On June 13, 1854, the renowned itinerant Basque bard and troubadour Jose Maria Iparraguirre performed before an extraordinary figure of six thousand people in the hallowed environment of the Urkiola Sanctuary, located in a mountainous area of Bizkaia. His performance was imbued with political comment regarding Basque decision-making powers, and this got him into yet more trouble with the Spanish authorities.


Jose Maria Iparragirre (1820-1881). Image from the Zumalakarregi Museum, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the words of Joseba Agirreazkuenaga, in The Making of the Basque Question:

Jose María Iparraguirre (1820–1881) was a Carlist soldier who was exiled in different European countries. In 1853, he was able to return to the Basque Country and there he composed the song “Gernikako Arbola” (The Tree of Guernica), which became the Basque hymn at all cultural demonstrations. He achieved popular success performing traditional verses but set to more modern music. However, because of his ability to mobilize people, the Spanish government banished him from the Basque Country in 1855. He went to Galicia, Portugal, and then immigrated to Uruguay. In 1879, he took part in the Basque language festivals of Elizondo, Navarre, and became a living icon.

For Juan Madariaga Orbea, in Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language,  Iparragirre’s entire life was:

a model of vagabondage and painful survival, always on the verge of economic ruin, incarceration, and exile, either for political reasons or as a social outcast: an individual, like all those of his class, who was intensely embarrassing to the authorities and to power of any kind.

Perhaps this explains why so many people turned up to see him that June day in 1854.