942, the chapel of Saint Anne was built in memory of Ana María Lynch.

During those years, the fame of the school grew. By 1938, there were more than 200 students, 60 of which were boarders. [46] Proof of this growth can be found in the organisation of the Old Girls’ Association (1935) and the creation of the first (official) year incorporated to the National School of San Isidro (1945).

We must clarify the origin and role of the Sisters. Although the congregation was English, it attracted many Irish vocations. “It was the Irish sisters who gave the school its informal, progressive and joyous spirit [47] . Once installed in Argentina, many Irish Argentines joined its ranks. Many of its former pupils entered the Passionist order and were themselves Headmistresses of the school. And there were those who, without entering the religious life, created their own schools. [48]

The Passionist were linked to another important foundation. When Father Fahy established a boys’ school in 1860, he had suggested that the Christian Brothers -Irish congregation founded by Edmund Rice in 1802, which devoted itself to education-, should take over it. However, the heads of the Order, did not accept his request. In the following decades, new pleas would receive the same answer; the Brothers were being sent chiefly to the United States and Australia.

In 1946, Father Dominic Moore, provincial of the Passionist Order, visited the Superior of the Christian Brothers in Dublin, and once again defended the case for a new foundation in Argentina. His request was accepted, and in November 1947, Brothers Joseph Ignatius Doorley -founder of various schools in USA- and Cornelius O’Reilly arrived to Buenos Aires. The Southern Cross encouraged the community to take an active interest in this visit:

“Our main object now is to ensure the immediate establishment of the Christian Brothers in Buenos Aires, in the knowledge that such establishment must redound to the glory of God, the advancement of Argentina and to the honour of that little isle beyond the sea which throughout the centuries has sent abroad the ambassadors to make God known in every corner of the earth [49]

Thanks to the incessant cooperation of Father Moore, a suitable building was bought in Belgrano 1548, in one of the busiest parts of Buenos Aires. The founders soon found a name for the new school: Cardinal Newman, after the well-known Englishman who is still an example of Catholic thought around the world.

In February 1948, diverse articles and advertisements were published in the media, announcing the opening of the school on 29 March. The national programme would be followed during the morning, devoting the afternoons to English. Brother Alphonsus L. Pakenham was the first rector, who presided over a community of 7 brothers, 8 lay teachers, and 148 students, 27 of which were boarders.

The Brothers treated their students kindly, working to “form honest, capable men, full of intellectual and spiritual values”. [50] It can be easily understood how the school rapidly earned an excellent reputation, incorporating 200 new students in 1949, which would have been more had there been more vacancies.

Two Educators, Two Dreams

In 1897, Lawrence Dillon established a new school for boys in Montes de Oca 1138-50, on the premises of a quinta which could house 50 boarders and included 8,000 m2 of gardens and playing grounds.

Twenty years later, Saint Lucy’s announced proudly that the approval rate in the official exams always exceeded 90%. Dillon, who would direct the school for many decades, was glad to offer “always the system, always the same treatment, and as far as possible, always the same teachers” [51] . Clearly, continuity was a great virtue for the founder!

By 1926, Saint Lucy’s had moved to a new location, in San Juan 855, closer to the central district of Buenos Aires. At the time, Dillon announced that Saint Lucy’s had “withstood the acid test of time” and invited parents to find out about the advantages of the school from friends, former students and the Consejo Nacional de Educación [52] . He later expressed that many alumni occupied leading positions in the banks and oil companies of Buenos Aires. [53]

But Lawrence Dillon was not the only Irish teacher willing to start his own school in Buenos Aires. In the 1920s, Sean Healy, pharmacist and Gaelic teacher, decided to leave behind the political turmoil of his native land and emigrated to the United States. During the trip he met a Scotsman who convinced him to join him in a rubber plantation in Manaos, Brazil! However, the Brazilian adventure came to an end when Healy contracted malaria and his doctor recommended his removal to a healthier place. [54]

Healy arrived to Buenos Aires in 1928 and started to work at the Buenos Aires English High School. He then became director of Saint Lucy’s. After that experience he decided to create an environment in which he could educate his pupils with humanist ideas.

In the 1930s, most of the Irish schools for boys were located in the province of Buenos Aires. Healy decided to establish his in Gaona Avenue 2855, in the former building of the Constitución English School, close to Saint Bridget’s. Three years later, the school moved to its actual location: Rivadavia 5672, 200 metres away from a train station.

The school was christened Saint Ciaran’s, in honour of the Irish patron saint of students, who founded Clonmacnoise abbey -renowned centre of learning- in the sixth century. Classes commenced on March 1, 1933 with the presence of 6 teachers and 35 pupils.

Saint Ciaran’s was attended by boarders, day pupils and half-boarders. Some girls were incorporated, but were kept in separate classes. They all had access to football fields, tennis and basketball courts, a vegetable garden and a private chapel. [55]

The staff was highly qualified: professor Weston came from the University of Cambridge, while professor Morris had studied at Oxford and London. Qualified national teachers were in charge of Mathematics, Sciences and Celtic. [56] Despite being a bilingual school, where most of the students did not speak Spanish as their mother tongue, this did not imply the duplication of subjects, since Healy understood this would not be beneficial.

Five years after its inauguration, Saint Ciaran’s announced its incorporation to National School  Nº 8 “Julio A. Roca”. The kindergarten had just been inaugurated and a sports field had been acquired. Two modern school buses provided “safe transportation from any address in the Federal Capital” [57] . The six original teachers were now fifteen. The 102 primary students who had sat for the national exams had achieved a high average.

By 1943, professor Healy could announce that the spectacular increase in student matriculations -they were already 170- “was no spontaneous development, but the result of ceaseless labour, combined with scrupulous attention to all details of scholastic improvements, trusting more in progressive results and the cooperation of contented parents, than in flamboyant propaganda.” [58] .

School Life

Up to the 1960s, the schools of the Irish-Argentine community accepted boarders. Girls and boys came from all over the province of Buenos Aires to the Mercy, Pallotine, Passionist and other schools which we have already described. We will glimpse at their lives far from home, by taking as a model the daily routine imposed by the Sisters of Mercy in their schools, and describe the life of their students in the 1920s and 30s. [59]  

They woke up at 6 am. After listening to mass (on Sundays and religious feasts) and taking breakfast, girls would comply with the tasks assigned by the Sisters (laundry, cleaning, cooking). The rest of the morning was dedicated to Spanish lessons. It was compulsory for all schools to comply with the official programme and for the students to sit for the exams of the National Education Council in November. Local staff was in charge of this important area in the curriculum.

The afternoons were devoted to English lessons, which were in charge of the Sisters. Subjects included, besides Grammar and Literature, History (including Irish history), Geography, Biology, Maths, Religion, etc. The students sat for the exams of the local English Cultural Association and for the Cambridge exams.

At 3 o’clock they would have tea, a short break and then study hours. After dinner and prayers they went off to bed, at about 8 pm.

The boarders were allowed to receive visitors on Sundays and holidays. If they behaved properly, they were allowed to turn on the radio and improvise small dances. Outings were mostly related to religious occasions, such as Easter, Corpus Christi or Saint Patrick’s, which was celebrated by the pupils of the schools located in Buenos Aires at Holy Cross church along with the rest of the community. The International Eucharistical Congress of 1934 was a well-remembered event, since it involved incessant activities.

In all of the Irish-Argentine schools, many hours were spent in activities that exceeded books. Following the principle of “mens sana in corpore sano” sports were widely practiced: tennis, hockey and netball by the girls, football and basketball by the boys.

While the American Passionist Brothers taught their pupils to play baseball, the Pallotines relied on hurling to stress the loyalty of their pupils to Ireland, and the Christian Brothers on rugby to promote a team spirit. In keeping with the militarisation of Argentine society in the 1930s, boys started to receive drills from military officers. On a more original note, there were swimming lessons for the girls at Michael Ham which took place in the River Plate!

Furthermore, well-educated girls had to have other accomplishments: they were taught to sew and embroider, French, manners, piano and singing; in some cases, they also performed Irish dances. In the 1930s, typing lessons allowed these young women to become executive secretaries in foreign companies, such as Shell and Esso. [60] Others followed the example of the Sisters and went on to become teachers or take their vows.

Extra subjects for boys included Latin, or in the case of the Fahy school, preparing them for rural activities. The liberal education which they received enabled them to follow professional careers, such as Law and Medicine. Many joined the Army, Navy and Aviation. Some of them joined the ranks of the orders that had educated them. Boys were specially prepared for business activities, through subjects such as accountancy and book-keeping. According to Mr. Luis Delaney, the prestige of the Fahy Institute meant a rapid insertion of its alumni in multinational enterprises [61] .

Throughout the testimonies, the true affection and respect that the pupils felt for their teachers is evident. Tessie Farrell explains the deep impression that was left in the former students of her Irish-Argentine school:

“I love Saint Bridget’s and all the people that I was lucky enough to meet there. I was thrilled to study and learn all the good lessons that I was able to apply successfully in my adult life. I was able to overcome the difficult times thanks to the excellent Christian education which I received in my marvellous school, something that I’m truly thankful for. I was so happy at Saint Bridget’s!” [62]

Damasia Becú explains the influence the Passionist Sisters left in their students:

“They mingled with us [...], spoke our language, celebrated our triumphs, cried with us [...] while we were captivated and transformed by them. Our deep and joyous religiosity is their gift. Our love for parties, the organisation of events, the songs ... our love of freedom, of truth, were sown by them. Happy mixture of cultures! They took our spontaneity, our sensitivity, and they left us all their joy, spirituality and discipline!” [63]

Luckily there were plenty of examples to follow and many educators willing to devote their lives to the education of the new generations of Argentine citizens.

Leading Irish-Argentine Educators

It could be argued that many educators linked to the Irish-Argentine community deserve the compliment. It is to be hoped that many of them shared Sean Healy’s vision on education:

“I would not recommend the experiment or experience to those in quest of opportunities for leisure. But I can truthfully assert that few professions offer one such contentment as that of guiding our youth along the thorny path of adolescent life. Its compensations more than counterbalance the exertions and tribulations exacted.” [64]

Many of these teachers were mentioned in connection with the institutions where they acted. Now we will deal briefly with those who shone in the educational field, but not necessarily within the community institutions.

Patrick Fitz Simons, who held a degree in Law and a doctorate in Philosophy, arrived to Argentina in 1862. We have already explained that he founded a school in Lobos and that in 1869 he was entrusted with the organisation of the National School at Corrientes.

As rector of this establishment he sought to form honest argentine citizens. He also created diverse schools: one for prefects, an elementary school, a night school for craftsmen and one for soldiers. In 1872, yellow fever struck Corrientes; Fitz Simons and his wife aided many families and finally died from the disease. [65]

Patrick was succeeded by his son James (Santiago) Fitz Simons (1849-1925) as rector of the school. In that capacity he organised the secondary school, prioritising a “national, republican education”. In 1891 he was named Inspector of Secondary Education and he elaborated a plan of reforms. The following year he was chosen to preside the General Inspection of Secondary Education. He then moved on to become rector of the Carlos Pellegrini Commercial School, one of the most prestigious establishments of Buenos Aires. [66]

The story of Cecilia Grierson (1859-1934) [67] was quite different. She was the daughter of a rural worker of the province of Entre Ríos. It was there that she started her teaching career, when she was scarcely thirteen years old. She then studied in the Escuela Normal de Maestras (Preparatory School for Teachers), in Buenos Aires.

However, she longed to become a doctor and after overcoming the prejudices of her contemporaries, she became the first woman in South America to obtain a Medicine degree. In 1886 she created the first Nursing School in South America. Her lessons on the care of the sick and first aid were widely published. She was a professor of Anatomy and created the course of Kinesiology.

This woman who started the practice of giving out toys to hospitalised children and using fire squad sirens in ambulances, was a unique combination of doctor and pedagogue, in the words of her biographer “an example of love to her country and humanity as a whole”. [68]

Kathleen Milton Jones (1869-1941) also managed to improve the lives of many. Born in Dublin to a Church of Ireland family, she was sent to study Literature at the University of Cambridge. When she was 20 years old, the whole family emigrated to Rio de Janeiro, where she taught English, Music and Arts at the Colegio Americano Brasileiro. A yellow fever epidemic and the presence of 2 cousins in Buenos Aires, determined their passage to Buenos Aires in 1891.

By 1894, Kathleen was ready to establish the English School (later renamed San Patricio) in San Martín, a suburb of  Buenos Aires. It was open to students of every origin. In subsequent years she would educate more than 3,000 students. According to Murray’s investigation she was also an educational pioneer. Her school:

“was a laboratory to test modern educational techniques. Kathleen managed to implement new methods to teach English as a foreign language and, according to the examination results, there was a significant improvement of the students’ knowledge and enthusiasm. Her motivation schemes, including awards to the best students, prompted [them] to work harder”. [69]

Married to Andrew Boyle, a former major in the British Army, in 1899, Kathleen followed her husband’s example and converted into Catholicism. This remarkable woman who also devoted her energies to helping the needy, died in 1941 and is remembered with a street in Villa Piaggio and a bronze bust in the entrance of San Martín cemetery.

Finally, we will deal with Father Juan Santos Gaynor (1905-1963) [70] . He studied in Saint Patrick’s School, Mercedes. He then joined the Pallotines, who sent him to study to Thurles, Ireland. He later became a doctor in Philosophy and Theology. 

Gaynor directed The Southern Cross for eighteen years (1940-1958), leaving in his writings  “evidence of his profound faith, vast culture and constant preoccupation for human problems”. He was also active in the educational field. He was General Inspector of Religious Instruction (1951-1954); Professor of Theology and English Literature; and the founder of the institute that bears his name: Fundación Juan S. Gaynor (1958).

The educational philosophy of the Irish-Argentines

An elementary education

The role of Ireland as a guardian of the Western culture and the Irishmen’s love of education are well known. The existence of hedge-schools throughout the island in the 19th century is proof of this. Thanks to these precarious institutions, even the humblest peasants received an elementary education. That is why, it’s not surprising to find that most of the Irish immigrants who arrived to our coasts, knew how to read and write.

The level of instruction among these immigrants is evident in the national census of 1869 and 1895. We can speculate that the figures are not exact, since some of them might’ve felt tempted to hide their ignorance of the Spanish language or their scarce education. However, the data from an urban and a rural area should prove to be useful. [71]

In these two areas, the percentage of literate Irishmen ranges between 82 and 85% (1869), increasing to 90-92% (1895). The progressive instruction of the immigrants is intimately linked with increased schooling: in the first section, the proportion of children over 6 who go to school, moves from 43 to 90%; while in Rojas it moves from 29 to 49%. The difference between the 2 areas is logical: Rojas was a rural district, which had less schools and where children were expected to help with the farming activities.

All of the Irish schools and the national establishments provided an elementary education for the children of these immigrants.


The original language of the Irish is Gaelic. The English eliminated it systematically, since they saw it as a means of transmitting a whole culture which they wanted to eradicate. The measure of their success after centuries of domination can be seen in the low numbers of Irishmen who spoke Gaelic in the nineteenth century.

When analysing the educational programmes of Irish-argentine schools it’s highly unusual to find Gaelic before the years of the “Gaelic Renaissance” in Ireland. Its inclusion usually responded to the personal convictions of the directors, such is the case of Sean Healy, an active nationalist in his native land. Saint Patrick’s in Mercedes was another exception.

We will therefore take English as the mother tongue of the Irish immigrants. It’s also worthwhile to add that the best examples of Irish authors wrote in this language and that one of them, Oscar Wilde, once said that, while the English conquered Irish territory to exploit it in a selfish way, the Irish adopted the English language to improve it. 

There were different factors that contributed to the loss of the native language of different migrant communities and the adoption of Spanish. Argentina’s educational policy was one of the key factors. In 1884 the new educational law enabled the children of immigrants to learn Spanish and come into contact with the “natives” and create permanent bonds with them. Furthermore, the policies known as “patriotic education” (1908-1915) exalted the national feeling through the use of patriotic emblems, the commemoration of key dates and the thorough study of Argentine history.

The reduced size of the immigrant community could also conspire against the conservation of the original language. However, we know for a fact that the Irish kept their language up to the fourth and even fifth generation. This was due to different factors, such as the international prestige of English, the cultural level of the group, and of course, the creation of institutions which sought to maintain traditions. [72]

Most of the Irish pioneers were reluctant to adopt the ways and language of the “natives”. This helps to understand why they resorted to camp schoolmasters whose greatest virtue was, in many cases, to speak English. Gradually, the surrounding environment led them to adopt Spanish as a second language, establishing its predominance at the onset of the 20th century. By 1919 Thomas Murray regretted that:

 “Parents have in too many cases passed from one extreme to the other in their ideas as to the language their children should know first, and English, such a very useful tongue to know, is frequently neglected where its imparting would cost no more effort than its daily use by the parents within the family circle. Irish-Argentines are very fortunately placed, they can […] endow their children with the very great advantage of the two principal languages of the world, they will be acting very foolishly if they do not fully avail themselves of this good fortune.” [73]

This change is also evident in the curriculum. While the advertisements of Saint Patrick’s School in the 1920s considered Spanish “a subject of great importance”, those of the 1930s highlighted the application of the official programmes and considered English “a subject of great importance”. 

Complaints and curriculum changes aside, bilingualism was one of the strong points of Irish-Argentine schools. Despite integration to their country of adoption and mixed marriages, Irish-Argentines kept the English language, not only because for cultural reasons, but also because they appreciated its possibilities. It was soon evident that the alumni of Irish-Argentine schools were offered secretarial and accounting posts in British and American enterprises.

We could also argue that many other schools assigned equal or more importance to English. Graham-Yooll provides us with a chronicle of the English and Scottish schools [74] . But most of these institutions were founded and directed by Anglicans and Presbyterians, and linked to the churches of these confessions. The majority of the Irish who arrived to Argentina were Catholic and they demanded a Catholic education for their offspring.

The Catholic Faith

In the 19th century, Gaelic had practically succumbed to the English onslaught, but the faith of the Irish people remained steadfast. Actually, the Catholic faith drew the Irish and the Argentines together. Where culture and language created differences, religion united and permitted a growing amount of mixed marriages.

An article, which appeared in The Standard in 1925, stated that:

“Wherever the Irish settled, their priests went with them to direct their progress and share their trials. In Argentina, the priests made sure that the first Irish immigrants who had become wealthy farmers donated land to build chapels which became not only places of worship but also schools and social centres for the whole community.” [75]

A quick look at the schools described previously should suffice to demonstrate that the majority of the Irish-Argentine schools were linked to religious orders. The example of Father Fahy, the visionary Dominican who founded the first Irish-Argentine school, was followed by the priests he had formed and brought from Ireland, such as Patrick Joseph Dillon and Michael Leahy.

The Sisters of Mercy occupy the first place in the “Honour roll”: besides establishing numerous schools (Mater Misericordiae, Saint Ethnea’s, Saint Mary’s, Clonmacnoise, Saint Anne’s, etc.), they also administered others, such as Saint Bridget’s.  The Passionist Fathers founded Saint Paul’s in Carmen de Areco, while the Pallotines created Saint Patrick’s in Mercedes. The Passionist Sisters established Michael Ham Memorial College and the Christian Brothers, Cardinal Newman. And let’s not forget the religious orders connected with the schools of the Ladies of Saint Joseph’s Society!

In the period we are studying, very few schools were private enterprises. The first schools established by private individuals had a short life. Lawrence Dillon and Sean Healy were more successful. Beyond the religious or non-religious origin, the great majority of these establishments have religious names, resorting often to saints.

If we study the programmes, we confirm that religion is part of the curriculum of every single Irish-Argentine school, both before and after the secularisation of education (through the Ley 1420 of 1884). We have mentioned the religious practices of the girls’ schools which included masses, rosaries and peregrinations. Sacred history is also mentioned in the advertisements of different schools.

The Southern Cross also admonished the parents about the necessity of educating children in the faith of their elders. The newspaper joined other media in deploring the sanction of the Ley 1420, receiving it as the triumph of “godless education”. [76]

In a pastoral letter addressed to the Irish-Argentines, Monsignor Espinosa warns that:

“The great evil of these times is the religious indifference with which our environment is saturated, and even the most pious families suffer the consequences of this evil, if parents don’t show the necessary concern for the formation of their children’s heart. Do not entrust them to the cares of non Catholic teachers, since the impression caused on your children when they see that people they respect do not profess the faith of their parents, is usually undeletable. When choosing a school always favour catholic schools, that devote themselves especially to the religious instruction of their pupils.” [77]

“Every Catholic child in a Catholic school” was the slogan that the author of the section “The Catholic World” proposed to adopt in his article of March 19, 1926. He compared the “disloyal and disobedient” Catholics who sent their children to secular schools” to those “good” Catholics who “gladly made sacrifices to safeguard their children against the perils to faith and morals, so common in a society which is fast persuading itself that it can get along better without God than with God.” [78]

The rejection of secular education is present in a 1933 article that urges to follow the example of Brazil -where religious education had been reinstated- and which states:

“Till the clear idea of God and the duties of men towards Him pervades in our national life, we shall not have real civilization. Our educational system is growing powerless before the evils of the times. Our youth are growing up into a race of criminals. Our schools are seriously endangered by Communism and sane and sound patriotism is on the wane. The only real remedy is implantation of religion in our schools.” [79]

Closely connected to the religious formation is moral education, which stems out from the former. Sean Healy expressed his point of view:

“[…] education is a far greater matter than the mere acquisition of proficiency in scholastic subjects. The good teacher is constantly preoccupied with the formation and development of character, the inculcation of moral values such as self-discipline, the virtues of truth, courage, loyalty and honesty, which form the basis of life’s successes or failures. […] Neglect of this phase of a child’s education, often leads to disastrous consequences, swelling the ranks of the unemployed and social detention centres.” [80]


For the majority of these immigrants and their descendants, being Irish was unmistakeably linked to the Catholic faith. Therefore, religion and patriotism were complementary, and were sometimes intermixed. Priests and nuns encouraged in their pupils a deep affection for the land of their ancestors. Thus, we see that every end of the year ceremony included Irish songs and dances, which in the second quarter of the twentieth century, included the Irish anthem The Soldier’s Song. Irish dances and Irish history were generally part of the educational programmes.

Therefore the duty of Irish-Argentine parents went beyond sending their sons and daughters to Catholic schools, these had to provide an “Irish atmosphere”, and this was only possible in the Irish-Argentine schools. From the pages of The Southern Cross support of these schools was encouraged, since they were as good, if not better, than all others and besides they were “our own and for our own”. [81]

Once more, we resort to Monsignor Espinosa to clarify the relationship between faith and patriotism. In his pastoral letter he exhorts the Irish-Argentines to:

“carry on being faithful to your faith and your principles, passing them on to your children, so that studying your glorious history they might learn to love the Catholic faith, the land of their forebears and this their homeland, which you have contributed to form with the vigour of your intelligence and the strength of your arms”. [82]

But patriotism doesn’t just apply to the Emerald Isle, but also to Argentina. Monsignor Santiago Ussher explained this clearly:

“All should love and serve the land in which they were born. And for Argentines, Argentina comes first; but Irish-Argentines also love Ireland, the ancient land of their race, and [in the Irish schools] the laudable traditions of our race are preserved and love of Argentina and Ireland are inculcated as well as the high principles of our religion.” [83]

The Irishmen who settled in Argentina, rapidly made it their home. Their descendants were Irish-Argentines, not Irishmen born outside their homeland. The quality of their adaptation can be measured by the reduced figures of Irish immigrants who went back home. In other words, they didn’t come here to get rich and go back home. They settled here, worked hard, formed their families and died here.

This profound affection for the Argentine soil gave them the right to criticise the lack of patriotism in the educational programmes:

“Argentine nationalism is in danger of being swamped, unless something is done to bring up the youth of the country, the authentic Argentines, in the Argentine spirit. […]It’s strange to say it is in the teaching profession, that which of all others is dedicated, as a substantive part of its work to the propagation of Argentine patriotism, to the theories and persons of the internationalists and no-country men, have found a home.” [84]

Women’s role

A 1926 article addressed the girls -future wives and mothers- and recommended the fostering of certain domestic skills:

“Every girl should know how to sew and make dresses.
To cook and clean.
To mend her own and household things.
To dress neatly and becomingly and daintily.
To keep a secret and respect confidences.
To be self-reliant and not helpless.
To keep her house tidy and have a place for everything.
To respect old age.
To be above gossip or listening to slander.
To control her temper.
To care for the sick and the young.”

Around the same time, another article underlined the importance of Irish-Argentine mothers in the upbringing of their children. Referring to the epigram “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, the author posed that mothers had a superior and noble mission in life. “The home is the initial and the greatest primary school [...] [where the] principles of honour and virtue are instilled”. [86]

These two visions, expressed by men, describe the archetypical housewife and mother. However, we must remember that many Irish-Argentine families were true matriarchies. Women worked side by side with their husbands. When the men were away on a journey, or passed away, women were unafraid of taking command. They administered their properties, and they raised their children with discipline, preparing them for life’s struggles.

When it came to formal education, girls and boys had the same rights. As a matter of fact, Father Fahy, solved the matter of the girls’ education first, sending for the Sisters of Mercy. It should also be noted that, at the time when the two articles we just quoted were printed, the schools run by the Sisters offered commercial courses that allowed their students to become secretaries in multinational corporations and earn their living.


After studying the birth and evolution of the Irish-Argentine schools throughout the 1850-1950 period, we confirm that their common origin gave them similar characteristics.  It would be useless to go over the names of the institutions created since Father Fahy inaugurated his “Irish” College back in 1857. It should suffice to say that many of them proved their excellence with their continuity [87] , and especially through the unattainable number of women and men who attended them and who, years later still cherish fond memories and a sincere affection for their schools and teachers.

The educational philosophy of the Irish-Argentines has rarely been explicited, but it is always present in its institutions and educators. As we have already seen, it has five pillars:

- An elementary education for all the Irish-Argentine children.

- Defence of the English language as a means of keeping the Irish identity and due to its usefulness as the world’s commercial language.

- Catholic education, including the traditional Irish religiosity.

- Patriotism, which involves love for the ancestral land and the Argentine soil.

- Equality between men and women as far as education is concerned.

This philosophy is partially summarised in Luis Delaney’s reflection on the years he spent at the Fahy Institute: “we were taught English in the mornings and to love Argentina in the afternoons”; a lesson which many Argentine schools have yet to learn!

It is impossible to praise adequately the bravery and resolve of those educators who offered their lives for the education of the new generations of Irish-Argentines, transforming them into worthy heirs of their ancestors and builders of a new nation. This explains, to a great extent, why, being so few, they achieved so much. This investigation is a modest tribute to their incessant and generous labour.  


[1] The lowest figures respond to EDUARDO COGHLAN’s El aporte de los irlandeses ..., p. 15-22 and J. C. KOROL & H. SABATO’s, Cómo fue la inmigración irlandesa ..., p. 194;  while the highest were estimated earlier on by SANTIAGO USSHER, Los capellanes irlandeses ..., p. 19-22.

[2] SANTIAGO USSHER, Los capellanes irlandeses, p. 130.

[3] FERNANDO DEVOTO, La inmigración; in: ACADEMIA NACIONAL DE LA HISTORIA, Nueva Historia de la Nación Argentina, vol. 4, p. 102.

[4] THOMAS MURRAY, The Story of the Irish in Argentina, p. 281.

[5] WILLIAM MAC CANN, Viaje a caballo por las provincias argentinas, p. 114.

[6] “El monitor de la Campaña”, Nº 33. Capilla del Señor, 1874.

[7] THOMAS MURRAY, op. cit., p. 283.

[8] GARRAHAN, Tom, Memoirs.

[9] See THOMAS MURRAY, op. cit., p. 286.

[10] TIMOTHY HORAN, The Irish in Argentina. Report of the Irish Embassy in Argentina to the Foreign Affairs Department, July 22 1958, p. 12.

[11] Interview with Sister Isabel Mac Dermott. Buenos Aires, November 11, 2001.

[12] SANTIAGO USSHER, Padre Fahy, p. 105.

[13] See CENSO NACIONAL DE POBLACION DE 1869, séptima sección,  vols. 20 y 21.

[14] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, January 11, 1957. Year 82, Nº 4242, p. 11.

[15] Data taken from THOMAS MURRAY, op. cit., p. 428.

[16] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, March 25, 1881. Vol. II, Nº 8, p. 3.

[17] THOMAS MURRAY, op. cit., p. 208-212.

[18] We return to Dr. Fitz Simons’ achievements on page 23.

[19] See SANTIAGO USSHER, Los capellanes irlandeses ..., p. 168-174

[20] THOMAS MURRAY, op. cit., p. 381.

[21] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, January 21, 1875. Year I, Nº 2, p. 4. This location is now in one of the busiest parts of the city of Buenos Aires.

[22] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, February 18, 1875. Year I, Nº 6, p. 4. This quinta would soon become the National History Museum, and its gardens, a public park: Parque Lezama.

[23] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, March 4 , 1875. Year I, Nº 8, p. 2.

[24] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, March 14 , 1879. Vol. V, Nº 10, p. 8.

[25] See EDUARDO COGHLAN, Los irlandeses en la Argentina, p. 250.

[26] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, January 13, 1882. Vol. VII, Nº 50.

[27] SANITAGO USSHER, Los capellanes irlandeses, p. 147.

[28] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, March 1, 1878. Vol. IV, Nº 8, p. 8.

[29] See CENSO NACIONAL DE POBLACIÓN DE 1895, séptima sección, vols. 504 to 509.

[30] See SANTIAGO USSHER, Las Hermanas de la Misericordia, p. 95.

[31] This congregation had been recently established by Mother Francisca Cabrini.

[32] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, April 9, 1926. Year 52, Nº 2666, p. 21.

[33] See above Saint Joseph’s School.

[34] SANTIAGO USSHER, Los capellanes irlandeses, p. 223.

[35] SANTIAGO USSHER,  Los capellanes irlandeses, p. 134-5.

[36] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, May 31, 1957. Year 82, Nº 4261, p. 12.

[37] The Southern Cross, Centennial edition, p. 91.

[38] JOSÉ DE MOAL, Historia del Colegio San Pablo y del Monasterio desde 1900 a 1940, p. 11.

[39] See THOMAS MURRAY, The Story of the Irish in Argentina, p. 462-463.

[40] FEDERACIÓN DE SOCIEDADES ARGENTINO-IRLANDESAS, XVII Peregrinación Argentino-Irlandesa a Luján, p. 8.

[41] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, July 2, 1943. Year 69, Nº 3561, p. 7.

[42] See SOCIEDAD DE SEÑORAS DE SAN JOSÉ, Breve historia ..., p. 12-13.

[43] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, July 2, 1943. Year 69, Nº 3561, p. 7.

[44] REV. W. MURPHY, Present situation affecting education of English speaking Catholic Boys ....

[45] EDUARDO COGHLAN, Los irlandeses en la Argentina ..., p. 633.

[46] ASOCIACION DE EX ALUMNAS DEL COLEGIO MICHAEL HAM, Old Girls’ Bulletin, junio de  1993, año XVI, Nº 34, p. 12.

[47] ASOCIACION DE EX ALUMNAS DEL COLEGIO MICHAEL HAM, Old Girls’ Bulletin, septiembre de 1979, año 3, Nº 9, p. 20.

[48] Nelly Durand de Scanlan  (Saint Brendan’s), Diana Mateo and Beatriz Peroni (Saint Nicholas), Elena Ortíz de Maschwitz (Godspell College), Margarine and María Moreno (Holy Cross School).

[49] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, 21 de noviembre de 1947. Año 73, nro. 3800, p. 12.

[50] CHRISTIAN BROTHERS (coord.); Colegio Cardenal Newman – 50 años, p. 26.

[51] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, January 21, 1916. Year 42, Nº 2373, p.

[52] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, January 1, 1926. Year 51, Nº 3853, p. 24. The same advertisement was still published in 1942.

[53] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, October 5, 1934. Year 60,  Nº 3105, p. 42.

[54] Interview with Brian Healy, Sean Healy’s grandson. Buenos Aires, April 28, 2001.

[55] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, February 3, 1933. Year 58, Nº 3018, p. 24.

[56] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, October 5, 1934. Year 60, Nº 3105, p. 58.

[57] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, December 30, 1938. Year 64, Nº 3326, p. 24.

[58] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, December 24, 1943. Year 69, Nº 3586, p. 31-32.

[59] The information concerning Mercy students has been taken from PATSY FARRELL, Nuestros años en Santa Brígida, and the interviews to Mrs. Lizzie Ussher de Rush and Sister Isabel Mac Dermott.

[60] See PATSY FARRELL, op. cit., p. 17.

[61] Interview with Luis Delaney. Buenos Aires, February 5, 2002.

[62] See PATSY FARRELL, op. cit., p. 22.

[63] D. BECU, La comunidad pasionista, in: Michael Ham Memorial College – 75th Anniversary, p. 21.

[64] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, 24 de diciembre de 1943. Año 69, Nº 3586, p. 31.

[65] See The Southern Cross, Centennial edition,  p. 44.

[66] The Southern Cross, Centennial edition, p. 44.

[67] Facts taken from ALFREDO KOHN LONCARICA,  Cecilia Grierson. Vida y obra de la primera médica argentina and The Southern Cross, Centennial edition, p. 45.

[68] ALFREDO KOHN LONCARICA, op. cit., p. 94.

[69] MURRAY, Edmundo, Catalina Street in Ciudad de San Martín, Buenos Aires.

[70] The Southern Cross, Centennial edition, p. 14.

[71] Section 1 of the city of Buenos Aires and the district of Rojas. See National Population Census for 1869, vols. 1-3, and 108; 1895, vols. 466-469 and 817-818.

[72] For a detailed analysis of the factors affecting immigrant groups and their language see MARIA BEATRIZ FONTANELLA DE WEINBERG, Lengua e inmigración, p. 13-28.

[73] THOMAS MURRAY, The Story of the Irish in Argentina, p. 291.

[74] ANDREW GRAHAM-YOOLL, La colonia olvidada.

[75] MICHAEL JOHN GERAGHTY, Land, lambs, churches ... and schools. In: The Buenos Aires Herald, 122nd Anniversary Supplement. Buenos Aires, September 15, 1998, p. 8.

[76] See, for example, The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, August 1, 1884. Vol. X, Nº 29, p. 6.

[77] Arzobispo M. A. ESPINOSA, Pastoral del  25 de enero de 1901, reprinted in: FEDERACIÓN DE SOCIEDADES ARGENTINO-IRLANDESAS, XVII Peregrinación Argentino-Irlandesa a Luján, p. 5

[78] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, March 19, 1926. Year 52,  Nº 2663, p. 19.

[79] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, April 7, 1933. Year 59, Nº 3027, p. 12.

[80] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, December 24, 1943. Year 69, Nº 3586, p. 31-32.

[81] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, February 3, 1933. Year 58, Nº 3018, p. 12.

[82] Archbishop M. A. ESPINOSA, op. cit..

[83] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, December 24, 1926. Year 52, Nº 2701, p. 15.

[84] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, March 3, 1933. Year 59, Nº 3022, p. 12.

[85] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, April 23, 1926. Year 52, Nº 2668, p. 18.

[86] The Southern Cross. Buenos Aires, January 30, 1925. Year 51, Nº 2837, p. 13.

[87] Although Saint Lucy’s, Saint Paul’s and the Keating Institute closed their doors forever, the Mercy schools, Saint Patrick’s, Michael Ham, Cardinal Newman  survive –mostly under the command of other religious orders or lay headmasters- until this day. Saint Bridget’s remains as the emblematic Irish-Argentine School, while Saint Ciaran’s is now under the guidance of Sean Healy’s grandsons.



Official Documents

·        PRIMER CENSO DE LA REPÚBLICA ARGENTINA - 1869. Verificado los días 15, 16 y 17 de septiembre de 1869. Vols. 1-3, 20-21 y 108.

·        SEGUNDO CENSO DE LA REPÚBLICA ARGENTINA - 1895. Vols.466-469, 504-509 y 817-818.

·        The Irish in Argentina (Timothy Horan). Report of the Irish Embassy in Argentina to the Foreign Affairs Department, July 22, 1958. National Archives (Ireland) - Department of Foreign Affairs - DFIA - Buenos Aires - 900/1. 

Books and Articles

·        ACADEMIA NACIONAL DE LA HISTORIA; Nueva Historia de la Nación Argentina. Vols. 4-7. Buenos Aires, Planeta, 2000.

·        ASOCIACION DE EX ALUMNAS DEL COLEGIO MICHAEL HAM; Bodas de Oro. Homenaje de las Ex Alumnas al Colegio Michael Ham. Buenos Aires, 1976.

·        ASOCIACION DE EX ALUMNAS DEL COLEGIO MICHAEL HAM; Old Girls’ Bulletin. Nº  4, 9, 19, 27, 33, 34 & 39.

·        CHRISTIAN BROTHERS (coord.); Colegio Cardenal Newman - 50 años. Buenos Aires, Akian Gráfica Editora S.A., 1998.

·        COGHLAN, EDUARDO; El aporte de los irlandeses a la formación de la nación argentina. Buenos Aires, Imprenta “El vuelo del fénix”, 1982.

·        COGHLAN, EDUARDO; Los irlandeses en la Argentina. Su actuación y descendencia. Buenos Aires, Abraxas, 1987.

·        COMUNIDAD PASIONISTA - RETIRO SAN PABLO; Centenario del Retiro San Pablo de los Padres Pasionistas, 1888-1988. Buenos Aires, Imprenta Salonia, 1988.

·        DE MOAL, JOSÉ; Historia del Colegio San Pablo y del Monasterio desde 1900 a 1940. (unedited).

·        FARRELL, PATSY G.; Nuestros años en Santa Brígida. 100 años de anécdotas y recuerdos. Buenos Aires, Asociación Católica Irlandesa, 1999.

·        FITTIPALDI, SILVIA; Santa Cruz y la historia de un barrio. Buenos Aires, Ediciones Pasionistas, 1990.

·        FONTANELLA DE WEINBERG, MARIA BEATRIZ; Lengua e inmigración. Mantenimiento y cambio de lenguas inmigratorias. Bahía Blanca, Universidad Nacional del Sur, 1991.

·        GAYNOR, JUAN SANTOS; Antonio Domingo Fahy, 1804-1871, dominico irlandés. Homenaje de la Asociación Católica Irlandesa en el centenario de su fallecimiento. Buenos Aires, Editorial Irlandesa, 1971.

·        GRAHAM-YOOLL, ANDREW; La colonia olvidada. Buenos Aires, Emecé, 2000.

·        KOHN LONCARICA, ALFREDO G.; Cecilia Grierson. Vida y obra de la primera médica argentina. Buenos Aires, Stillcograph SRL, 1976.

·        KOROL, JUAN CARLOS y SABATO, HILDA;  Cómo fue la inmigración irlandesa en la Argentina. Colección Esquemas históricos. Buenos Aires, Editorial Plus Ultra, 1981.

·        MAC CANN, WILLIAM; Viaje a caballo por las provincias argentinas. Buenos Aires, Hyspamérica, 1986.

·        MAC DERMOTT, ISABEL; Mercy Presence in Argentina. Buenos Aires, 1994.

·        MAGUIRE, PETER; American Passionists in Argentina. The American Weekly for July 4, 1926, pages 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, 81, 83, 85.

·        MARTINEZ PAZ, FERNANDO; La educación argentina. Córdoba, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, 1979.

·        MICHAEL HAM MEMORIAL COLLEGE; 75th Anniversary. Buenos Aires, 2001.

·        MOODY, T. W.; The Course of Irish History. Cork, The Mercier Press, 1978.

·        MURPHY, Rev. WILLIAM J.; Present situation affecting education of English speaking Catholic Boys in Argentina, c. 1932.

·        MURRAY, EDMUNDO; Catalina Street in Ciudad de San Martín, Buenos Aires. In: mypage.bluewin.ch/emurray.

·        MURRAY, THOMAS; The Story of the Irish in Argentina. New York, P. J. Kennedy and Sons, 1919.

·        NEVIN, KATHLEEN; You’ll Never Go Back. Dublin, Cardinal Press, 1999.

·        SCHWARZ, DORA; The Passionist Mission in Argentina. In: The American Weekly of Buenos Aires. Vol. I, Nº 50, June 14 1924, p. 5-7 & 20.

·        SOCIEDAD DE SEÑORAS DE SAN JOSÉ; Una breve historia de la Sociedad de Señoras de San José, 1891-1991. Buenos Aires, 1991.

·        USSHER, SANTIAGO; Las Hermanas de la Misericordia. Apuntes históricos sobre sus cien años en Argentina. Buenos Aires, 1955.

·        USSHER, SANTIAGO; Los capellanes irlandeses en la colectividad hiberno-argentina. Buenos Aires, Francisco A. Colombo, 1954.

·        USSHER, SANTIAGO; Padre Fahy. Buenos Aires, Talleres Gráficos Verdad, 1952.

Newspapers and Brochures 

·        FEDERACION DE SOCIEDADES ARGENTINO-IRLANDESAS, XVIII Peregrinación Argentino Irlandesa a Luján. Buenos Aires, 1990.

·        THE SOUTHERN CROSS, Centennial edition, 1975.

·        THE SOUTHERN CROSS, various numbers. Buenos Aires, 1875 - 2002.

·        THE SOUTHERN CROSS, Special 125th anniversary edition, November 2000.


·        www.cardenal-newman.edu. Web page of Cardinal Newman College.

·        www.irlandeses.com.ar. Web page of the Irish-Argentine community.

·        www.mypage.bluewind.ch/emurray. Irish Diaspora Studies in Argentina.

·        www.redeseducacion.com.ar/sethnea. Web page of Saint Ethnea’s.

·        www.sbrigida.com.ar. Web page of Saint Bridget’s.


·        Lizzie Ussher Rush, former pupil of the Sisters of Mercy. Castelar, August 8, 2000.

·        Brian Healy, Head of St. Ciaran’s School. Buenos Aires, April 28, 2001.

·        Sister Isabel Mac Dermott, Sister of Mercy. Buenos Aires, November 15, 2001.

·        Luis Delaney, former pupil of the Fahy Institute. Buenos Aires, February 5, 2002.

·        Silvia Kenny de Cavanagh, member of the Ladies of Saint Joseph’s Society. Buenos Aires, September 30, 2002.


Copyright 2003 © María José Roger
Irish Argentine Historical Society (IAHS)


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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