There is an Irish connection in my family. My maiden name has Irish roots while my mother’s maiden name originates from Mexico via Spain. My nieces, one of whom is named Erin, are of Irish and Mexican heritage and I have a cousin born on St.Patrick’s Day. (Okay, that last one was a stretch).
Besides the personal connection, there are more Irish Mexican facts you may not have heard of:
1. The Mexican-American War of 1846-48:
Los San Patricios, led by John Riley, (Juan Reley was the name he enrolled in the Mexican Army) began with 175 immigrant Irish, German, English, French, and escaped African slaves from the southern USA and grew to over 700 men, the majority immigrants from Ireland. You can read more of their history in this 2014 post.
2. Mexican Irish beach towns:
San Patricio (St. Patrick). Villa Obregon (Alvaro Obregon -O’Brien- was the President of Mexico from 1920-24. Melaque, a version of the Irish word “Malarky.” There is no indigenous word called melaque.
3. Religion and culture:
The Catholic faith is one of the strongest connections between the two countries.
“Mexicans and the Irish are connected by their Aztec and Druid heritage to an earth-worshipping tradition, strong beliefs in spirit, life, family, and cultural gatherings.” Mexico Insights-Judy King
Ireland has a full Mariachi group, Mariachi San Patricio. Dublin also has an annual Taste of Mexico festival.
And for a musical break, let’s hear how they sound:
5. Rebels, Actors, and Artists:
Zorro, yes, the famous Mexican Robin Hood, was not a fable. Born William Lamport, he was the son of a wealthy Catholic family in Wexford County, Ireland. He used the name Guillen Lombardi but was not a Spaniard. He was an Irishman, educated by the Jesuits in Dublin.
Juan O’Gorman, the artist, and architect, was born in Coyocan, Mexico to an Irish father and Mexican mother. He built the home and studios of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. His brother, Edmundo, was an esteemed writer.
Actors Anthony Quinn, Sara Ramirez, and several others are Mexican Irish. Add comedian and director, Louis C.K to the list.
I’m sure there’s an Irish Mexican food connection, besides Jose Malone’s or Carlos O’Brien restaurants, but I’ve never heard of a specific dish.
So, on St. Patrick’s Day, my family will enjoy our annual meal at an Irish (American) pub, maybe with a Harp Lager and celebrate our Irish Mexican connection.
We have a bit of Irish in our family, so on St. Patrick’s Day we celebrate our Irish connection. My nieces are of Irish and Mexican heritage, one’s named Erin, and our cousin was born on St.Patrick’s Day. Every St. Paddy’s Day, my mother enjoys a traditional meal at an Irish pub.
So what is it about St. Patrick’s Day that resonates with Latinos, especially Mexican’s and those of Mexican heritage? The answer is a little more complex than green beer and green Margaritas.
The Irish and Mexican share values of family, work ethic, Catholicism, the love of music, poetry, and we share a war. Yes, a shared war. The Mexican-American War of 1846-48 had an infantry and artillery unit of Irishmen, formed by John Riley. He formed the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, or as the Mexican soldiers called them, Los Colorados Valientes (The Valient Reds) or Los San Patricios(The Saint Patricks). The latter named stuck. Los San Patricios, led by Juan Reley (the name he enrolled into the Mexican Army) began with 175 immigrant Irish, German, English, French, and escaped African slaves from the southern USA and grew to over 700 men, the majority immigrants from Ireland. The brigade gained men as more of them became disenfranchised from the U.S Army. Theories for desertion included mistreatment of immigrant soldiers, inability to practice Catholicism, and cultural alienation. There was also the incentive of higher wages and the promise of land.
Many of these soldiers, like John Riley, identified with the Mexican people. He was shocked at the behavior of the Texas Rangers and U.S commanding officers who robbed, raped and murdered and who desecrated Catholic churches in Mexico.
Riley realized that the U.S reason for war was one of conquest; the Mexican’s reason, one of liberty from foreign intruders. While held prisoner in Mexico City, Riley wrote to a friend in Michigan:
“Be not deceived by a nation that is at war with Mexico, for a friendlier and more hospitable people than the Mexicans there exists not on the face of the earth.”
Los San Patricios, when captured by the U.S. Army, were treated and punished as traitors. Seventy-two men were court-martialed in Mexico by the U.S. None of the men were represented by lawyers, and there are no transcripts of the proceedings. All were sentenced to death by hanging. By order of Gen. W. Scott, thirty San Patricios were executed at Chapultepec, Mexico City in full view of the two armies who had fought there, at the precise moment that the flag of the U.S. replaced the flag of Mexico atop the citadel.
At the moment of the intended replacement, military cadet Juan Escutia wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leaped to his death from Chapultepec Castle to deny the Americans the honor of capturing it. The cadet is honored as one of Los Niños Heroes.
In a final act of defiance, Los San Patricios who wereabout to be hanged cheered the Mexican flag, as one onlooker remarked: “Hands tied, feet tied, their voices still free”
The Americans considered Los San Patricios traitors, the Mexicans consider them brave heroes who came to their aid. Many of Los San Patricios disappeared from history although a handful is on record as having received the land promised to them by the Mexican government.
The men have continued to be honored and revered as heroes in Mexico. The Batallón de San Patricio is memorialized on two separate days: September 12, the generally-accepted anniversary of the executions of those convicted by the U.S. Army of desertion at time of war, and March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day.
Numerous schools, churches and other landmarks in Mexico take their name from the battalion, including:
Monterrey — The street in front of the Irish School is named Batallón de San Patricio (“Battalion of Saint Patrick”).
The St. Patrick’s Battalion Pipes & Drums or “Banda de Gaitas del Batallon de San Patricio.” (visit their FB page).
Mexico City — The street named Mártires Irlandeses (“the Irish martyrs”).
The coastal town of San Patricio, Jalisco.
The battalion’s name is written in gold letters in the chamber of Mexico’s House of Representatives.
A Mexican soccer teamnamed The Union Ultras, formerly known as St. Patrick’s battalion.
Los San Patricios were evoked in a St. Patricks day message by Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Those who survived the war generally disappeared from history. A handful is on record as having made use of the land claims promised them by the Mexican government.
In 2004, at an official ceremony attended by numerous international dignitaries including directors Lance and Jason Hool, as well as several actors from the film One Man’s Hero*(1999), the Mexican government gave a commemorative statue to the Irish government in perpetual thanks for the bravery, honor and sacrifice of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion.
The statue was erected in Clifden, Connemara, Ireland, where leader Jon Riley was born. In honor of Jon Riley, on 12 September the town of Clifden flies the Mexican flag. So in honor of the bravery and sacrifice of Los San Patricios, let’s remember them on Saint Patricks Day with the wearing of the green and listening to a rendition of Danny Boy, latino style, by musician Ruben Blades and his wife, opera star, Luba Mason.
*One Man’s Hero starring Tom Berenger, a Paramount film, is the best known of the 8-10 movies made about the participation of the San Patricio Battalion in the Mexican American War.