John James Murphy in Argentina

Part Two of a three part series on Irish emigration to Argentina in the 1840s. Part One is entitled 'From Kilrane to Argentina' and Part Three is 'Irish and Welsh Colonies in Argentina'.


In April 1844, John James Murphy, emigrated from the townland of Haysland in Kilrane Parish with the rest of the Kilrane Boys to Argentina. The Rosslare harbour was not yet built and it would have been known as Ballygeary at that time. Ireland would soon be beset by famine and for tenant farmers such as John James Murphy’s family, life was tough.

There are surviving a number of letters that John James sent from Argentina to his family, primarily his brother Michael. These letters are published in Edmundo Murphy’s Book, Becoming Irelandés, Private Narratives of the Irish Emigration to Argentina (1844-1912), which also includes other letters, personal accounts and autobiographies of people from Wexford, Longford and Westmeath who went to Argentina in the period.

John James started in Argentina digging the traditional ditches that separated flocks on the pampas for different owners. In time he would become the first landowner in the area to wire fence his land and flocks.

Unusually for emigrants at that time, John and his family did get to return home to visit in the 1860’s and 1870s. A sign of his wealth that it was in finest first class that he made the return having been in the lowest steerage on his voyage out to Argentina. According to a biography by his daughter it seems that one of these visits was intended as a permanent return to Ireland. John James, his wife and children all came and moved in to a house in Wexford Town. His sister and brother remained in the home place in Haystown.

While here their eldest daughter Catalina died of scarlet fever and then two years later their three year old son Martin died of a lung infection.

“when my parents had four children (Kitty, Cissie, little Martin and Jack), they decided to go back to Wexford, perhaps to live, having already bought over a league of land in Rojas. A year later Kitty died, a lovely fair-haired happy child of ten. In those years scarlatina was fatal. No one dared go near them for fear of contagion. The other children had been sent down to Haysland, my father’s old home, where his sister and invalid brother lived. She and the children went to see the funeral passing towards Kilrane churchyard. My mother said it nearly broke her heart to see the three small ones on the side of the road watching the funeral pass, not realising it was their sister,’

The two children buried together with other relations in the graveyard at St. Ruane’s Church, Kilrane.

John James donated a sanctuary light to the church, which remains in place today. These repeated tragedies seem to have influenced him and his family to return to Argentina where he had not sold but only rented out his land. He continued to do this after his return and acquire more land as well. He died in Argentina at 87 years old in 1919, a very wealthy landowner. In 1966 the town of Murphy was named in his honor, developing around a train station on lands he had owned in the past.

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