Monday, 2 August 2021

Have You Ever Been Down Argentina Way?

 Have you ever been down Argentina way? Talk about the 8 Celtic nations - I’ve often felt that Argentina could claim number 9 with its strong Irish, Welsh & Galician populations.


I went down with Black 47 in 2000, but I already had deep connections through my father, a merchant marine, who had been sailing there since his teenage years.


In fact, he almost moved our family to the mysterious land of the Pampas when I was a boy. I could now be writing for the Southern Cross rather than the Irish Echo.


My father was a bit of a mystery himself: he had gone to sea as a cadet and celebrated his 15th birthday in Russia.


That much I knew from my grandmother, but like many of his generation, he spoke little about his past. We only found out close to his death that he had been torpedoed twice during World War II.


When questioned on this he said, “Sure, the first time wasn’t worth speaking about, we were only in the water minutes before being hauled out.”


The second instance we knew about for he and his crewmates were lost for a considerable time before being rescued off the coast of Sierra Leone.


However we were very familiar with his side-hustle of smuggling goods both into and out of Buenos Aires – we were well fitted out for Wexford winters in leather, suede and sheepskin coats.


Perhaps, his most noted feat was bringing 20 hurleys from Wexford for the Buenos Aires GAA team. During the height of the Troubles British authorities threatened to charge him with transporting lethal weapons.


“Microfilm is much less hassle and far more profitable,” I once heard him murmur to another sailor in a Brooklyn bar. He was, indeed, a man of few words but many connections.


It was a dream come true when Black 47 was asked to tour Argentina. Not only could we expand our musical horizons but I might learn more about this mysterious father of mine who was by then spending his waning years in Wexford courtesy of Parkinson’s.


We arrived into the teeth of an economic and political crisis – not that we had much notion of what was happening given our limited knowledge of Spanish. 


Still jet lagged we topped the bill at the prestigious Buenos Aires Opera House. The black-tied gentlemen applauded politely while their beautiful be-gowned ladies rattled their jewelry to anthems like James Connolly and Bobby Sands MP. The Black 47 faithful danced in the far off balconies.


Talk about surreal! But there was a jittery feeling around town with people lined up outside banks attempting to withdraw their savings.


We did a couple of promo gigs in recently opened Irish pubs. The bartenders and waiters all spoke flawless English. Most had advanced college degrees. With unemployment skyrocketing these were prestigious jobs.


And everywhere the older Irish smiled and remembered my father fondly - the “contrabandista Irelandis” who had smuggled in the hurls.


We drove up the country to the city of Rosario, birthplace of Che Guevara Lynch, for a performance at their Opera House. Was I being confused with John McCormack?


Before the show I was a guest of honor at an Irish convention where I got into an argument with a drunken cleric from Limerick over the McCourts, and was then misidentified as a member of Riverdance. I’ll spare you the humiliation of my turn on the dance floor.


The gig at the opera house was tense – rumors abounded about the army taking control of the country so I never got to see the birthplace of Che.


On our last day in Buenos Aires the peso collapsed, but our farewell party was rip-roaring and continued at the airport.


I had made many friends and intended staying an extra week. Buenos Aires was unlike any other city and I was beginning to make sense of my father, but discretion proved the better part of valor.


My father smiled coyly when I told him about my trip and accelerated departure. He’d take his secrets with him. 


Twenty years later I wish I’d stayed that extra week. Hopefully I’ll get back someday to the 9th Celtic nation. Maybe I’ll bring some hurleys with me.

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