There is a genuine relationship between Ireland and Mexico. It goes back more than a hundred and fifty years. It was during the Mexican-American War, 1946-1948, that Irish immigrants deserted the U.S. Army to join the Mexican Army and fight off the U.S. invasion of Mexico.
At the time, Mexico had only been independent for just over thirty-five years and had been suffering its own internal political turmoil. Texas, which at the time was part of Mexico, had declared its independence. Before the war, most of the U.S Southwest belonged to Mexico: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.
In come the Irish
The U.S. Army was made up largely of immigrants from Europe, many of them Irish immigrants who were fleeing the Irish Potato Famine. But during the fighting, many of these Irish Catholics, as well as Polish, Italian, English and other immigrants, chose to desert and join the Mexican Army. They formed the Batallón de San Patricio, an artillery battalion commanded by Jon Riley. The San Patricios fought in the Battle of Monterrey, The Battle of Churubusco, and the Battle for Mexico City.
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The U.S. does what it does
When the U.S. won the war and captured Mexico City, members of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion who had deserted the U.S. Army during time of war were tried as traitors and 50 were hanged. But of the 9000 who deserted, only members of the San Patricios were hanged. Those who had deserted before the war received 50 lashes and were branded with a hot iron.
Jon Riley, who was not executed because he did not desert the U.S Army during time of war, died a few years later – according to Robert Ryal Miller’s book, The Shamrock and the Sword – of drunkenness. He is buried in Veracruz. He was 45.
Both Mexico and Ireland have issued postage stamps commemorating the San Patricios. There is a statue of Jon Riley in his hometown of Clifden, a gift from the Mexican government. And in 2010, the six-time Grammy winner Irish group The Chieftains released a CD with Ry Cooder titled, San Patricio. In the CD The Chieftains perform Mexican songs with Mexican artists including Carlos Nuñes, Los Cameros de Valles, Linda Ronstadt and Los Tigres del Norte.
History shows us that little has changed: The U.S. Army is made up in large part of immigrants and minorities. Irish immigrants, like Mexican immigrants, have suffered discrimination in the U.S. And the U.S keeps invading other countries. All immigrants have something in common, and the U.S. is a country of immigrants. We have a lot in common, a lot to share, and a lot to celebrate.
So this St. Patrick’s Day, put on The Chieftains CD, pour yourself a pint of Guinness and raise it to the memory of Jon Riley and the San Patricios and drink in honor of immigrants everywhere.