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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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The game of hurling among the Irish in Argentina 1890-1950

Seamus King (Ireland)

The paper explores the development of the game of hurling among the Irish immigrants to Argentina in the 19th century. It identifies the extent of that immigration and the counties of origin of the settlers. A study of the county of origin in Ireland of the settlers reveals Westmeath as the most popular originating county with 42.9%.  This study was done by analysing two lists, Irish Passengers to Argentina 1822-1929 and Irish Settlers in Argentina. Wexford was the second most popular with 15.6% and Longford third with 15.3%. The earliest references to the game being played are from 1887/88 and they come from Mercedes and near the Monastery of San Pablo, Capitán Sarmiento.   However, the game wasn’t officially organised until 1900, and the man credited with the organisation is William Bulfin (1861-1910), a County Offaly man, who came to Argentina in 1884, the year the G.A.A. was founded. Bulfin was to do for the sporting life of the Irish, what Fr. Fahy has done for their social and economic welfare. He was also to give the Irish community an identity: it was he who coined the term ‘Irish-Argentine’, and worked to separate the Irish from the British in Argentina. It would appear that the first official game was played on July 15, 1900 between Almagro and Palermo, two districts in the city of Buenos Aires.  The teams were made up of nine players each due to the limited number of hurleys available.  After another exhibition match the following month, the Buenos Aires Hurling Club was formed and James P. Harte became the first President. This club was practically and formally, in William Bulfin’s own words, a branch of the G.A.A. Clause 3 of its Constitution and Rules stated: ‘That the Buenos Aires Gaelic Athletic Association shall be a strictly non-political and non-sectarian association.’

Hurling became a important expression of Irishness in Argentina and allowed the Catholic Irish immigrants to differentiate themselves from the surrounding community.  It helped to preserve the ethnic distinctiveness that Archbishop Murray was afraid they were losing, when he sent Fr. Fahy to be their chaplain.  The game declined somewhat during World War 1 but revived and became quite strong in the twenties and the thirties with as many as six teams competing for the All-Argentine championship. Roman Catholic priests were to the foremost in establishing clubs. Some of these priests used their contacts in Ireland to promote hurling in Argentine.  In the 1930s Fr. Vincent O’Sullivan, S.C.A. was given one hundred hurleys and six sliotars (hurling balls) by the Cork County Board G.A.A. for the boys of the Fahy Institute. Thurles Sarsfields Club in County Tipperary sent hurleys to Fr. Tony Kelly, S.C.A., an ex-member of the club, who laboured for many years in Buenos Aires.  Fr. Pat O’Brien, born in Argentina, became a skilful hurler while studying in Ireland. The game declined during World War 2 with the drying up of the supply of hurleys from Ireland.  Also, immigration from Ireland virtually came to an end. The Hurling Club in Buenos Aires, which had been synonymous with the game, gradually diversified into other games, particularly hockey.  The Argentine team that represented the county in the 1952 Olympics, included former hurlers.

As a Colombian educated in Britain , Rodriguez believes that he is able to see events with impartiality. He avoids the hero-worship which might tempt the British or Irish historian but also the misplaced nationalism which might lead the Latin American scholar to minimise the foreign contribution to his/her liberation.

Among other subjects, the paper deals with the Irish legion (including its last contingent, who did not serve - or mutiny! - in the Guajira), the Rifles battalion (led by Arthur Sandes' Irish officers), Bolivar's staff officers (two Irishmen - Daniel O'Leary and William Ferguson - and an Englishman - Belford Hinton Wilson) and Argentina 's Admiral William Brown. It also shows how the three "British Legions" (under English, Rooke and Ferrier) were as Irish as they were British ... or even more so.

Online published: 24 April 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

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