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Heroes, victims or villains? Irish Presentations and Representations in Latin America and the Caribbean

Morelia, Mexico, 15-18 July 2009

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Bernardo O'Brien and seventeenth century Gaelic colonies in the Americas

McCarthy, Daniel (Boru Cultural Enterprises)

I propose to submit a paper to SILAS based upon one of the most significant human stories associated with the history of Irish settlement in the new world. The paper focuses upon Bernardo O'Brien whose ruling Thomond family was inextricably linked with the old Gaelic order at the turn of the seventeenth century. This Clare born adventurer led one of the earliest Irish settlements in Latin America. The paper will explore the prevailing political attitudes that informed Bernardo O'Brien's outlook and examine the backdrop for what is one of the most genuinely epic European accounts of exploration, colonisation and adventure. O'Brien was one of the first Europeans to leave documented evidence of the earliest European settlements in Brazil and Guyana as well as an account of the fabled Amazonians. This original manuscript lay in the National Library of Brazil until thirty years ago when an Irish American missionary priest, Father Martin MacDonnell who had good Irish, Portuguese and Spanish, uncovered it. The manuscript was a petition to the Spanish king for support of O'Brien's Brazilian colony at a time of devastating upheaval in Ireland and imperial rivalries between England and Ireland. The same Martin MacDonnell has presented this applicant with a copy of the translated manuscript. Dr Joyce Lorimer draws on this account in her 'Irish & English Settlement on the River Amazon, 1550-1646'. It is the intention of this paper to illuminate the failings and achievements of O'Brien through an investigation of both contemporary source materials along with published accounts of the earliest European settlements in the Amazon while setting a valid contextual model for O'Brien as an influential seventeenth century explorer.


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

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