An Irish Argentine in the Easter Rising

Peter Berresford Ellis Column

Argentina has the largest Irish migrant population outside the English-speaking world. 

The estimates of the Irish Argentine population vary but are usually agreed around one million. 'The Southern Cross' (La Cruz del Sur) is the oldest continuously published newspaper for the Irish in Buenos Aires, founded by Patricio José Dillon in 1875. 

Irish radio programmes have been a regular feature broadcast from the Argentine capital for many years.

An Irishman from Co. Mayo, William Browne, founded the Argentine Navy. Edelmiro Juan Farrell (1887-1980), grandson of a Co. Longford man, became president of Argentina in 1944. And most people know of the exploits of 'Che' Guevara Lynch. Some in Britain may even remember the personable Argentine ambassador in London, Eduardo Francisco McLoughlin (1918-1998), grandson of a Co. Wexford migrant. 

As Argentina's Minister of Foreign Affairs, McLoughlin played a key role in discussions when the British Government were proposing to cede sovereignty of the Malvinas/Falklands to Argentina in settlement of their long claim to the islands. 

It was the breakdown of those discussions that ultimately led to the Argentine military occupation of the islands and Thatcher's subsequent war in 1982.

The descendants of the Irish Diaspora in Argentina have contributed much to their new land, but without ever losing sight of the fact of their Irish heritage or links with their mother country. 

It was an Irish Argentine who hoisted the tricolour over Dublin's General Post Office during the 1916 Insurrection.

He was Eamon Bulfin, born in Buenos Aires in 1892, the son of William Bulfin (1864-1910) from Birr, King's County (now Co. Offaly). William Bulfin emigrated to Argentina at the age of 20 and was a writer and journalist who became editor and proprietor of 'The Southern Cross'. 

A friend of Arthur Griffith, he did much to help launch Sinn Féin. William also helped finance Padraig Pearse's Scoil Éanna (St. Enda's School) which opened in September, 1908. 

He returned to Ireland in 1909 with his wife, Anne O'Rourke, and their children Eamon and Catalina. William's death in 1910 was a blow to his friend Arthur Griffith and the efforts to launch a Sinn Féin daily newspaper.

Eamon, aged 17, became a pupil at St. Enda's, helping Pearse with the younger children. A year or so later, Eamon went on to study at University College, Dublin. 

He was a keen GAA member and in 1915 he led the UCD team to win the hurling College Championships (Fitzgibbon Cup). He also became captain of the College's Irish Volunteer Company.

He responded to the mobilisation orders in 1916 and was under Pearse's personal command. During the months before the rising, he had been helping with stocking the arms and ammunition in the basement of St. Enda's.

After the GPO had been seized as the insurgent's headquarters, James Connolly had asked Sean T. O'Kelly to fetch two flags from Liberty Hall. When Sean T. O'Kelly arrived with them, Max Caulfield, in his book The Easter Rebellion (1964) describes what happened.

"Here!" said Connolly to a Volunteer officer. "Have these hoisted up on the flag poles."

What is not mentioned in this book, nor in most accounts of the Rising, is that the Volunteer officer was Eamon Bulfin. 

Bulfin hoisted the flags himself on the flagpoles on either end of the GPO roof. The tricolour was hoisted at the right corner of Henry Street while the traditional green flag with the words 'Irish Republic' was hoisted at the left corner at Princes Street.

Eamon Bulfin was sentenced to death by British military court martial after the surrender of the insurgents. However, the fact that he was an Argentine citizen, born in Buenos Aires, saved his life. The Argentine ambassador intervened and, eventually, on March 21, 1917, Eamon Bulfin was deported under Britain's Aliens Restriction Act of 1914.

The Argentine Government did not want to anger the British Empire, with whom they were already having problems, not the least with their long-standing argument over the sovereignty of The Malvinas/Falklands. 

They therefore arrested Eamon Bulfin when he arrived in Buenos Aires and sentenced him to jail for leaving Argentine for the purpose of  "deserting from military service". As he was still a schoolboy when he and his family left for Ireland, it seemed the authorities were desperate for an excuse.

When Eamon Bulfin was released in 1919, the General Election in Ireland had resulted in an overwhelming victory for Sinn Féin who, in accordance with their manifesto, made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence making Ireland a republic and set up a parliament in Dublin. 

The President of the Republic, Eamon de Valéra wrote to Bulfin in May appointing him the official representative to Argentina.

As Irish Consul, Bulfin was to 'inaugurate direct trade between Ireland and the Argentine Republic' to co-ordinate Irish opinion in the Argentine, and to bring it into the Irish demand for a republic.

Bulfin began work, establishing close contacts with Argentine government officials, Irish Argentine leaders and he launched an Irish Fund to help the cause.

As England moved to arrest all the elected Irish representatives, declaring the Irish Parliament "an illegal assembly", the War of Independence was the inevitable outcome. Bulfin became active in organising the supply of arms and ammunition to the Irish Volunteers.

In 1920, during the county council elections, Eamon Bulfin was nominated in his absence for a seat on King's County Council. Not only was he elected but appointed chairman of the council. One of the first things the new council did was to agree that the county's name be returned to its ancient Irish form of Co. Offaly. 

Meetings were conducted with the chairman's seat in the council chamber left empty and with a tricolour draped across it.

With the signing of the Treaty and the establishment of an Irish State in 1922, Eamon Bulfin was finally allowed to return to Ireland where he set up home in his father's native Derrinlough, Birr, Co. Offaly. He married Nora Brick and was to die in Offaly in 1968.

His sister, Catalina, also born in Buenos Aires in 1901, had become secretary to Austin Stack (1880-1929). Stack was elected to the Dail in 1918 and became Minister for Home Affairs from 1920-22. He accompanied de Valéra to London for initial Treaty talks but became a leading opponent of the terms agreed by Collins. 

Catalina Bulfin married Sean MacBride (1904-1988), the Nobel Peace Prize winner, former Chief of Staff of the IRA, Irish Minister for External Affairs, secretary of the International Commission of Jurists, founder member of Amnesty International and Assistant General Secretary of the United Nations. Catalina MacBride died in 1976 and was buried in Glasnevin.


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