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Irish Diasporic Narratives in Argentina

A Reconsideration of Home, Identity and Belonging


Sinéad Wall

Departure from Ireland has long occupied a contradictory position in Irish national discourse, alternately viewed as exile or betrayal. This book analyses how departure, as well as notions of home, identity and return, is articulated in the narratives of three members of the Irish diaspora community in Argentina: John Brabazon’s journal The Customs and Habits of the Country of Buenos Ayres from the year 1845 by John Brabazon and His Own Adventures; William Bulfin’s series of sketches for The Southern Cross newspaper, later published as Tales of the Pampas (1900) and Rambles in Eirinn (1907); and Kathleen Nevin’s fictional memoir, You’ll Never Go Back (1946). The book examines the extent to which each writer upholds or contests hegemonic constructions of Irishness, as well as exploring how they negotiate the dual identity of emigrant and potential returnee. Each of the three writers, to varying degrees, challenges the orthodox positionings of the Irish diaspora subject as backward-looking and the Irish emigrant as bound to the national territory. Furthermore, they construct multiple subject positions and contradictory notions of Irishness: national, essentialist and homogeneous versus transnational, diverse and plural. Ultimately, their writings contribute to a rich and nuanced reimagining of the Irish emigrant identity.

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‘Irish people have been simultaneously viewed as insiders and outsiders […] have been inscribed within a repertoire of stereotypes that have become so common place as to be almost taken for granted’.1

‘To emigrate is to change, to become “Other”, different, plural’.2

This book has focused on the literary representations of nineteenth-century Irish emigrant identity by three members of the Irish diaspora community in Argentina. The corpus spans a period of over sixty years, from 1845 to 1907, and encompasses the genres of diary, fiction and travel literature. Seventeen-year-old John Brabazon from County Westmeath and twenty-year-old William Bulfin from County Offaly, embark upon journeys from middle class, rural Ireland to Buenos Aires in 1845 and 1884 respectively. They both secure work on various estancias and move around the pampas region of Buenos Aires province, cataloguing their adventures and interactions with the other inhabitants of that space. Kathleen Nevin, on the other hand, takes an imaginary journey into the past and reconstructs her mother’s memories of migration at twenty-two years of age from County Longford to the city of Buenos Aires in 1880. These three writers have revealed how diasporic identities and subjectivities are constructed over time and space in an ongoing transformative process and engagement with literary and diaspora spaces.

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