From Kilrane to Argentina

Part one of a three part series on Irish emigration to Argentina in the 1840s. Part Two is entitled 'John James Murphy in Argentina' and Part Three is 'Irish and Welsh Colonies in Argentina'.


An Excerpt from the Song The Kilrane Boys by William McCormack

It being on the twelfth of April, in eighteen forty four,
In the blooming spring, when birds did sing, all round sweet Erin’s shore.
The feathered train in concert, their tuneful notes did strain,
To resound with acclamations, that echoed through Kilrane.

Twelve matchless youths, they did approach, in splendour did appear,
Leaving farewell with all their friends, likewise their parents dear.
As usual to their bosom flew some mirth for to display,
They cried Adieu, God be with you, we’re bound for America.

Foul British laws, they are the cause, that we must go away,
From the fruits of our hard labour, we’re defrauded here each day.
To see our friends in slavery, tithes and taxes for to pay,
Before we’ll be bound by those blood hounds, we’ll cross the raging sea.

There’s William Whitty, and his bride, their names I will first sound,
John Connors, and John Murphy too, from Ballygeary town,
William Lambert and John Donnelley, all youths that none can stain,
Nicholas Kavanagh, and Tom Saunders, all four from Ballygilliane.
From Ballyhire, Nicholas Leary, a most superior man,
James Pender, Patrick Howlin and John Murphy from Hayesland.

And Laurence Murphy from Kilrane, joins them in unity,
They are bound for Buenos Aires, the land of liberty.
On the thirteenth day, on Wexford Quay, there were many to bid farewell,
They stayed conversing with their friends, till the sound of the last bell.
Three cheers they gave for Ireland, which echoed down the quay,
And one for Dan, and sweet Kilrane, then boldly sailed away.

This ballad was written by William McCormack, from nearby Bing. The McCormacks were tenants of the Ballyhire Estate. The song was written contemporaneously to the leaving of the ‘the Kilrane Boys’ specifically between May and September 1844. A number of versions have been published over the years, including in the Argentinian English language newspaper The Southern Cross, The Wexford People, in Fr. J. Ranson’s Songs of the Wexford Coast, and handwritten copies are hung on the Wall of The Welcome Inn, in Kilrane. You can find a full copy of the lyrics at and hear it being sung by Phil Berry here

Between 1844 and 1912 roughly 40-45,000 Irish people went to Argentina. Unsurprisingly, given the time frame, records are incomplete at both ends. But of those that went to Argentina, some 15% were from Wexford, so about 5,000 made the journey.

Included in that number are the twelve Kilrane Boys. Of the twelve some are harder to trace than others, but many appear in John James Murphy’s letters home to his brother Michael and there is evidence in other records too. William Whitty himself did not return to Ireland but his son (who was born in Argentina) returned to Wexford to work as Parish Priest in Lady’s Island and eventually Archdeacon of Ferns. John O’Connor’s death in Argentina in 1913, aged 97, prompted the publication of the ballad in the papers. James Pender came to a sad end in Argentina - John James Murphy in letters home describes him as, having a ‘broken down constitution from drink’, he left his wife Julia and five children in hard circumstances. John James Murphy himself rose to great success and there is a town in Argentina on lands he once owned called Murphy.

We have two other stories about the Kilrane Boys and emigration to argentina, one here and another here.