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Adventurers, Emissaries and Settlers: Ireland and Latin America
27-30 June 2007, National University of Ireland, Galway

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Community press and local politics (1875-1880): 
Towards the formation of a "Hiberno-Argentine" political opinion?

Ana M. Castello (Universidad Católica Argentina)

Around 1875, the Irish and their children, the ‘Irish-porteńos,’ were perceived by Argentine society and public authorities as a small, pioneering and prosperous migrant community embedded in the agricultural activities of the countryside of the thriving Province of Buenos Aires. The majority of their residences were scattered across the rural zone that surrounded the capital city, but they were connected together by their native culture. Guided spiritually and materially by their priests, few were now arriving from Ireland and many had lost their foreign status: they were Hiberno-Argentines. The cheap government land, sheep farming and a favourable international market allowed some of them, around the 1870s, to become owners of vast lands and financial businesses. Former tenants or sharecroppers, they differentiated themselves from the rest both socially and economically. Buenos Aires, meanwhile, was inundated by immigrants: associations and publications of all kinds were sprouting up, enriching the public sphere of a mobile and rapidly politicised civil society. Their personal relations with members of the governing elite were frequently the informal modes that these ‘respectable’ estancieros, like those of other communities, had recourse to in order to communicate with the political system. Accompanying the native newspapers, the prolific community press was born. In 1875, among those in the English language, The Southern Cross (hereafter, TSC) edited and run by Monsignor Dillon, indisputible ecclesiastic leader, supported by these landowners. He adopted a predominantly rural and religious profile, becoming, on the one hand, the most efficient organ of internal communication and debate in maintaining an articulate community, preserving the values and the customs of the homeland. However, on the other hand, it was the medium by which these ‘respectable’ people attempted to lead the rest, organising them, deciding on opinions and identifying an agenda of various topics considered favourable to the entire community. Legitimated by their own, ‘official’ mediators between the governing elites and their compatriots, between 1875 and 1880 the used the pages of the newspaper as an idealy way of ‘doing politics:’ they attempted to embody a homogenous voice that was specifically Irish in the face of partisan battles, and to create among the ‘Irish-porteńos’ a conscious that can be termed ‘civic.’ With its editorials, the writers interpreted the unstable local political reality for their readers, suggested and planned ways of accomodating these vicissitudes. This involvement gave a qualitative jump  around 1879, when the newspaper made an explicit call to them to elections.

This paper forms one aspect of a masters thesis, still being researched, on the Irish and their political activities in Argentina during the 1880s. What is attempted here is not a discursive analysis, but rather to place a focus on the articles of the TSC from the period 1875-1880 to understand the view of this minority on the national ‘cosa publica,’ their preoccupations, positions and commitments to local political figures and their efforts to organise their compatriots, resulting from this, althrough scattered among its pages, a ‘Hiberno-Argentine’ political opinion, as a first step towards their subsequent electoral participation. This would evidence that apart from others communally explored, political life would have been for the Irish an effective method of assimilation into Creole society.

Finally, although this paper does not examine their subsequent formal entry into the political arena, some possible reasons will be outlined as to why they would have decided to complement the community press with electoral practice.

Online published: 24 April 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

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