The Bradys of Giles, Areco and Westmeath

By Edward Walsh*
I first met with Sister Columba Brady in 1967 and got to know her well during the years I lived and worked in Argentina. She was a member of the Little Company of Mary, a nursing congregation of sisters, who ran a highly acclaimed and prestigious hospital at 2952 Calle San Martin de Tours, Palermo Chico, Buenos Aires. Deep in the basement of that busy hospital Sister Columba had an emporium from where she directed and controlled the activities of a team of seamstresses and minions involved in the repair of linen and various other works.
Born on 22 June 1901 in Giles, [1] Sister Columba was, according to a member of the community of the time 'a wonderful sister, extremely generous. Her kindness to priests working in the provinces was outstanding, they would come and stay for a rest, and go back refreshed physically and mentally. That was a joy to all of us' [2] She had lived through difficult and turbulent times and her insights and observations on the obsequious behaviour of the great ladies of porteña society towards Eva Perón (to whose attitudes and activities they could scarcely conceal and contain their contempt and disgust) was most revealing.

Sister Columba was the fourth of nine brothers and sisters and spoke perfect English. However, during the course of one of our many discussions, her usage of some word or particular turn of phrase made me enquire where did your Grandfather come from? Westmeath I believe she replied – a fact later confirmed by her sister, Sister Margarita a member of the Mercy Congregation. Grandfather, Christopher Brady was born in Ireland in 1836 and went to the River Plate at the age of 26, settled in the camp [3] and appears in the census returns of 1869 and 1895 at Carmen de Areco. [4] Christopher Brady married Ellen MacGarrell (born 1838) about 1855, and the first two of their eight children were born in Westmeath, the remainder in San Antonio de Areco. [5]

But what of the Irish and that great Dominican priest Father Fahy? [6] Sister Columba was fascinating [7]:

Father Fahy met the immigrant boats from Ireland and sent the people off up country. [8] They did not know what to do, and he took charge of all their affairs. He was a great match-maker. He just said 'now Mary you marry so-and-so' and they did. These weddings always seemed to work out well. The people had tremendous respect for him. He could find employment with good families for single girls who came to Buenos Aires. These were the girls who were subsequently 'to build' the Passionist Fathers church Holy Cross.

Isabel Brady, later Sister Columba (1901-1973)
(Nosotros, LujŠn,
Vol. 12, Nį 139)

'In service' female employment continued for many years as evidenced by adverts in the English speaking press. 'Convent of Mercy – Ladies who require servants will please call at Calle San Juan 3145. [9] Similar ads appeared in The Standard. [10] It was in some ways a reflection of a society rather like the Ireland they had left behind, in which the rich lived comfortably, supported by a mass of the poor.

Old Bridge on Areco river
(photo: Edward Walsh)
Sister Columba often heard her grandfather speak of Father Fahy and always in thehighest praise.

Murders in the camp were regular. The bandits would know when the Irish had sold sheep. The Irish did not bank their money, and the bandits knew this; they often stopped them on the way home to relieve them of their money.

Her father [11] never employed a criollo, [12] but always Irish, Germans or Italians:

The criollo was resentful of the outsider and of the latter's advancement by hard work. He – the criollo – was not reliable and could easily turn against you. In subsequent years the Irish chaplain went around in horse and buggy in the 'Irish areas.' The people kept the faith and would gather in for mass from long distances. He was well supported by the people and had a good house. He was a man 'in the old style' who demanded and got respect from all. When Venado Tuerto, [13] Province of Santa Fe, was set up as an independent diocese, it was the Irish there who gave the bishop his house (bought it and completely furnished it) and handed it over to him as a present. In the church in Venado Tuerto today all the statues have been removed (after the Second Vatican Council) but one, a statue of Saint Patrick.

The areas around Giles, Carmen de Areco and San Antonio de Areco were for many years favoured by Irish sheep farmers. Sister Columba died of a brain tumour in 1973, in Buenos Aires. In 1860 shortly after her grandfather Christopher Brady arrived from Westmeath, San Antonio was a journey time of two days by mail coach from the capital.

Travel from the midlands of Ireland to Argentina in those days was not unusual. The River Plate Steam Ship Company

Irish Chaplain's confession box in San Antonio de Areco parish church (photo: E. Murray)
advertised in the local press and a one way third class passage from Liverpool to Montevideo or Buenos Aires cost £18.0.0 including provisions but excluding wine or liquor. Particulars were available from local agents Edward Coffey of Mullingar and William Mulvihill of Ballymahon. Children under twelve half fare and infants travelled free. Fares to the River Plate were significantly more expensive than a Cunard Line passage from Cobh to New York at £3-15-0 which included 'an unlimited supply of the best provisions, cooked and served by the company's servants.' William Canton of Dominick Street, Mullingar, was Cunard's local agent. The Westmeath Guardian And Longford News-Letter [14] which carried these adverts was distributed widely through every town and parish in Westmeath as well as having 'an extensive circulation in Dublin, Longford, Meath, Galway, Kildare, King's County, Queen's County, Roscommon, Leitrim and the rest of the Midland Counties' [15].

Just how extensive Westmeath emigration to Argentina was is best described by William Bulfin [16] the highly acclaimed newspaper editor and author of Tales From The Pampas. On a cycling tour of the country in the early 1900s (after an absence of seventeen years) he described how he stopped a whole colony of turf cutters at work. 'I am under bonds to tell you of your cousins, brothers, sweethearts, uncles and aunts in South America. I was told by a truthful man up the road that one could not see a soul in this part of the country who has not a relation in Argentina… A few of them remembered their Spanish and plied me with it. They were brothers and sisters of men I had met on the pampas, and nieces and nephews and even parents as well...' [17]

Father Fahy's influence on the immigrant community was immense; newcomers were encouraged to move out of the city

Irish Chaplain's confession box in San Antonio de Areco parish church (photo: E. Murray)
and into the grass land provinces of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe and engage in sheep farming. This is a scene marvellous portrayed by W.H. Hudson [18] in Far Away And Long Ago [19] subtitled – a childhood in Argentina. Hudson's father, Daniel (the son of a Devon father and an Irish mother) purchased the estancia [20] Los Veinte y Cinco Ombúes from Tristán Valdez, a brother-in-law of Juan Manuel Rosas the Dictator. The estancia was near the village of Quilmes and about sixteen kilometres from the city of Buenos Aires. Hudson himself was born in wild surroundings, grew up among shepherds, gauchos and vast flocks. He is without doubt the most uniquely perceptive observer of wild life but also of social life, customs, and his nearby Irish neighbours. But who was The New Schoolmaster [21] Fr O'Keefe? [22] This Irish priest, whose mild rule and love of angling left a lasting impression on the youthful Hudson. After a year teaching W.H. and his younger brother, the priest left the Hudson household; he had been working out his salvation. Fr O'Keefe – a pseudonym perhaps for a wandering Irish cleric, one of a few not unknown to Father Fahy. [23]

The cupboard of memory while often full of hoarded riches can also be like a waste paper basked crammed with discarded and forgotten remembrances. There is a vibrant freshness about these recollections – recollections that had inhabited Sister Columba's memory over many years and were recounted before the portcullis finally closed on her life and all the tales were told.

Edward Walsh

* Edward Walsh is an independent scholar from London. He wrote An Irish Catholic Association Pilgrimage to Lujan, Province of Buenos Aires (1918?) in: 'Collectanea Hibernica, Sources For Irish History' Vol. 42 (Killiney, Co. Dublin, 2000), pp. 242-244, and The Irish in the Argentine Republic: John Cullen's 1888 Report, in: 'Collectanea Hibernica, Sources For Irish History' Vol. 43 (Killiney, Co. Dublin, 2001), pp. 239-246.

[1] San Andrés de Giles was founded in 1826 and takes its name from a farmer Giles to whom the lands were given.

[2] Details from a letter of Sister Helen Burke, Little Company of Mary, San Pierre, Indiana, USA, 7 March 1993 to the writer.

[3] Camp is essentially an Anglo-Argentine word abbreviated from the Spanish campo, countryside. One’s camp is one’s land or estancia.

[4] Carmen de Areco, 145 kilometres north west of Buenos Aires was a frontier outpost established in 1779 to protect the highroad to Peru.

[5] San Antonio de Areco, 119 kilometres from Buenos Aires was the home town of the celebrated Ricardo Güiraldes, author of Don Segundo Sombra, one of the classics of Argentine gaucho literature.

[6] Anthony Fahy O.P. (1805-1871), see James M. Ussher Father Fahy: A Biography of Anthony Dominic Fahy O.P., Irish Missionary in Argentina (1805-71), Buenos Aires, 1951.

[7] These comments and observations were made by Sister Columba Brady to the writer in Buenos Aires, January 1968, and written down on that occasion.

[8] James Joyce’s Dubliners short story Eveline paints the dilemma of a possible emigrant who wished to go away with 'Frank to be his wife and live with him in Buenos Aires where he had a home… He had fallen on his feet in Buenos Aires and had come to the old country for a holiday…' See James Joyce, Dubliners, Paladin, London, 1988, pp.39-40. Joyce was not the only the literary commentator for Peig Sayers observed how '...the crossroad was full of people. Betty Kelly’s son (Tim) was there, after coming home from South America and the people of the parish were before him at the crossroad.' Tim was shipwrecked, rescued and later declared 'when I came to myself again, where I was in the big hospital in Buenos Aires.' See Peig Sayers An Old Woman’s Reflections: The Life of a Blasket Island Storyteller, OUP, Oxford 1962, Ch. 9, The Story of Betty Kelly’s Son and his Bright Love, p.56 and p.63.

[9] The Buenos Aires Herald, Friday 18 May 1900.

[10] 'Good servants are generally to be found at the House for Immigrant Irish girls under the care of the Sisters of Mercy, 248 Chacabuco, The most convenient hours for ladies to apply are from 3 to 5 pm.' See The Standard, 28 November 1874.

[11] Santiago Brady, the seventh of eight brothers and sisters, born 1870 in Carmen de Areco; married Ana Thompson in Giles in 1894 and died in San Antonio de Areco 23 June 1949. See Eduardo A. Coghlan Los Irlandeses en la Argentina su Actuación y Descendencia, Buenos Aires, 1987, pp.56-57.

[12] Criollo, a person of Spanish descent born in South America. In Argentina the word is used to apply to persons, situations, customs, breeds of cattle, horses or sheep that are essentially Argentine.

[13] Venado Tuerto was founded by Edward Casey in 1883 and today is a thriving town of 60,000 inhabitants. Casey was a prominent businessman, farmer and colourful character. His father Laurence Casey, born in Westmeath in 1803, went to the River Plate circa 1830 and married Mary O’Neill (born Wicklow 1806 and resident in the River Place since 1834) at Ranchos in 1837. Edward, the fifth of their nine children was born at the Estancia El Durazno in 1847. He purchased 70 square kilometres of land from the provincial government of Santa Fe in 1879, and the following year sold lots for a colony and decided the town area. 'He brought out two shiploads of immigrants from Ireland, but when the time allotted for settling his grant was up he had not fulfilled all the terms of his contract. So when the government inspectors came out from the capital to investigate, he got them drunk and showed them the same ranches three or four times.' See Coghlan op. cit. No. 11, pp. 128-129, and William Lytle Schurz, This New World, New York, 1964, Ch.6, The Foreigner, pp. 229-238.

[14] The Westmeath Guardian And Longford News-Letter, 6 August 1863.

[15] C. Mitchel & Co., London, The Newspaper Press Directory, 1864, p. 110.

[16] William Bulfin (1864-1910); see Benedict Kiely, Man From The Pampas, in The Capuchin Annual, 1948, pp. 428-436.

[17] See William Bulfin, Rambles In Eirinn, Dublin 1915, pp. 410-415.

[18] William Henry Hudson, (1841-1922) see Ruth Thomalin, W.H.Hudson - A Biography, OUP, Oxford, 1984.

[19] Far Away And Long Ago first published London 1918.

[20] Estancia, an estate or ranch.

[21] See Far Away And Long Ago, Ch.18, The New Schoolmaster, pp.237-242, Eland Books, London 1982.

[22] Fr O’Keefe is not identified by Santiago Ussher in his Los Capellanes Irlandeses en la colectividad Hiberno-Argentina durante el siglo XIX, Buenos Aires, 1954.

[23] Fr Kenelm Vaughan (brother of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan) possibly best epitomises the phenomena of the wandering cleric on a begging mission. He travelled widely through South America preaching and raising funds for the building of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Westminster Cathedral (1897-1905) and left a fa/p>

[23] Fr Kenelm Vaughan (brother of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan) possibly best epitomises the phenomena of the wandering cleric on a begging mission. He travelled widely through South America preaching and raising funds for the building of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Westminster Cathedral (1897-1905) and left a fascinating account of his travels, trials and tribulations. See Kenelm Vaughan Viajes en España y Sud América, Christian Press Association, New York, 1904.

© Edward Walsh, Irish Argentine Historical Society
Last Update: September 2004


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