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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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Porfirian Mexico through Finerty's Irish Eyes

Murphy, Clíona (California State University Bakersfield)

John F. Finerty, who left Ireland at the age of eighteen in 1863, visited Mexico in 1877 and in 1879 as a journalist for the Chicago Times. During the latter trip, Finerty accompanied an American business delegation which was there as part of Porfirio Díaz's policy of inviting in foreign business and expertise. The visit was two months long, and he sent back regular lengthy reports (usually several finely-printed columns) to the Times.  His numerous articles included a report of what was later claimed to be the first "American" interview with Porfirio Díaz.   After a few weeks with the delegation, he left his American companions and continued to travel throughout Mexico.  His articles, sent back to the Chicago Times every few days or so, commented on daily Mexican life, the characters he met, and the history he knew about the country. Despite his eloquence, there was some criticism of his coverage and some negative reaction from the Mexican press. Little attention has been given to Finerty's Mexican articles, unlike the attention he has received for his work as a correspondent on the American Indian Wars.  Some attention, though not in depth, has been given to his extensive Irish nationalist activities and his time as a US congressman.   However, there are two studies which do draw attention to his Mexican experience.  John F. Finerty Reports Porfirian Mexico, 1879   (Texas Western Press, 1974) is an edited compilation of Finerty's articles by historian of Mexico Wilbert H. Timmons. It has a brief introduction and a few footnotes whose purpose are mainly to explain some Mexican historical events, people and places.  There is also an interesting MA thesis by Jason Denzin which analyzes Ignacio Manuel Altamirano's novel El Zarco in a comparative context with the portrayals of  Porfirian Mexico by certain travel writers, including Finerty.    Nevertheless, both these works have almost no commentary or analysis (the latter none) on Finerty's Irishness or on his efforts at Irish contextualism of his Mexican experience. My talk will examine Finerty's Mexican writings not as yet another travelogue on late nineteenth century Mexico, but from the perspective of him looking at Mexico through Irish eyes. He assessed the people he met  (some Irish), the monuments, the terrain, and the current and historical events in relation to those he knew about back in Ireland. References to Irish history, politics, poetry, literature, and song thread their way through his articles giving his perception of Mexico a unique slant, which must have made them particularly meaningful to his Irish readers back in Chicago.


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