Museum Eye: Latin America in Irish museums

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2008), Reviews, Volume 16

The life-size bronze statue of Admiral William Brown (1777–1857) at the corner of Dublin’s Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and the newly created Admiral Brown Walk. (Nick Maxwell)

The life-size bronze statue of Admiral William Brown (1777–1857) at the corner of Dublin’s Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and the newly created Admiral Brown Walk. (Nick Maxwell)`

Latin America in Irish museums
by Tony Canavan

Despite the long association of Ireland with Latin America, there isn’t a particular museum here dedicated to the topic. Neither is there much in the way of museum exhibits or artefacts. Nevertheless, there is Latin American-related material on display in a number of museums around the country and elsewhere.
The National Museum, Collins Barracks, in its ‘Soldiers and Chiefs’ exhibition displays a uniform of Col. William Owen Ferguson, who was one of the many Irishmen who fought with Simón Bolívar to free South America from the Spanish Empire (see ‘Artefacts’, p. 57). In the same gallery there is also an exhibit on the Volunteers of St Patrick, who fought for Mexico against the United States in the war of 1846. This is interesting for having a contemporary eyewitness account of the execution of those who were captured by the Americans. To this day ‘Los San Patricios’ are still honoured in Mexico on 12 September every year.
The Pearse Museum in St Enda’s, Rathfarnham, has some copies of the Southern Cross, a newspaper published in Buenos Aires for the Irish-Argentinian community. Patrick Pearse placed an advertisement for Scoil Éanna in the newspaper. It was edited by William Bulfin, author of Rambles in Erin. His son Eamonn, who was born in Argentina, attended Scoil Éanna and went on to fight in the 1916 Rising. There is some material relating to Eamonn Bulfin in the museum’s collection also.
In Archbishop Ryan Park, Merrion Square, Dublin 2, there is an impressive bust of Bernardo O’Higgins (1778–1842) in his general’s uniform by sculptor Francisco Orellana, in celebration of the ‘Liberator of Chile, Captain General and Statesman’. This was a gift to Ireland from Chile, where O’Higgins occupies the same place in the pantheon of national heroes as Simón Bolívar does elsewhere. In Chile a university, an airport, a national park, an administrative region and an Antarctic base, among other things, are all named after him.
Admiral William Brown (1777–1857), father of the Argentinian Navy, is celebrated much more than O’Higgins here in Ireland. In Dublin there is a life-size bronze statue standing at the corner of Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and the newly created Admiral Brown Walk. This was brought from Argentina aboard the L.E. Eithne and officially unveiled by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Brown was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo, and in recent years his importance to the town has been recognised. There are plans to build a major heritage centre dedicated to him, but for now there is a bronze bust of Brown in Church Road, Foxford. Not far from the statue is an anchor donated to the town by the Argentinian Navy, which belonged to one of its decommissioned Almirante Brown naval vessels. One ship of the Argentinian Navy is always given this name in honour of its Irish founder.
In 2005 the Foxford Woollen Mills mounted a small exhibition dedicated to Almirante Brown. Its main feature is a replica of the Hércules, the ship that Brown commanded in Argentina’s war of independence. The model was built over two and a half years by the Argentinian artist Hector F. Martinoia, and was unveiled in the presence of Argentina’s ambassador to Ireland, Snr Marcelo Huergo. On display also are pictures and memorabilia of street signs, schools and soccer clubs, from all of Argentina’s 23 provinces, that are named in honour of Almirante Brown.

The Execution of Legion San Patricio Before Chapultepec by Sam Chamberlain. The ‘Soldiers and Chiefs’ exhibition at the National Museum, Collins Barracks, has a contemporary eyewitness account of the executions. (San Jacinto Museum of History)

The Execution of Legion San Patricio Before Chapultepec by Sam Chamberlain. The ‘Soldiers and Chiefs’ exhibition at the National Museum, Collins Barracks, has a contemporary eyewitness account of the executions. (San Jacinto Museum of History)

We have no idea in Ireland how much of a national hero Brown is in Argentina, where everything from streets to football clubs, and even an Antarctic research station, are named after him. There is a magnificent monument to him in Buenos Aires and he is commemorated by the Argentinian Navy in a number of ways, including through the Instituto Nacional Browniano, an institution dedicated to naval history. As well as a display on Brown, including his portrait in oils, the institute has a vast collection of model ships, old and new. Among the sailing-ships is a model of the Hércules, the ship in which he fought the Spanish, and also of the latest Almirante Brown, a destroyer built in 2005.
With the increase in global travel, more South Americans are coming to holiday or work in Ireland, and most of them are surprised to discover that Irishmen of the stature of O’Higgins and Brown are not honoured in their own country. Likewise, the increasing numbers of Irish people who visit Argentina or Chile are pleasantly surprised to find that these sons of Erin are major historical figures there. Perhaps it is time for museums around the country to reflect more on this aspect of Irish heritage in their exhibi

tions.

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