Wednesday 28 September 2016

Lay of the Land: Natives sizzling in solidarity with South America

Fiona O'Connell

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

While Ireland has Daniel O'Connell (aka the Liberator), South America has its own liberator in Simon Bolivar - though he could not have done so without the 2,000-plus Irish soldiers who fought for his cause
While Ireland has Daniel O'Connell (aka the Liberator), South America has its own liberator in Simon Bolivar - though he could not have done so without the 2,000-plus Irish soldiers who fought for his cause

The bad news is that we are more than halfway through summer. The good news is that it isn't turning out to be such a terrible one, as far as temperatures are concerned. There may be overcast skies and occasional downpours, but the accompanying humidity means this country town is as lush as a rainforest.

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And it's not just nature but the natives that are happy with the heat.

Everyone is out and about, shedding clothes and gaining pounds by licking their body weight in 99s. For despite our pale skin, we love to sizzle in the sun. So maybe it's no surprise that so many Irish have emigrated to Latin and South America, putting our stamp on its history by showing solidarity with its struggles for independence.

Often, Irish names are endearingly altered simply by adding an 'O' to the end or turning 'John' into 'Juan'. Like Juan Thomand O'Brien, the Wicklow-born hero of Argentina's struggle for independence and aide-de-camp to Jose de San Martin, prime leader of rebels.

Or Bernardo O'Higgins, the illegitimate son of Ambrosio O'Higgins, a Spanish officer clearly of Irish descent who went on to become governor of a country and whose name sounds more like a description of a typical Irish summer. For alongside Tyrone born general Juan Mackenna, this military strategist led forces in Chile's fight for independence.

And while Ireland has Daniel O'Connell (aka the Liberator), South America has its own liberator in Simon Bolivar - though he could not have done so without the 2,000-plus Irish soldiers who fought for his cause. Or Daniel O'Leary from Co Cork, his aide-de-camp who remains a national hero in Venezuela.

Indeed, South America might have stayed Spanish America were it not for lieutenant-colonel William Ferguson from Antrim, who died defending Bolivar. No wonder Bolivar appointed Kerryman Dr Thomas Foley as inspector general of his military hospitals, and another man from the kingdom - Arthur Sandes - as brigadier-general. Another one of his generals, Francis Burdett O'Connor, was the nephew of 1798 leader Arthur O'Connor.

And it's close but no Cuban cigar whether Che Guevara would have become an iconic symbol of revolution were it not for his grandmother, Ana Isabel Lynch, with whom Che's family lived for years. She was the daughter of immigrants who sailed to Argentina from Co Galway during the Famine.

Nor can we ignore the Mexican wave of the San Patricio Battalion, formed and led by John Riley of Clifden, Co Galway. Contrary to propaganda, the ranks of this battalion included many volunteers; only a third being deserters from the US army. Many were actually Irish who were living in Mexico before the US army invaded. They flew a banner inscribed with the phrase 'Erin Go Braugh', an image of St Patrick, and an Irish harp.

Proving that Paddy may peel when the heat is on, but his love of liberty is far from skin deep.

Sunday Independent

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