The Irish in South America

Most Irish people are well aware of the huge Irish diaspora in America, Australia and England.

Many however are oblivious to the Irish diaspora in South America and the part that many Irishmen and those of Irish decent played in those countries fight for freedom.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of the Mayo-born founder of the Argentine navy.

Admiral William Brown from Foxford in Co. Mayo emigrated from Ireland more than 200 years ago and in his adult life played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Argentinean Republic.

Admiral Brown is considered a national hero in Argentina and was the father of the Argentine Navy and leader of the Argentine Armed Forces in the wars against Brazil and Spain; he died in Buenos Aires in 1857.

The Almirante Brown class destroyer is named after him.

Brown's victories in the Independence War, the Argentina-Brazil War, and the Guerra Grande in Uruguay earned the respect and appreciation of the Argentine people.

During a Naval blockade by the Brazilians he roused his men by declaring

"Comrades: confidence in victory, discipline, and three hails to the motherland!"

His contribution was marked today in a special joint remembrance ceremony with junior defence Minister Tom Kitt, diplomatic personnel and senior naval commanders from both countries.

A wreath was laid at a statue to the Foxford-born Admiral at Sir John Rogerson Quay in central Dublin, against the backdrop of the Argentine sailing ship, the ARA Libertad. Mr Kitt paid tribute to the Argentine Irish.

“As a component of the Irish Diaspora, the Argentine Irish are to be congratulated for maintaining their identity, their sense of community and their culture for more than 150 years."

Admiral Brown was not the only famous Irishman in South America or the only Irishman to fight against imperialism in South America.

Che Guevara, whose grandmother's surname was Lynch, was another famous member of this diaspora. Guevara's father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch, said of him

"The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels"

Probably the most famous Irishman ever to reside in Mexico is the Wexfordman William Lamport, better known to most Mexicans as Guillen de Lampart, precursor of the Independence movement and author of the first proclamation of independence in the New World.

His statue stands today in the Crypt of Heroes beneath the Column of Independence in Mexico City. There are also monuments in Mexico City paying tribute to those Irish who fought for Mexico in the 1800's.

The Irish also had a huge impact in Venezuela and other South American countries under the leadership of Simon Bolivar.

The Irish had a huge impact of Bolivar and he respected them deeply indeed one of them, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ferguson from Antrim, died defending the Liberator from political rivals.

Daniel Florence O'Leary from Cork won Bolivar's highest esteem. Bolivar made O'Leary his personal aide-de-camp. As a member of Bolivar's headquarters, O'Leary attained the rank of brigadier general and played a key role in plotting political and military strategy.

In Colombia, where O'Leary died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1854, a bust of the Irish hero overlooks a plaza in Bogotá.

In 1882, the Venezuelan government removed O'Leary's remains to its own capital, Caracas. There, with high public honours, the soldier was laid to rest in the National Pantheon, the sacred burial place of Bolivar himself.

Indeed Daniel O'Connell's own son Morgan was sent to help Bolivar in his fight against Imperialism.

"Hitherto," O'Connell wrote to Bolivar, "I have been able to bestow only good wishes upon that noble cause. But now I have a son able to wield a sword in its defence, and I send him, illustrious Sir, to admire and profit by your example."

With this letter in hand, Captain Morgan O'Connell landed at Margarita on June 12, 1820 and presented himself for duty as the Irish Legion's youngest officer.

After the Liberation of Colombia Colonel Francis Burdett O'Connor and his Irish lancers went south to participate in the Peruvian campaign of General Antonio Jose de Sucre. As Sucre's chief of staff, the Irish officer set the strategy for the battle of Ayacucho, which was the death knell for Spanish rule in South America.

Bernardo O'Higgins, the Chilean revolutionary, born in Chillán in 1778, illegitimate son of Ambrosio O'Higgins, the Irish-born viceroy of Chile and Peru. Played a great part in the Chilean revolt of 1810-1817, and became known as the 'Liberator of Chile'.

His exhortation "Live with honor or die with glory. He who is brave, follow me" lives in Chilean history.

In 1817-1823 he was the new republic's first president, but was deposed after a revolution and retired to Peru, where he died in 1842.

It seems the Irish are much better at securing Independence for other countries than they have ever been in securing their own.

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