The Irish in Falkland/Malvinas Islands

By Edmundo Murray

The Falkland/Malvinas according to
Bougainville's "Voyage autour du monde" (1771).
In "La France et l'Argentine, hier" (www.embafrancia-argentina.org).

From Jim Byrne, Philip Coleman and Jason King (eds.), Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics and History
(Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, forthcoming 2006)

The Falkland Islands (in Spanish, Islas Malvinas) are an archipelago in the South Atlantic, about 600 kilometres off the coast of Argentina. The islands were first occupied in 1764 by the French, who handed over their settlement to the Spanish naval flotilla on 1 April 1767. British ousted the French settlers, and the French sold their claim to Spain. In 1820 Argentina claimed sovereignty as Spain's successor and have disputed Britain's claim to the islands since 1833. There may have been Irishmen among the crew of John Davies’s ship the Desire when he discovered the Islands in 1592, or in the Welfare of John Strong, the first man to land on the Falklands/Malvinas in 1690. But if so, we have no record of their names.

The first recorded Irish visitor was Commander William Farmer, born in Youghal, Co. Cork in 1732, who commanded the sloop Swift in West Falkland (Gran Malvina) waters in 1770 and was obliged to evacuate Port Egmont by a much larger Spanish force. The next Irish name in Falklands/Malvinas history is that of William Dickson of Dublin who was storekeeper for Louis Vernet’s colonists, and was entrusted with the care of the British flag by Captain Onslow after he landed at Port Louis in 1833. Dickson was among those murdered by the gauchos led by Antonio Rivera on 26 August 1833.

The first Falklands/Malvinas census, that taken by Lt. Governor Richard Moody in 1842 noted five colonists born in Ireland. But the Irish population was to increase sharply with the arrival of the military pensioners in 1849. A large proportion of the Victorian army came from Ireland and the 1851 census counts seventy-four persons of the Irish nation: fifteen were military pensioners and many of the rest their wives and children.

During the late 1840s, the second official in the Islands was the Magistrate, William Henry Moore, who had left his practice (and his wife) in Belturbet, Co. Cavan, and armed with a testimonial signed by many of the Dublin legal establishment, arrived in Port Louis in March 1845. Moore was a caricature provincial lawyer: argumentative, self important, on the make and a heavy drinker. He argued violently with the first two governors, Moody and Rennie, and the former reported to London on 25 June 1846: “there are many Irishmen here, Mr. Moore is an Irishman, and the observation has been made that we have a 'Daniel O’Connell' among us.” Moore eventually returned to London on leave in 1849, and in a remarkable own goal, was discovered offering legal advice to a company in dispute with the Colonial Office. He was sacked and disappears from view in a minor post in the Customs.

Port Stanley from the Harbour Edge
(Anna King, www.falklandislandssgifts.com)

Since the late 1830s some Irish began sheep-farming in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. Among others, Thomas [Devil] Murray (b. 1854) owned a large flock which he sold a few years later to purchase land in the continent. Most of the these Irish were Catholics, but other Catholics in the islands were English, Chilean, French and from other countries. A fundamental part of the life of Catholic islanders was the presence of priests among them. The islands were (and still are) jurisdiction of Propaganda Fide in Rome. In 1857 they wrote to Cardinal Wiseman, archbishop of Westminster, and to Cardinal Alessandro Barnabo, Secretary of Propaganda Fide, to ask for a priest to attend their souls. The archbishop of Buenos Aires, Dr. Mariano J. Escalada, requested Anthony Fahy O.P. (1805-1871) to find a solution for the islanders, and he proposed that a priest from Buenos Aires visit them once every seven years. That same year, Fr. Lawrence Kirwan visited the islands and organized a committee to build a chapel and obtain land for a cemetery. Among the committee members were P.D. Lynch, Thomas Havers, Cristopher Murray, and Patrick Maguire. In 1861, land was acquired to build a Catholic chapel. In 1865 Fr. Patrick J. Dillon (1842-1889) visited the islands. At that time there were about 200 Catholics and they had no priest. Fr. Dillon spent a few months among them and administered the sacraments. In 1872 Fr. William Walsh made a short visit to the islands and before the end of the year he was gone on his way to his diocese of Brisbane in Australia.

Fr. James Foran was the first resident priest, and was fundamental in establishing a Catholic position in the islands. He arrived in October 1875 and, after receiving permission from ecclesiastical authority, from 1880 to 1886 he spent half the year on the islands and the other half on the mainland. On 15 June 1873, Stella Maris chapel in Port Stanley had been completed by the islanders, and later Fr. Foran moved it to a better location. Fr. Foran also started a school for Catholic children in the islands. When Fr. Foran finally left the islands in April 1886 he travelled direct to Buenos Aires and eventually returned to England. After 1888, the Catholics of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands were attended by the Salesian Fathers, beginning with Fr. Patrick J. Diamond, who arrived on 19 April 1888 in Port Stanley together with Mgr. José Fagnano.

Fr. Diamond was able to continue on the work which was carried out by Fr. Foran. Fr. Diamond built the parish priest house and directed the children's school. He also baptized sub conditione over twenty-five Protestant adults. Fr. Diamond was followed in 1890 by Fr. Patrick O'Grady, who had been in Argentina since 1884. Fr. O'Grady replaced the old chapel by a new building, which opened in 1899. Other chaplains were Fr. Mignone, who remained in the islands until 1937, and Irish-born Fathers Drumm and Kelly. In addition, other priests assisted the resident clergy, including Mgr. Santiago M. Ussher in 1930, the Passionists Fr. Domingo Moore and Fr. Santiago Deane, and the Pallotine Fr. Celestino Butterly. The Salesian sisters Hijas de María Auxiliadora, among them Sister Mary Jane Ussher, established a mission in the islands and remained there for many years.

Miguel L. Fitzgerald (b. 1926),
Irish-Argentine serial flyer to Falklands/Malvinas Islands in 1964, 1968
(Crónica, 9 September 1964)

However, the Irishman who made the greatest impact on the history of the Islands was certainly Lowther Brandon, a Church of Ireland clergyman from Carlow who became Colonial Chaplain in 1877. A man of faith and drive, he was remarkable for tackling the social problems of Stanley in a series of practical steps. He founded the first savings bank, established abstinence societies to combat drunkenness, and launched the Falklands Islands Magazine, which he type set and printed himself. He rode tirelessly around his broad parish, dragging after him a pack horse (carguero) laden with his magic lantern for shows to the camp settlements. Brandon also served as Inspector of the Government Schools and was a constant advocate of better teaching for children in camp. He returned to Ireland in 1907 and died in Slaney, Co. Wicklow in 1933.

Another Irishman in a senior post in government was Doctor Samuel Hamilton from Dublin who arrived in the islands in 1879 and served there for twenty-five years, returning to Ireland to retire. Prominent explorers who visited the Islands included Captain Francis Crozier, from Banbridge, Co. Down, who commanded one of the ships (Terror) on the Antarctic expedition of 1841-3 and Sir Ernest Shackleton, born in Athy, Co. Kildare, who visited Stanley on numerous occasions on his way to Antarctica or returning. Another explorer, the Irish yachtsman Conor O'Brien called at Stanley and his boat remained in use in Falklands/Malvinas waters until she was returned to the Irish Maritime museum.

Two British governors came from Ireland, Thomas Fitzgerald Callaghan from 1877 to 1880 and Sir Cosmo Haskard, who served from 1964 to 1970 and has retired to Ireland. A third governor, Sir James O’Grady (1931 - 1935), was the son of an Irish family living in England. He started life as a jobbing carpenter, moved into trade union politics, was sent on a diplomatic mission to Bolshevik Russia and was finally appointed colonial governor, first to one of the Australian states and then to the Falkland/Malvinas Islands.

During the opening decades of the twentieth century, the conflict between Argentina and England for the control of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands gained a wider awareness among the Irish in Buenos Aires and other provinces. The controversial and nationalistically opinionated Fianna newspaper never missed an opportunity to attack Britain's occupation of the islands. The integration process of Irish Argentines to a larger and wider society signified that most of them felt that their loyalty was towards Argentina rather than Britain. Miguel L. Fitzgerald (b. 1926) perhaps best epitomized that general Irish-Argentine attitude, when twice flying from the mainland to the islands in 1964 and 1968. On both occasions he landed near Stanley, raised the Argentine flag and with accompanying journalists tried (unsuccessfully) to interview British authorities. Nothing was achieved by these individual actions, but they do reveal the increasing nationalistic feelings of the Irish Argentines towards the adopted country of their forefathers. In August 1966, another Irish Argentine, Eduardo F. McLoughlin (b. 1918) a former Air Force officer, was appointed Argentine ambassador to Britain; he would remain in London until 1970. Following Argentine policy, McLoughlin interfered with a British plan to hand sovereignty over to Falkland/Malvinas islanders before 1982, which would have opened the way to a pacific settlement of the conflict.

In January 2000 Miguel Savage returned to the position of the Argentine army above Moody Brook (west of Port Stanley), where he was stationed in June 1982. "The base of the machine gun was surrounded by lethal craters. Nobody could have survived here. We found two 105-mm cannons. It's amazing that one of them was carried by hand by six conscripts and myself four kilometres upwards Moody Brook. We did it in four days. Now they lie there like old dinosaur skeletons" (Miguel Savage collection).

The Falkland/Malvinas War (2 April - 14 June 1982) began when the Argentine military junta sent warships to land a party of scrap dealers on South Georgia with the intention of reclaiming the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. A full scale military invasion followed. Attempts by the UN, the US, and Peru to secure a peaceful resolution to the conflict failed. Britain dispatched a task force comprising some thirty warships, two aircraft carriers, assorted fleet auxiliaries, the Canberra (a requisitioned passenger liner), Ro Ro ferries and container ships to recover the islands. The ten-week conflict claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 British and Argentine servicemen and civilians, and ceased with the surrender of the Argentine forces on 14 June. The British victory contributed to the downfall of the Argentine military dictatorship. Argentina officially declared a cessation of hostilities in 1989.

Irish and Irish-Argentine soldiers were among those who fought in both sides of the war. Translation was one particularly skilled service rendered by many Irish Argentines during the Falkland/Malvinas War. Private Ronnie Quinn translated messages and Private Miguel Savage facilitated communications with the islanders and, after the surrender, onboard the Canberra. In the immediate aftermath of the Argentine invasion, Major Patricio Dowling acted as interpreter during the meeting with Governor Rex Hunt at his official residence. Dowling hatred of all things British was remarkable and he was later sent back to the continent in disgrace for overstepping his authority.

The Falkland/Malvinas War was a turning point for the identity of most Irish Argentines. After decades of being ingleses and living voluntarily isolated in their own country, Irish Argentines finally began to feel truly Argentine.


I am extremely thankful to David Tatham and Edward Walsh for adding substantial information to my research, and to Carlos Connell, Tomás Fox, Ronnie Quinn and Miguel Savage for their recollections of Falklands/Malvinas War.

Further Reading

- Cawkell, Mary, The History of the Falkland Islands (Shropshire: Anthony Nelson, 2001).

- Keogh, Dermot, Argentina and the Falklands (Malvinas): the Irish Connection in Alastair Hennessy and John Kings (eds.) "The Land that England Lost: Argentina and Britain, a Special Relationship" (London: British Academic Press, 1992).

- Paul, James and Martin Spirit, Honour Regained: Naval Party 8901 and the Argentine Invasion, available online <http://britains-smallwars.com/Falklands/> (cited 4 November 2004).

- Tatham, David E., A Coincidence of Incidents: The Events of Easter 1845 in Stanley, in: "The Falkland Islands Journal" (Belfast), 1995, pp. 117-135.

- "The Southern Cross". Número del centenario. Buenos Aires, 1975.

Copyright © ABC-CLIO, 2005

Online published: 1 November 2005
Edited: 07 May 2009
Murray, Edmundo, 'The Irish in Falkland/Malvinas Islands' in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 2005 [www.irlandeses.org], accessed.


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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