Society for Irish Latin American Studies websites

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

Society for Irish Latin American Studies websites
The Society for Irish Latin American Studies (SILAS) provides an important focal point for scholars in this developing field. With broad interests in exploring past and present links between Ireland and Latin America, and to a lesser extent Iberia, the Society is open to different disciplines and methodological approaches. Its central focus, however, is on the history of Irish migration to Latin America and the experiences of Irish emigrants and their descendants. Two SILAS websites provide resources and information, as well as a platform for scholarly work in this area.
The Society’s main website,, addresses the emigrant experience in short essays on places of origin, the emigrant journey and settlement. It also provides reference sources, including passenger lists of emigrants to Argentina, burial records and a list of 4,348 Irish settlers and their descendants, based on Eduardo Coghlan’s monumental Los Irlandeses en la Argentina: su actuación y descendencia (Buenos Aires, 1987). Its Dictionary of Irish Latin American biography profiles Irish migrants to Latin America and their descendants, including famous participants in Latin American struggles for independence and many prominent figures in the Irish Argentine community—entrepreneurs, priests, journalists, political figures and others. Most of the few women featured are educators or benefactors. Significant achievements are highlighted, but this dictionary is not a self-congratulatory exercise: the tenuous nature of Che Guevara’s links with Ireland are noted, and a number of villains also appear, e.g. Mateo Banks, ‘family murderer’.
This website also provides bibliographies for various countries and regions. Information is available on the SILAS Manuscripts and Rare Books Collection, housed in the Max von Buch Library of the Universidad de San Andrés, Buenos Aires, and on the Irish Latin American Research Fund, which provides grants for innovative research projects. Notices of forthcoming conferences are also published.
The SILAS electronic journal, Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, can be accessed at Since its initial issues in 2003, some with just a handful of articles, this has evolved into a more substantial publication. Edited by Edmundo Murray and Claire Healy, and occasional guest editors, it provides personal accounts, journalistic pieces and scholarly articles for both general and academic audiences. Highly eclectic, it includes pieces on soccer star John Aldridge’s time with Real Sociedad in San Sebastián and on rock star Phil Lynott, whose father was Brazilian. A 3,000-word limit for book reviews and authors’ right to reply provide scope for serious debates.
Various articles examine the Irish role in the early nineteenth-century campaigns for independence. Celebrated participants such as Daniel O’Leary and William Brown, founder of the Argentine navy, are examined, but Matthew Brown’s study of the Irish Legion’s revolt against poor conditions at Riohacha focuses on an event that drew ignominy upon those Irish who stayed on in the area.
The evolution of the Irish Argentine community receives extensive treatment. María José Roger examines Irish immigrant education. On the seedier side, we read of Camila O’Gorman, who eloped with a priest, apparently giving the Irish community a bad name, and was executed with him near Buenos Aires in 1848. Edmundo Murray traces the evolution of Irish Argentine identity, from the immigrants’ initial tendency to identify with the English community, sharing English views of the indigenous population, to their subsequent separation from them to join the local bourgeoisie.
Two articles by Edmundo Murray examine stereotypes of Latin America. The first highlights the ‘beauty and the beast’ paradigm in accounts of Cork-born Eliza Lynch’s relationship with Francisco Solano López, president of Paraguay, 1862–70. The second examines debates surrounding three republicans accused of training FARC guerrillas in 2001: the press and international observers’ comments drew a sharp contrast between Colombia and the ‘civilised’ world or ‘normal’ societies.
The journal reproduces various historical sources, including photographs of Irish life in San Pedro, 1875–2005. Angus Mitchell introduces a lecture by Roger Casement on ‘Hy-Brassil: Irish origins of Brazil’. A petition to Pope Pius IX from prospective Irish emigrants to Brazil, edited by Oliver Marshall, highlights the attraction of a Catholic emigrant destination.
The style and quality of this journal’s contributions are quite uneven. Nevertheless, SILAS websites fulfil an important function in facilitating research, disseminating information and encouraging debates in a developing field.

Mary Harris lectures in history at NUI, Galway.


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