In the early 1800s, Paddy Colman works on a newspaper set up by the English navy when they occupy Montevideo. An Irish Catholic, he visits the cathedral regularly and soon falls in love with Tereza, a striking woman he sees there regularly.
When the navy leaves to retake Buenos Aires, Paddy and Tereza go to her hometown. Here he meets her best friend Ana and Anas lover, Juan Lavalleja. News arrives that the English have met defeat in Buenos Aires and have left for home. Paddy is marooned.
Six years later, Paddy and Tereza are married and have two children. Ana is distraught as Juan has left to fight in Captain Artigass revolutionary army against the Spanish. The rebels besiege Montevideo, and Argentina sends allies. Desperate, the Spanish governor calls on Portugal for help, and Brazil sends a force so large it cannot be defeated. A treaty is signed.
To Artigas, this is a defeat. He leaves the county and takes most of its citizens in a great exodus. Along the way, Terezas brother Luis drowns in the Rio Uruguay.
But soon Artigas and the Argentines return.
The Spanish are driven out, but now Argentina stays to occupy the land. Artigas works to unite the other provinces against Buenos Aires in a grand republic, and surprisingly, during this time, the Uruguayans drive Argentina from their soil.
Just as quickly Brazil returns and retakes the land. Juan is carried away to Rio as a prisoner. Years later, when he returns, he and thirty-two other men begin a final drive of liberation. Paddys son Luis now joins the fight, and Paddy also goes, ostensibly to protect his son. He is lying. It is to atone for his reluctance to fight earlier. Three more years pass by and the ultimate victory is won and all is rejoicing.
But now the English are back to try Paddy for desertion.