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Irish settlement in Argentina

Irish settlement in Argentina is part of the story of immigration in Argentina and the Irish diaspora. Irish emigrants from the Midlands, Wexford and many counties of Ireland arrived in Argentina mainly from 1830 to 1930, with the largest wave taking place in 1850-1870. The modern Irish-Argentine community is composed of some of their descendants, and the total number is estimated at 500,000. Argentina is the home of the fifth largest Irish community in the world.

The Irish Times special report

Reasons for emigration

Most of those who left Ireland arrived in Buenos Aires attracted by the possibility of better living conditions, as the economic, social and political conditions in Ireland at the time were quite poor, though the emigrants came from counties and social segments were the economic conditions were not the worst . Others, in turn, left after receiving favorable descriptions of the country from friends and family who had already arrived in Argentina. The real or perceived possibility to becoming landowners in the Rio de la Plata region (Argentina and Uruguay), and consequently joining an imagined South American landed gentry, was the most important factor attracting thousands of young men to the area. Others had arrived earlier as merchants, artisans and mercenaries, such as William "Guillermo" Brown, who fought for the cause of Argentine independence and the Argentine war against Brazil. For Irish immigrants, the new lands of the Southern Cone of South America brought further interest for immigration to purchase large land tracts for bargain prices, working first as labourers, then in "halves" or "thirds" in the sheep-farming business, and finally renting and purchasing land.

One of Che Guevara's forebears, Patrick Lynch, was born in Galway, Ireland, in 1715. He left for Bilbao, Spain, and traveled from there to Argentina. Francisco Lynch (Guevara's great-grandfather) was born in 1817, and Ana Lynch (his grandmother) in 1868. Her son, Ernesto Guevara Lynch (Guevara's father) was born in 1900. Guevara Lynch married Celia de la Serna y Llosa in 1927 , and they had three sons and two daughters.

Numbers of immigrants

It is difficult to accurately calculate the exact number of immigrants. Many Irish newcomers declared themselves to be ingleses, as all of Ireland at the time was still part of the United Kingdom, and others were simply assumed to be English by the authorities. The immigration records in Buenos Aires lack any entries dating from before 1822 and the years 1823, 1824, 1836, 1840, 1841, 1842 and 1855. The records in between these years are also incomplete, due to conflicts of who was Irish, English and Scottish in South American demographics.

Between 1822 and 1929, at least 7,160 Irish immigrants arrived, being 1889 the peak of this migration . Based on incomplete passenger list records, as well as on census returns transcribed by Eduardo A. Coghlan , researchers made ellaborate calculations of the total number of immigrants. Juan Carlos Korol and Hilda Sabato estimated that the total number of Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century was between 10,500 and 11,500 . However, further research conducted by Patrick MacKenna shows that Coghlan, Korol and Sabato did not considered return migration and re-migration, which was significant after the 1880s, as well as the high mortality ratios for the Irish immigrants in certain periods before the 1869 census (eg. during the 1868 cholera outbreak in the Buenos Aires province).

For the nineteenth century, one out of every two Irish emigrants to Argentina went back to Ireland or re-migrated to England, the United States, Australia and other destinations. MacKenna says that Korol and Sabato "greatly underestimated the number of Irish immigrants" and considers that the total number of Irish immigrants in Argentina in the nineteenth century should be estimated in between 45,000 and 50,000 . The neglect of Anglo-Irish, Scot-Irish and in general Protestant Irish immigration in Argentina should add further numbers, particularly in the last peak of immigration after the 1920s Anglo-Irish War of Independence. The southernmost tip of Chile and Argentina, in places like the town of Punta Arenas and also the Falkland Islands, were other destinations for Irish and Scottish immigrants which are frequently underestimated.

Eduardo A. Coghlan reported 16,284 Irish Argentines in Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires Province at the turn of the twentieth century. Only 4,693 of these had actually been born in Ireland, just 28.8% of the population, while another 11,591 individuals had been born in Argentina. At present, roughly 500,000 Argentines are of Irish descent.

Economic activities

The Irish immigrants settled mainly in Buenos Aires city and province, and the littoral provinces. Those in urban areas worked as labourers, merchants, employees, artisans, teachers, professionals and, increasingly after the 1860s and especially for women, as domestic servants. The Irish in the countryside worked as rural labourers, cattle dealers, and shepherds. Those in the flourishing sheep-farming business of 1840-1890 were most likely to succeed working as shepherds and sharing a half or a third of the produce in wool and lambs. In this way, some of them manage to rent and later purchase land.

In Curumalan, Buenos Aires, and Venado Tuerto, Santa Fe, Eduardo Casey helped populating the agriculturally barren provinces, inviting more Irish and other immigrants to Argentina to work for him. This recommendation system was very active, and, with almost limitless amounts of land available, many Irish immigrants went on to do very well economically. This industry was expanded to other places, eventually flourishing in the rest of Santa Fe, Entre Rios and Cordoba.

Less fortunate Irish immigrants were recruited in the 1870s and 1880s among poor segments in Dublin, Cork and other counties, and sent as colonists to Argentina. Irish-Argentine agents hired by the Buenos Aires provincial government actively worked in Ireland and were paid by the state and the shipping companies. In 1889 the Dresden Affair occurred when agents Buckley O'Meara and John Stephen Dillon sent 1,774 emigrants in the steamer City of Dresden. Many died due to the conditions of the journey or upon arrival in Buenos Aires. About seven hundred were carried to Bahia Blanca to establish the Irish Colony of Naposta, which in a few months was a failure. The vast majority of these immigrants did not stay in the country, and struggled to go back to Ireland or re-migrated to the United States and other places.


The Irish priests and nuns that arrived in Argentina did not leave any family, but they did leave a spiritual impression on the people that they served as teachers, nurses and ministers. The Irish non-Catholic priests and missionaries were also fundamental in many cases to develop new works in the poorest places of the country. Those who arrived for economic, professional or political reasons had families and their names have been handed down to this day.

Notable Irish Argentines

Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna

Guillermo Brown

Maria Elena Walsh, writer

Gonzalo Cane (ed.), Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America

Edelmiro Julian Farrell, ex-President (de facto)

Rodolfo Walsh, writer and journalist

Ricardo Lopez Murphy, Argentine politician and runner for presidency

Mario O'Donnell, writer


- Coghlan, Eduardo A. Los Irlandeses en la Argentina: Su Actuacion y Descendencia .

- Coghlan, Eduardo A. El Aporte de los Irlandeses a la Formacion de la Nacion Argentina .

- Healy, Claire. Migration from Ireland to Buenos Aires, 1776-1890 . James Hardiman Library, NUI, Galway.

- McKenna, Patrick. Nineteenth Century Irish Emigration to, and Settlement in, Argentina .

- Murray, Edmundo. The Irish Road to South America: Nineteenth-Century Travel Patterns from Ireland to the River Plate in: Irish Migration Studies in Latin America.

- Murray, Edmundo. Irish Settlers in Argentina in: Irish Migration Studies in Latin America.

- Sabato, Hilda and Juan Carlos Korol. Como fue la Inmigracion Irlandesa en Argentina .

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