This event happened on Friday 13 May, 9.30am-17.00pm
An Foras Feasa, Seminar Room, Iontas Building, Maynooth University
This event exploring Irish-Latin American relations in the context of the centenary of 1916, was jointly organised by Maynooth University’s Sociology Department, the Latin American Solidarity Centre (LASC) and the Society for Irish Latin American Studies (SILAS), funded by Maynooth University’s 1916 Commemorations Committee. The central aim of the seminar was to examine this historical tradition, as well as the extent to which such involvement impacted on the development of Irish independence movements and the Irish Republic itself. The seminar looked at three time-periods: the precursors of Irish independence who participated in the early-18th & 19th century revolutions against Spain and the building of the Latin American Republics which emerged from these struggles; the significance of activity in Latin America by figures involved in the run-up to 1916, particularly Roger Casement and Argentinean-born Eamon Bulfin; and, the Irish Solidarity Movements with Latin American revolutionary struggles of the late 20th Century, and the impact this experience has had for those personalities on their public activities at home. The event was a great success, with around 40 people attending, from the academic, NGO, and voluntary sectors. We had a wide range of speakers, with a concentration on academic speakers in the morning and civil society speakers in the afternoon.
With regard to the first time period, Margaret Brehony, of SILAS and NUI Galway, gave us an overview of Irish-Latin American contacts since Latin American independence struggles in the early 19th century, remarking on the number of Irish who had leadership roles in Latin America, including such figures as Florencio O’ Leary, who acted as secretary to the Liberator, Simón Bolívar, publishing extensive diaries which serve as invaluable historical documents. She also drew attention to the profound influence Ireland and the Irish had on the work of José Martí, the great Cuban nationalist. Prof. Dermot Keogh recounted the life, times and impact of two important personalities in the 1916 Rising with Latin American connections. Eamon Bulfin was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, into an Irish family, and participated in the 1916 Rising along with Pearse, raising the tricolour over the GPO. Laurence Ginnell was sent by de Velera to Argentina in 1921 to raise funds to support the formation of the Irish Republic, alongside Bulfin who was then the first Irish consul to the Republic of Argentina. Fr. Brendan Forde then gave a personal account of a visit to the Putumayo in Peru, where Casement spent years documenting the inhumane treatment of indigenous communities and workers on rubber plantations used by British companies. This experience was to be a fundamental catalyst for Casement’s rejection of imperialism and later participation in the preparations for 1916. Fr. Forde spoke of the reverence with which Casement’s name is still held by locals in the area. Peadar Kirby, emeritus professor at Limerick, and adjunct professor with the Sociology Department in Maynooth, then spoke of the under-emphasis placed on Latin America in Irish education, diplomacy and trade, despite our mutual connections. He emphasised the great opportunities for learning from Latin America’s early experimentation with a variety of paradigms and models in the areas of the economy, theology, education and culture. He called for a greater effort on the part of the Irish third-level sector to highlight Latin America more in their curriculums in order to capitalise and learn from these experiences.
The afternoon session was given over to more recent solidarity experiences between Ireland and Latin America. The afternoon consisted first of a panel of speakers who all had had experiences as solidarity workers in Latin America, and then of a workshop where participants were asked to identify ways forward to continue and develop Irish-Latin American connections. The panel of speakers included people such as Andy Pollak, former Director of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies and Secretary of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee; Brendan Butler, Coordinator of the Irish El Salvador Support Committee; Oisin Coghlan, Director, Friends of the Earth, and former Coordinator of LASC; Molly O’Duffy, Ireland Nicaragua Support Group and coffee brigades; and Robin Hanan, Director of European Anti-Poverty Network, and member of the Ireland Nicaragua Support Group and of LASC (all pictured). The session was chaired by Sally O’ Neill, former head of Latin America region for Trocaire and currently sitting on the board of the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) in the United States. Each speaker emphasised the fundamental role their experiences in Latin America had on their formation as professionals and their approach to social, economic and environmental problems in Ireland and beyond. Finally, workshops concluded that there was a need to reach out more to the new Latin American communities here in Ireland, to facilitate more exchanges between Latin American and Irish students and professionals to discuss common issues, and in general to move away from a solidarity model to one which emphasises mutual learning possibilities. To this end, greater involvement from the Third Level Sector and from the Irish government were called on to help facilitate such an exchange. The day concluded with an informal launch by Barry Cannon, lecturer in politics in Maynooth Sociology department of his new book on the Right in Latin America (Routledge, 2016).
Overall, this proved an invaluable opportunity to gather together academics concerned with Latin America with their counterparts working in civil society to reflect on Ireland’s long association with Latin America, and how each have played important roles in the development of their respective quests for independence from colonial powers and for development. Thanks were extended to Maynooth University’s 1916 Commemorations Committee for providing the support which made this possible.
Report by Dr. Barry Cannon, Lecturer in Politics, Maynooth University Dept. of Sociology