The Chilean – Irish Connection

Hello!  I know I have neglected this blog, but I am starting to get over the massive bout of writer’s block I have had for the past 5 months.  Needless to say, I have lots of things I want to write about but I have actually been so overwhelmed with all the changes in life recently (all of them good!) I have had a hard time sitting down and putting them into words. But… Inspiration is coming back and the ideas are flying in!

Today is September 18th, also known as Fiestas Patrias or Chilean Independence Day.  If I was visiting my family in Chile today, we would be flying kites, dancing Cueca, eating empanadas, grilling meat, and drinking a lot of chicha and pisco sour.  Hopefully one day I’ll get to go back to Chile for this time of year, but for now I can ruminate over the interesting connection between Ireland and Chile.  Two countries that could really not be more different and further away from each other but, over the course of history, developed a somewhat symbiotic relationship.  That is, one could argue that without each other, they would not be the countries that they are today.

I won’t go into too much of a history lesson here, but few people know that the “Liberator of Chile”, the founding father of the nation, was actually half-Irish.  Bernardo O’Higgins was born to Ambrosio O’Higgins, an Irish-born Spanish military man from County Sligo.  Ambrosio was a military governor under the Spanish Crown for Chile.  Years after Ambrosio died, his son Bernardo led the Chilean military to it’s independence from Spain in 1810 and has since been called The Father of Chile.  His face is still on all the money.   There is a statue of Bernardo O’Higgins in Merrion Square in Dublin – whenever any of my family members come to visit me, I’ll take them here. The obligatory Chileans in Ireland photo op 🙂

A commemorative bust to ol' Bernie O'Higgins in Merrion Square, Dublin.  (Picture taken by me)

A commemorative bust to ol’ Bernie O’Higgins in Merrion Square, Dublin. (Picture taken by me)

Another very famous Irishman was John (Juan) Mackenna, who was the brigadier general of the Chilean Army, under O’Higgins, during the War of Independence.  Mackenna was born in County Monaghan and today Avenida Vicuña Mackenna is one of Santiago’s longest and most important avenues.

Of course there were hundreds and thousands of other Irishmen that set sail from Ireland and landed as far away as they could possibly get from their homelands.  If you go to the most southern point in Chile, in the region of Magellanes, you will encounter many Chileans with Irish surnames… and lots of sheep!  Brought over by Welsh and Irish farmers, of course, who wanted to leave their homelands in search of gold but couldn’t bear to leave their sheep behind (insert dirty sheep joke here).

Ireland gained wealth and notoriety thanks to their own countrymen fighting for independence and settling lands in a country so rich with precious metals, human labor and of course, helping the Spanish Empire spread the Catholic bull$!%* religion.  Whether or not these things happened peacefully and happily is another discussion entirely, but nevertheless it only strengthened the historical ties.

Over the history of time, Irish people have emigrated to every corner of the world.  Their role in the foundations of several cities and countries is immeasurable. Too big for this late-night, last minute blog post!

One thing I find really interesting is that when I go to the Off-License (aka Liquor Store, to Americans) or pub here, the largest selection of wines in Ireland seems to come from Chile.  With massive wine producing countries like Spain, Italy and France practically down the road from Ireland, the most affordable and most preferred wines seem to come from the other side of the world.  I’m not pretending to understand anything about imports, exports, and taxes and levies on alcoholic beverages, but I wonder if it has anything to do with the whole liberation thing.  “Thanks for sending us ol’ Bernie to set us free, have some wine!”  Maybe?

Years before I ever set foot on this little Emerald Isle, I always wondered about this connection.  Would I meet people I was somehow distantly related to? If past lives exist, have I been here before?  And if they did exist, did Keith’s ancestors “conquer” mine and is that the reason why I refuse to lose an argument to  him?  All I can really tell you is that from my first visit to Ireland, I felt very familiar with it in some ways.  I know everyone says that when they come to Ireland, they feel very welcome, and that is probably due to Ireland being such a friendly place and known as “The Land of a Thousand Welcomes.”

Whatever the connection is, it runs deep.  When I moved to Italy 8 years ago, I felt I had somehow brought myself full circle, because I had a grandfather who emigrated from Italy to Chile → my parents emigrated from Chile to America → and I emigrated from America back to Italy.  Now I’m here in Ireland, and I’m discovering this whole other “circle” intertwined with my circle.  Kind of like a Venn diagram.  Or the beginnings of a Celtic Knot? 🙂

Celtic Knots.  The ultimate symbols of interconnectedness of life.

Celtic Knots. The ultimate symbols of interconnectedness of life.



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