Becoming Irlandes - Hurling and Irish Identity in Argentina


It is unsurprising to note that Gaelic games have been and continue to be played in those locales around the world that have traditionally been recipients of large numbers of Irish immigrants. Indeed, some of the essays in this collection reveal this to be the case. However, it is perhaps more unusual to observe these sports being played in destinations around the globe that welcomed relatively small numbers of Irish migrants. This essay deals with one particular example of this by detailing the history of hurling in Argentina and more specifically, Buenos Aires. In doing so, the essay reveals that in much the same way as it did in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia, involvement in Gaelic games allowed the Irish in Argentina to construct and give expression to an important aspect of their Irishness. As is shown, this was a crucial element in a broader strategy, initiated by the Catholic Church in Ireland, to encourage Irish immigrants to view and express themselves as being ethnically Irish (Irlandes) rather than merely part of the broader ingleses (English-speaking settler community).

 

Introduction

There is an unusual hurling trophy in Lar na Pairce, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) museum at Thurles, Co. Tipperary. It is about 50 centimetres in height and is crowned by a winner's wreath. It is inscribed with the name Dr Miguez, an Argentine and friend of the Irish in Argentina, who was married to an Irish woman. The cup was donated to the Irish community in Argentina in the 1920s as the trophy for an All­Argentine hurling championship, which was played during the 1920s and 1930s. In the late 1930s it was won outright and brought home to Ireland by one of the players on the victorious team, William McGrath of Cahir, Co. Tipperary, who loaned it to the museum before he passed away in 1991. McGrath's return to Ireland not only saw this trophy leave Argentinean shores but was also symbolic of the close of a period spanning some four decades which had seen the game of hurling acquire a not inconsequential place in the cultural life of the Irish diaspora in Argentina.

This essay analyses the history of hurling in Argentina with a particular focus on Buenos Aires. Before detailing the development of the game there, this study provides an overview of lrish immigration to Argentina, a process that had its origins as far back as the early 1500s, reached its zenith in the late nineteenth century and virtually came to a halt, beyond a small trickle, by the 1930s. This context-setting discussion also accounts for the social, economic and cultural experiences of the Irish in Argentina and in particular highlights the ways in which concerns in Ireland in the mid­nineteenth century over assimilation into Anglo-Argentinean society and a resultant loss of identity amongst the Irish led to a strategy, orchestrated largely by the Catholic Church, to rebuild a strong sense of Catholic Irishness there. All of this provides the backdrop to an analysis of the history of hurling in the country, a history that began in earnest in the late 1880s. That said, the game was not organized on a formal basis until the establishment of the Buenos Aires Hurling Club at the turn of the century. The essay charts the development of hurling in the first three decades of the twentieth century and reveals how its success and popularity was dependent on the numbers available to play and promote the game. Beyond historical narrative, the account of hurling in Argentina presented here also addresses the ways in which the game allowed sections of the Irish migrant community to retain and express a distinctively Irish identity.

 

The Irish in Argentina

The first Irish to set foot on Argentine soil were the brothers John and Tomas Farrel, who arrived at the River Plate in 1536 as part of an expedition led by the explorer Pedro de Mendoza. [2] Up until the late eighteenth century those from the Irish educated elite arrived in Argentina to take up positions in the service of a colonial power not available to them at home because of their religion. This period also saw Irishmen assume positions as officers and rank and file soldiers to fight for the British Army in a number of campaigns in the River Plate region. The signing of the Anglo­Argentina Treaty of Friendship, Navigation and Commerce in 1824 did much to open up the possibility of lrish immigration to the country. [3] However, it was not until the great grassland area of the Buenos Aires Pampas began to be populated by settlers from Britain, Germany, France, Spain and other places in the nineteenth century that the Irish began to settle in the country in significant numbers. [4] There is no definitive record of the total number of Irish, who immigrated to Argentina. It is estimated that around 45,000 to 50,000 travelled there in the hundred years up to 1929. Of the number that arrived during the nineteenth century, it is estimated that about 20,000 of them settled in the country, while the others re-emigrated to North America, Australia, Ireland and other destinations. [5] Among the 20,000 settlers ten to fifteen thousand died without issue or broke their links with the local Irish community and assimilated into Argentine society. Thus, the nucleus of an ethnically distinct Irish-Argentine community was developed with only four or five thousand settlers. [6] Irish emigration to the country declined in the run up to the First World War but after the War there was an increase, particularly during and after the War of Independence (1919-21) and the Irish Civil War (1922-23). The global financial crisis of 1929 and subsequent depression as well as other world conflicts put an end to emigration and by the mid 1930s it had almost completely stalled. [7]

A study of the county of origin in Ireland of Irish settlers undertaken by McKenna which analysed two lists, Irish Passengers to Argentina 1822-1929 and Irish Settlers in Argentina reveals Westmeath as the most popular originating county accounting for 42.9 per cent of the total number of Irish migrants. Wexford was ranked second with 15.6 per cent while Longford came in as the third major exporter of Irish immigrants to Argentina with 15.3 per cent of the total. In general, early migrants were 'the younger, non-inheriting sons, and later daughters, of the larger tenant farmers and leaseholders. Usually, they were emigrating from farms, which were in excess of twenty acres, and some were from farms considerably larger: [8] For these individuals, nineteenth-century Argentina enjoyed a reputation similar to that of the United States and there was a strong belief that it offered a land of opportunities that were simply not available to them in their homeland. The real or perceived prospect of acquiring land in Argentina had a powerful appeal to children of tenant farmers in Ireland, who would never have other means to climb the social ladder. Many factors contributed to build a reputation of Argentina as a region where land acquisition was easier than other places, particularly letters and news from early emigrants, newspaper articles in English published in the British Isles and in Argentina, as well as travel handbooks. [9]

Upon arrival in Argentina, in the main via Liverpool, most Irish immigrants settled in either Buenos Aires or the region stretching down from the city to Southern Santa Fe. They were hired by British, Irish or Hispano-Creole estancieros (ranchers) to work in their holdings, and sometimes to mind their flocks of sheep. Sheep-farming and the impressive increase of international wool prices between 1830-80, together with convenient sharecropping agreements with landowners, allowed a substantial part of the Irish migrant population to establish themselves securely in the countryside, and progressively acquire large tracts of land from provincial governments in areas gained from Indian control or beyond the frontier. Those who did well economically in their new home took considerable pride in contrasting their e?cperiences with those of their often dispossessed compatriots at home, with some noting that while the English in Argentina got the view, the Irish got the good land! [10] While there were some success stories and some Irish did become wealthy landowners, these were the exceptions. Beyond those who were able to acquire land, the vast majority of Irish rural settlers were ranch hands and shepherds on halves or on thirds of the produce of the land, and never had access to landownership.

With their arrival in the country, Irish immigrants dispersed widely across the countryside and were rapidly assimilating into the local communities that they found themselves in. The early Irish settlers, certainly those who arrived before the mid-nineteenth century, viewed themselves and were viewed as part of the broader ingleses (English-speaking settlers) rather than as being specifically Irish. Indeed, encouraged by The Standard, the first English language daily newspaper in Argentina, there was a tendency to emphasize common 'Anglo-Celtic roots' rather than an ethnicity tied to their homeland. [11] This is not to say that the ingleses in Argentina in this period were an entirely homogenous group. There were differences between them, but these were rooted in class, trade, religion and place of residence rather than by country of origin or ethnicity. [12] This pattern of acculturation experienced by early Irish settlers in Argentina contrasted with the experiences of rural Irish immigrants in some of the more traditional emigre destinations in the United States or Britain. Here, these immigrants tended to live in relatively self-sufficient ethnic enclaves that allowed them to retain a strong sense ofIrish consciousness. In Argentina, this process was far less pronounced and a greater ratio of Irish immigrants assimilated into their host society and lost their ethnic distinctiveness.

All of this was the cause of some concern in Ireland, not least in the Catholic Church which sought to reverse this trend and encourage Irish Argentineans to maintain links, of both a spiritual and cultural nature, with the old country. Among those who were most vociferous in pushing this agenda was Archbishop Daniel Murray of Dublin.

He approached his friend, the Bishop of Ossory, to persuade the Dominican Prior of Black Abbey in Kilkenny, Fr. Anthony Fahy, to go to Argentina and 'take on the work of forming a community that reflected the values espoused by those interested in promoting Irish immigration'. [13] Archbishop Murray's rationale in choosing Fr. Fahy for this work was rooted in the fact that he had previously worked amongst the Irish in urban and rural Ohio in the United States and because he shared the Archbishop's views on the necessity of building a strong sense of ethnic consciousness in maintaining 'their "true" Catholic Irish identity'. [14] Thus, in 1844 Fr. Fahy was appointed as Chaplain of the Irish in Argentina and he began the work of persuading Irish Catholics of the need to recognize and express themselves as Irlandes as opposed to merely ingleses.

Upon taking up post Fr. Fahy linked up with a family friend from Ireland, Thomas Armstrong from County Offaly, who was a successful businessman. It was not long before they became the undisputed leaders of the Irish in Argentina. Together they developed the social and religious structure that allowed for the development of a separate and ethnically distinct Irish community but one that was able to continue to avail of the economic opportunities on offer in their host society. Fr. Fahy began his work by creating a separate church organization for his scattered congregation. He set up 12 Irish Catholic chaplaincies that tended to the spiritual needs of the Irish in Buenos Aires province. [15] He also made the Irish priests visibly different from Argentine priests by encouraging them to wear 'civilian' clothes instead of clerical garb, thus making these priests appear more accessible to the ordinary man and woman. The Irish were exhorted by these priests to stick together. For instance, in 1898 we read that unmarried Irish were encouraged 'to marry, marry early and marry from their own stock and creed'. [16]

Beyond concerning himself with the spiritual health of the Irish emigre, Fr. Fahy also invested considerable time and expense in facilitating their physical and educational well-being. For example, he established the 'Irish Immigrant Infirmary' in Buenos Aires, initially to help those who were newly arrived in the city and who had endured a tiresome voyage of between six weeks to three months. This institution was run by Sisters of Mercy from Dublin and subsequently catered for many of the Irish resident in the province of Buenos Aires and beyond. He was also central in the setting up of a charitable educational establishment, known as St Brigid's College under the direction of the Sisters of Mercy. He sent a large sum of money to All-Hallows seminary in Dublin for the education of six young men for his mission, and they duly arrived in Buenos Aires in 1860. The Fahy Institute was opened 20 years after Fahy's death to receive 33 orphans from the Irish Colony in Bahia Blanca, and later became a school with a boarding capacity for 200 students. This was set up in the camp about forty kilo metres from the city under the direction of the Palottine Fathers. Together with St Brigid's College, these schools provided an Irish Catholic education for the children of the Irish settlers and subsequently came to represent important agents in the spread of hurling in Argentina.

By the time Fr. Fahy died in 1871, the Irish community was well established. They had their own churches or they continued to hear the Irish Mass on a centrally located Irish estancia until they had the funds to build their own church. Church buildings also typically contained a library stocked with books in English. Local Irish newspapers such as the Wexford People and The Westmeath Examiner were also subscribed to by the libraries. As McKenna noted, 'Each little Irish church, therefore, became the local social centre for emigrants for a fifty or sixty kilometre radius, where they would meet to hear Mass, read the local papers from Ireland, play cards, pass around letters from home and from their brothers and sisters in the u.K., the U.S., Canada or Australia and discuss current happenings with their neighbours, and write letters in reply knowing the priest would ensure their postage.' [17] During his almost 30 years in the country Fr. Fahy was the primary advocate of the Irish and, beyond those activities outlined above, he 'acted as consul, postmaster, financial adviser, marriage counsellor, judge, interpreter and employment agent'. [18]

Through his initiatives in helping to preserve faith, establish benevolent institutions and create specifically Irish Catholic social and political networks, Fr. Fahy ensured that this community was able to mark itself out from Anglo­Argentine society as a strong and self sufficient gloup that cherished and celebrated its Irishness. This was deemed particularly important in Buenos Aires, a city with a strong Anglo establishment. By 1875 the settlers were prosperous and comfortable. The colony numbered about 26,000 and owned over 1,500,000 acres of land with the majority settled in the province of Buenos Aires around Mercedes, a town about 70 miles west of the city. This then was the broader social, political and cultural context into which the game of hurling was planted and, for a while, flourished and it is to the story of the game's origins and early development that this essay now turns.
William Bulfin and the Origins of Organized Hurling in Argentina

As noted earlier, the majority of the early Irish settlers in Argentina were from counties Westmeath, Wexford, Longford and Offaly, which were traditional centres for hurling in Ireland both prior to the Great Famine and during the game's revival in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. [19] Given the movement, initiated by Fr. Fahy, to promote distinctively Irish forms of cultural expression in Argentina in the second half of the nineteenth century, combined with the fact that many of those who took up residence there were from counties where the game had a relatively high profile, it is not especially surprising that hurling became popular amongst sections of the Irish­Argentine community. The earliest references to the game being played are during the years 1887 and 1888, from Mercedes and near the Monastery of San Pablo, Capitan Sarmiento. It is likely that the versions of the game played at this time were uncodified and largely recreational. Indeed, it was not until 1900 that the game became organized. The man credited with the organization of hurling in Argentina is William Bulfin. Born in Offaly in 1861, Bulfin immigrated to Argentina in 1884, the year the GAA in Ireland was founded, and he was to do for the sporting life of the Irish what Fr. Fahy did for their social and economic welfare. With hurling and considerable literary abilities in his arsenal, Bulfin, like Fr. Fahy, was to become key in raising the ethnic consciousness of the Argentine Irish and providing them with an arena in which to express it. Given his centrality in the early history of hurling, some further biographical detail is useful at this point.

Bulfin was 23 years of age when he arrived in Argentina. Like many other young Irishmen, he found work on various estancias, herding cattle. Beyond a propensity for physical labour, he was intellectually curious and an insatiable reader. After four years on the pampas he went to Buenos Aires and bought a partnership (with Michael Dineen), in The Southern Cross, the city's Irish newspaper, founded in 1875 by Rev. Patrick Joseph Dillon. Eight years later, in 1896, he became chief editor and sole owner, contributing articles on topics as diverse as hurling, politics, opera, the lives of the Irish sheep and cattle-herders on the pampas and the demise of the gaucho. Bulfin married an Irish girl, Anne O'Rourke, and they had one son, Eamon (1892-1968) who was an Irish republican and diplomatist, [20] and four daughters. A collection of his stories of Irish sheep and cattle-herders in the pampas, Tales of the Pampas, was published in 1900. [21] Through these stories, his work as editor of The Southern Cross and his promotion of a range of Irish cultural activities, not least of which was hurling, Bulfin became influential in the Irish community. He recognized his place amongst them and sought to encourage his countrymen and women to emphasize their lrishness as a way of marking themselves out as separate from broader Argentine society. As a staunch nationalist, he actively sought support for the republican cause at home, not only through his newspaper but also by promoting activities that would allow the diaspora to build the sort of cultural identity on which to develop a strong political one. [22] Bulfin's significance to the Irish in Argentina is addressed by Wilkinson who notes that he was 'a vigorous defender of the rights of Irish Catholic immigrants.  In 1906, four years before his death, he was made a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope Pius X for his work among the Irish community in Argentina.' [23]

When Bulfin arrived in Buenos Aires, the prevalent sports culture had a distinctively British flavour with cricket, rugby and association football all assuming a central role in English speaking Buenos Aires. [24] As these sports gained in popularity in English speaking circles in the last two decades of the nineteenth century they began to attract Irish merchants, professionals, landlords and their sons. [25] Indeed, in 1892 a group of Irish Argentines founded the first football club, Lobos Athletic Club, in the rural area of Buenos Aires. [26] Irish involvement in association football not only provided opportunities for physical exercise and male bonding but also an arena for regular contact with, and assimilation into, Anglo-Argentine society and as such ran counter to the broader drive on the part of leaders of the Irish in the country to retain their separateness and difference. Bulfin, given his status as a proponent of all things Irish, must have been perturbed at this state of affairs and he took it upon himself to take a leading role in promoting the game of hurling.

Beyond the playing of informal, unregulated and irregular games during the 1890s, the first 'official' hurling match between two formally constituted clubs was played on 15 July 1900 between Almagro and Palermo, two districts in the city of Buenos Aires. [27] The teams were made up of nine players each due to the limited number of hurley sticks available. It is likely that Bulfin was involved in some capacity in organizing this match because in the following month, he was instrumental in the formation of the Buenos Aires Hurling Club. [28] In Bulfin's eyes, this club was, practically and formally, an official branch of the GAA. Indeed, in helping to put together the club's constitution, Bulfin referred to the club as representing part of the Buenos Aires Gaelic Athletic Association. [29] Bulfin quickly followed up on this development by publishing a set of hurling rules in The Southern Cross on 17 August 1900. These rules contained a plan of a hurling field alongside a map of positions for 17 -aside teams.

Enthusiasm for the game spread rapidly and during practice matches at the grounds of the Argentine Catholic Association in Caballito, it was common to see teams being made up of 30 players on each side. Young men from Buenos Aires and the farming districts of the Province of Buenos Aires formed teams such as Barracas, Palermo and Porteno and they played on a regular basis. [30] In keeping with their broader mission to oversee the retention of Irish customs and values, the Catholic Church also got involved in promoting the game in this period with priests of the Pallotine and Passionist Orders taking an active role in establishing clubs and facilitating matches. For example, the Irish Chaplain of the Argentine Catholic Association, Fr. Edmund Flannery, was a strong promoter of the practice games played in Caballito and other priests set up the 'Fahy Boys' Hurling and Social Club, a club that was named after Fr. Fahy. The network of Irish-Argentine schools established under the direction and influence of Fahy, were also agents in the game's diffusion and their investment in the game provided the various adult club sides with a steady stream of talent. The role of Bulfin, the Church and the Catholic Irish schools in building a solid base for hurling in

Argentina is attested to and summarized in a letter to the Jubilee Congress of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1934, from the Rector of Fahy Farm Institute based in the Moreno Province of Buenos Aires. Having congratulated the Association on the good work begun 50 years previously in Thurles, he went on to comment,

The little seed has become a mighty tree, so mighty that its branches have extended to countries as far away as Africa and Argentina. Here, under The Southern Cross the game was started by the late lamented Liam Bulfin, and the Harte Brothers. It was taken up immediately by the Irish-Argentine schools, St. Patrick's, Mercedes and the Fahy Institute, and mainly by the former pupils of these schools has the game been kept going all these years. [31]

 

The Waxing and Waning of Hurling in Argentina c.1900-40

From these firm foundations, hurling retained its popularity amongst the Irish in Argentina right through until the beginning of the First World War. Matches took place on weekends on a regular basis and received good coverage in the press, not only in Irish-oriented newspapers but also in Argentina's leading daily, La Nacion. [32] Even the return to Ireland and untimely death of William Bulfin in 1910 did little to slow the progress of the game. [33] The onset of the First World War changed this state of affairs and ultimately caused a cessation in hurling activity throughout Buenos Aires and far beyond. The importation of hurley's in ships' holds, the standard method of getting them into the hands ofIrish Argentines in this period, had already proved difficult in the lead up to the War, not least because they dried out too much on the journey and were in many cases brittle and sometimes useless by the time they arrived. The onset of the War though effectively closed up this mode of transiting hurleys and, as a consequence, the required equipment became scarce. An attempt was made to use a native Argentinean mountain ash but it proved too heavy and lacking in pliability. [34]

With the conclusion of the Great War, the early 1920s saw a revival in the fortunes of hurling. Miguel E. Ballesty (1876-1950), son of parents born in Co. Westmeath, emerged in this period to become the leading proponent of the game. On 16 and 27 August 1920 he organized meetings with representatives of three clubs, St Patrick's College, Capilla Boys and Bearna Baoghail, and founded the Argentine Hurling Federation and inaugurated a championship, first played in October of the same year. The following year, on 21 October, a special game was organized at Mercedes, which had a large Irish population, in honour of Lawrence Ginnell, the second representative of the Irish Republic in South America and the United States. Another game in his honour was played at the same venue ten days later when a team of Irish-Argentines defeated one formed totally of Irish-born players. [35] These games did much to reignite interest in hurling but what was needed to put the sport on a firm footing was a fixed abode.

Acquiring a suitable home for the game was proving difficult in this period, particularly because a number of venues became too small given the increasing numbers of spectators who wanted to watch matches. In 1921, the Argentine Hurling Federation began renting a field from the Banco de la Nacion Argentina at Calle Carrasco in the suburb of Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires. This arrangement did not last long though because of the expansion of the city and the building of a road through it.

On 13 July 1924 a new venue was opened at Calle Santo Tome, Villa Devoto and this became the home of hurling for the next 22 years. The fine wooden club house, paint~d green, white and orange, which had been erected at Velez Sarsfield, was now transferred to the new venue and enlarged. This club house had a special place in the hearts of all the hurlers in Argentina because not only did it serve as changing rooms for the players, but it also played host to many Irish-Argentine gatherings. Thus, there was a great sense of loss amongst the Irish diaspora in Argentina when it was accidentally destroyed by fire on the night of 14 February 1955.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, hurling, under the tutelage of Ballesty, prospered. At the height of its popularity, the number of clubs in existance reached double figures. In this period teams such as Almirante Brown, Wanderers, Capilla Boys, Fahy Boys, St Patrick's (Mercedes), St Paul's College, Irish-Argentine Juniors, La Plata Gaels, Santos Lugares Gaels, Buenos Aires and Nacional Hurling Club competed in a regular and higWy competitive championship. Catholic priests continued their long association with the game, one that stretched back to 1900, by taking a leading role in forming clubs and promoting the game. For example, Fr. Santiago Ussher was an ardent supporter of hurling, as was the Passionist Brother Clement Roche who coached pupils of St Paul's. Fr. Stanislaus Gill, c.P., director of the same school in 1938, was an outstanding hurler in his youth and continued to involve himself in the game by passing on his knowledge to the pupils. The impact of Catholic priests on the game often went beyond setting up clubs and the provision of coaching with a number using their contacts and influence in Ireland to acquire crucial equipment for the playing of the game in Argentina. Instances of this trend abound. For example, in the 1930s Fr. Vincent O'Sullivan, S.C.A. was given 100 hurleys and six sliotars (hurling balls) by the Cork GAA County Board for the boys of the Fahy Institute while Thurles Sarsfields Club in County Tipperary sent hurleys to Fr. Tony Kelly, an ex-member of the club, who laboured for many years in Buenos Aires. Despite this relatively steady influx of new equipment and the enthusiasm of Catholic priests for the game, the mid-1930s saw the game begin to recede as a significant element of Irish Argentine popular culture. By the outbreak of the Second World War, hurling had almost totally disappeared from Argentine shores.

 

The Decline of Hurling in Argentina

The fate of hurling in Argentina, as elsewhere amongst the Irish diaspora, was closely linked with the decline in emigration from Ireland. The number of immigrants to Argentina had virtually ceased by First World War. It picked up a little momentum again in the early 1920s but it had all but dried up again by the end of that decade. By the 1940s there were few arrivals from Ireland with the exception of the occasional missionary. Although this led to a decline in new blood coming into the game, those who had played and promoted hurling in the aftermath of the First World War were able to keep it relatively strong through the 1920s and into the opening years of the 1930s. However, once these players began to reach an age where they were no longer physically capable of continuing to play, at least to a reasonable level of competition, the game was in trouble. The-existence of a small, slowly declining pool of players also saw the value of the game as a tool for community building and the creation of a shared sense of Irishness begin to decline. Indeed, according to Willie Ford, a writer with The Southern Cross, some members of the Irish-Argentine community came to the belief that hurling, instead of being a uniting factor, as it had been for a number of decades, was causing quite an amount of discord and division in the community. Because hurling was almost entirely confined to people of Irish origin, the drop in immigration left GAA afficianados with nowhere to go in terms of recruiting players. As a result, clubs were too few in number which led to them playing each other too often and this often resulted in tension, bitterness and division between those involved in the game. [36]

Beyond the decline in human resources, a number of broader socio-economic developments impacting on the Irish in Argentina in this period fed into hurling's decline. The depression of the 1930s did little to help and during this period the mindset of those sections of the Irish community that had formerly felt it important to retain their Irishness, began to change. Over time the Irish began to assimilate into the wider community and to abandon the trappings of their Irish ethnicity. There was considerable inter-marriage and second and third generation Irish gradually began to Hispanicize their names. All of this led to a slow erosion of family and cultural links with the homeland and in the 1930s this began to impact on the popularity of hurling which was soon to become a memory, played on only rare occasions, rather than a meaningful expression of the vibrant Irish culture that had existed in previous decades. [37] Although games were still being played sporadically by teams such as Fahy Boys ex-pupils and St Patrick's College, Mercedes in the late 1930s, hurling was in terminal decline. As the Pallo tine priest, Galway born Fr. Paddy Gormley observed, the outbreak of the Second World War and the resultant drying-up of the supply of hurleys sounded the final death knell on the existence of hurling as a significant part of Irish cultural life in Argentina. [38]

In the post-War period there were a number of half-hearted attempts to revive the game in Argentina. For example, Fr. Gormley attended the GAA Congress in Dublin in 1948 and made a plea for the Association to ship a large supply ofhurleys to the country. However nothing came of his efforts to garner support from the GAA in Ireland or rekindle interest among the Irish-Argentine community. [39] Even those in Argentina who were eager to sustain the game recognized that the future was bleak. Thus, in 1946 an assembly of the remaining hurling clubs in the broader Buenos Aires area changed their name from Argentine Federation of Hurling to Hurling Club and diversified into other sports which included, somewhat ironically, British sports such as rugby and cricket. Hockey also became hugely popular at the club and given the transferability of the skills involved, this game became a substitute for hurling with many former hurlers becoming successful hockey players. Indeed, half of the players in the Argentine hockey team that participated in the 1948 Olympic Games in London were from Hurling Club. Two years later the club acquired its own ground in Hurlingham, a venue which only sporadically hosted hurling matches. For example, during the 1960s and 1970s, the club would organize an annual hurlers day, usually in the month of November, which gathered together Irish, mainly Pallotine, priests and Christian Brothers and Irish­Argentine hockey players, to playa friendly game of hurling. On a few occasions during the 1960s, Padraig 6 Caoimh, General Secretary of the GAA, sent a few dozen hurleys to the Christian Brothers at Cardinal Newman College in Buenos Aires which proved invaluable in sustaining Hurlers' Day. While this event lasted it proved to be very popular and many of the old hurlers who attended were thrilled to see the old game played once more on Argentine soil. Since then, hurling has only been seen in the country on rare occasions, most notably during a three-week tour of the Aer Lingus Hurling Club in October 1980 which involved matches at Hurlingham and the Christian Brothers' Cardinal Newman College ground at Boulogne and most auspiciously during a visit by the GAA Hurling All-Stars in 2002.

 

Conclusion

In the years between 1900 and the beginning of the Second World War, hurling represented an important expression of Irishness in Argentina. The inception of the game was part of a broader strategy, initiated by Archbishop Murray and Fr. Fahy in the mid-nineteenth century, aimed at arresting the assimilation of the Irish into broader Anglo-Argentine society. For a period of around 30 to 40 years, hurling, as part of a broader diet of Irish cultural practices that were promoted amongst the emigre, was relatively successful in this process. Those occasions when the game was played allowed Catholic Irish immigrants, particularly young members of the landless proletariat, to mark out, in a highly visible way, their differences with their fellow ingleses and Argentine neighbours. The use of hurling in this process was not accidental. The game was quintessentially Irish and was laden with nationalistic significance in both a cultural and political sense. [40] Those Irish priests who did so much to get the game started in Argentina and subsequently endeavoured to keep it alive recognized this and chose this particular cultural practice specifically because it had been seen to be a valuable tool for mobilizing strong senses of Irish nationalism not only amongst the Irish at home but also in those who had chosen or were forced to seek out a new 'home'. It is also likely that the choice of hurling as a bulwark of Irishness in Argentina was also underpinned by a recognition, on the part of the Irish clergy, of the role of British sports forms such as association football, rugby and cricket in helping the Anglo-Protestant emigre to retain and celebrate their identity.

When the Silver Jubilee of the Buenos Aires Hurling Club was celebrated on 18 October 1925, Gerald Foley of Co. Offaly, Bulfin's successor as editor of The Southern Cross and supporter of the GAA in Argentina, paid tribute to all those who had worked so hard to keep hurling alive in Argentina. His words reveal much about the place of hurling in the country and the value of the game in the broader drive to reinforce lrishness there. But, they also lead us to a fuller appreciation of the reasons for the game's decline in Argentina. Foley comments that,

Many circumstances contributed to the survival of the caman in Argentina and one of them is that ... Hurling is saturated with the spirit of Irish nationalism - [rlanda Libre - and so long as it maintains this spirit vital and flaming, it will live. If it ever loses this spirit it will no longer be hurling, it will have no justification for its existence. [41]

In linking the future of hurling to Irish nationalism, Foley clearly felt confident that Irish nationalism would continue to be important, culturally and politically to the Irish community in Argentina and that this would help to ensure the continued strength of the game there. However, Foley was speaking at the beginning of a period where Irish nationalist sentiment was on the wane amongst the Irish diaspora elsewhere in the world. For many, the establishment of the Irish Free State had resolved the Irish question and thus, they felt less of a need to articulate political nationalism in voice and deed. [42] In the absence of a definitive study of Irish nationalism in Argentina, it is difficult to judge if this was also the case amongst the emigre there. Nonetheless, it is likely that this process was evident. This assumption is made on the basis that Argentina had seen proportionally higher levels of Irish assimilation in comparison to those other parts of the world that the Irish emigrated to. Thus, a full understanding of the factors contributing to the decline of hurling must not only account for the decline in Irish immigration to Argentina, the onset of the depression of the 1930s and the outbreak of the Second World War but should also include the distinct possibility of a decline in the significance of Irish nationalism amongst lrish­Argentines. Thus, while the relatively short-lived popularity of hurling in Argentina was linked to the importance placed on 'becoming Irlandel in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it appears that the game's decline was rooted in the fact that by the 1940s this very same process had lost its appeal for Irish-Argentines.

 

Notes

[1] This phrase is borrowed from Edmundo Murray's seminal work on the Irish in Argentina, Becoming 'Irlandes': Private Narratives of the Irish Emigration to Argentina, 1844-1912.
[2] Murray, 'Ireland and Latin America'.
[3] Ibid.
[4] McKenna, Irish Emigration to Ireland: A Different Model.
[5] Murray, 'Ireland and Latin America'.
[6] McKenna, 'Nineteenth Century Irish Emigration to, and Settlement in, Argentina'.
[7] Murray, 'Ireland and Latin America'.
[8] McKenna, 'Nineteenth Century Irish Emigration', 85.
[9] Ibid.
[10] McGinn, The South American Irish.
[11] Murray, 'Dispatches: How the Irish Became Ingleses:
[12] Ibid.
[13] McKenna, 'Nineteenth Century Irish Emigration'.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ussher, Father Fahy: A Biography of Anthony Dominic Fahy, a.p., Irish Missionary in Argentina,1805-1871.
[16] King, The Clash of the Ash in Foreign Fields: Hurling Abroad, 129.
[17] McKenna, 'Nineteenth Century Irish Emigration', 101.
[18] Fahy, 'Anthony Fahy of Loughrea Irish Missionary in Argentina', 9. [19] De Burca, The GAA: A History.
[20] See www.irlandeses.orgldilab_bulfine.htm. He received the death sentence for his part in the 1916 Rising, but it was commuted because he was born in Argentina. Deported to Buenos Aires, he was jailed for deserting military service there. Released in 1919, he coordinated fundraising and arms shipments from there until he returned to Ireland in 1922. His sister, Catalina, was married to Sean McBride.
[21] We are indebted to Susan Wilkinson for much of the information on Bulfin. She has written a detailed introduction to a new edition of Tales of the Pampas. See, Wilkinson, 'Introduction'.
[22] Murray, Becoming 'Irlandes:
[23] Wilkinson, 'Introduction', 2.
[24] Mason, Passion of the People: Football in South America.
[25] Murray, 'Paddy McCarthy, Irish Footballer and Boxer in Argentina'.
[26] Ibid.
[27] King, The Clash of the Ash.
[28] The first committee, which comprised practically all the players, was made up of the following:

President, J.P. Harte; Vice-President, W.H. Martin; Secretary, P.P. Byrne; Pro-Secretary, T. Ussher; Treasurer, A. Pagliere; Captain, G.C. Noon; Vice-Captain, M.A. Harte; members, W. Ussher, H. Ford, T. Flanagan, M.J. Duffy, P. Mackin, J. Shiel, S. Mullally, D. Noon, J. Malone, G. Moran, E. Noon, S. Moran, W. Bulfin. Ibid.

[29] Clause 3 of the Buenos Aires Hurling Club's Constitution and Rules stated:

'That the Buenos Aires Gaelic Athletic Association shall be a strictly non-political and non-sectarian association.'

[30] King, The Clash of the Ash.
[31] GAA Congress Minutes, 1934.
[32] King, The Clash of the Ash.
[33] One month after deciding to return home to Derrinlogh, Co. OffaIy with his family, Bulfin died of heart failure after contracting rheumatic fever. He was 47 years of age.
[34] King, The Clash of the Ash.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Interview with King.

This is a scenario that has been played out in a number of US cities in recent years, particularly Chicago. This observation is made on the back of a period of sustained field work in a number of US cities, including Chicago, carried out by Darby as part of a British Academy funded project.

[37] King, The Clash of the Ash.
[38] Interview with King.
[39] Ibid.
[40] See Cronin, Sport and Nationalism in Ireland: Gaelic Games, Soccer and Irish Identity since 1884; Sugden and Bairner, Sport, Sectarianism and Society in a Divided Ireland.
[41] Cited in King, The Clash of the Ash, 132.
[42] This process was particularly marked amongst the Irish diaspora in the United States. See McCaffrey, The Irish Catholic Diaspora in America.

 

References

Cronin, M. Sport and Nationalism in Ireland: Gaelic Games, Soccer and Irish Identity Since 1984. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999.
De Burca, M. The GAA: A History. Second Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1999.
Fahy, M. Anthony Fahy of Loughrea Irish Missionary in Argentina. Buenos Aires: Irish Argentine Historical Society, 2005. GAA Congress Minutes. 1934.
King, S. J. The Clash of the Ash in Foreign Fields: Hurling Abroad. Cashel: Tipperary, 1998.
McCaffrey, 1. J. The Irish Catholic Diaspora in America. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997.
McGinn, B., The South American Irish, a paper presented to the Irish Genealogical Society, Dublin 1997.
McKenna, P. "Nineteenth Century Irish Emigration to, and Settlement in, Argentina." MA Geography Thesis Maynooth College, 1994.
-. Irish Emigration to Ireland: A Different Model. Cork: University College Cork, Irish Centre for Migration Studies, 2000.
Mason, T. Passion of the People: Football in South America. London: Verso, 1995.
Murray, E. The Irish Road to South America. Buenos Aires: Irish Argentine Historical Society, 2004. -. Becoming '[rlandes': Private Narratives of the Irish Emigration to Argentina, 1844-1912. Buenos Aires: Literature of Latin America, 2006. -. "Dispatches: How the Irish Became Ingleses:' British Council Bulletin, Issue 4, 17 March 2006.
-. "Paddy McCarthy, Irish Footballer and Boxer in Argentina:' In Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics and History, edited by J. Byrne, P. Coleman, and J. King. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007.
"Ireland and Latin America." In Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics and History, edited by J. Byrne, P. Coleman, and J. King. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007.
Sugden, J. and A. Bairner. Sport, Sectarianism and Society in a Divided Ireland. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993.
Ussher, J. M. Father Fahy: A Biography of Anthony Dominic Fahy, O.F., Irish Missionary in Argentina, 1805-1871. Buenos Aires: James Martin Ussher, 1951.
Wilkinson, S. "Introduction:' Tales of the Pampas. In W. Bulfin, Buenos Aires: Literature of Latin America, 1997.




Seamus King and Paul Darby

Sport in Society, Vol. 10, Number 3, May 2007, pp 425-438.