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San Patricios: the Irish Mexican connection
March 17, 2012 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Hailed as heroes in Mexico for fighting with and defending the country against American invasion and reviled as traitors in the US for desertion, about 50 Irish immigrants were hung en masse after defeat in the Mexican-American War. A musical collaboration by The Chieftains, Ry Cooder and Latino musicians tell the history of the 'San Patricios'. (Related NPR story) For more background on the San Patricios, the fascinating documentary Saol John Riley, part 1 and part 2 follows Kerry singer songwriter Charlie O'Brien as he revisits sites associated with Patricio leader John Riley to discover the revolutionary hero's fate.

More music from the Chieftains and Ry Cooder
Three song Lila Downs, La Iguana; La Golondrina, The Chieftains; and A La Orilla de un Palmar, Linda Rondstadt

Two songs Luz de Luna /with Chavela Vargas, Persecución de Villa featuring Mariachi Santa Fe de Jesus (Chuy) Guzman

Cancion Mixteca with Los Tigres del Norte

March to Battle (Across the Rio Grande) - with Liam Nissan

Historical account: Batallón de San Patricio: the Irish Heroes of Mexico

Ruben Navarrette Jr of Dallas Morning News: The story of Los San Patricios

Texas State Historical Association: San Patricio Battalion
posted by madamjujujive (25 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now that beats the hell out of green beer for a St. Pat's Day treat. I am one Irish American who was completely ignorant of this little piece of history. Great links - thanks!
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:04 PM on March 17, 2012


That Dallas Morning News article starts off with some interesting typos, among the wartime atrocities is "tape". I had to stop by that point.
posted by bongo_x at 2:11 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nicely done. I'm saving this one for later.
posted by HuronBob at 2:43 PM on March 17, 2012


A nice story to warm an anti-imperialist's heart. Thank you.
posted by williampratt at 3:13 PM on March 17, 2012


Is this why there's a Mexican restaurant called Barrigan's in Burbank?
posted by infinitewindow at 3:32 PM on March 17, 2012


YES! MY HERITAGE FINALLY MAKES SENSE.

(My mother is an American of Irish descent and my father is Mexican. I cannot tell you how many questions I get about what I "am".)
posted by primalux at 3:54 PM on March 17, 2012


Wow, what a great post. Never heard of this episode until now. Many thanks.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:18 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love this story. My old Irish band used to play a pretty old Los Tigres del Norte tune as well as a smattering of cowboy songs, so I was delighted to hear of Cooder taking an interest in this. It was WAY over our ability to tell the story in a way that made musical sense.

I guess "slainte" in Spanish is roughly "salud!" so here's to the San Patricios!
posted by mwhybark at 4:35 PM on March 17, 2012


There's only one thing to do: merge St. Particks Day and Cinco De Mayo into an alcohol fueled celebration that will engulf the world as we know it, thus saving it.
posted by jonmc at 4:45 PM on March 17, 2012


There's only one thing to do: merge St. Particks Day and Cinco De Mayo into an alcohol fueled celebration that will engulf the world as we know it, thus saving it.

Count me in!

Mind you, they were mercenaries as well as deserters, which does flavor the situation a bit. And there those among the the 83 captured at Churubusco who got off with fifty lashes and a branding (ouch!) of D for deserter on the cheek, which is almost worse to my mind.

Those who survived and stayed on in Mexico (well, they sort of had to, didn't they?) worked as a kind of rural peace keeper, patrolling for bandits and truculent Indians until politics forced their disbandonment in 1848.

For those who like their history through a Hollywood lens, Tom Berringer did One Man's Hero.

Good post.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:24 PM on March 17, 2012


- with Liam Nissan


God bless the Japanese Provo - thanks for a great post.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:34 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are several monuments to them in Mexico City. I seem to recall one down near UNAM. I think this is part of it. The way the story gets told down there, they were mostly Irish immigrants fresh off the boat who were rounded up and impressed into the American army before they had time to really think of themselves as Americans, even. So the Catholic Mexicans seemed more like brothers to them than the Americans who had kidnapped them into the army.

Some of them survived and settled in Mexico.
posted by jackbrown at 5:37 PM on March 17, 2012


An inspired Saint Patty's post, madamjujujive.
posted by jackbrown at 5:39 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is why you don't use unassimilated aliens in your army.
posted by codswallop at 5:41 PM on March 17, 2012


The only time I've ever got in a screaming match with my mother-in-law was about the San Patricos. As she told me, she freaked out when the local irish social group invited a scholar to speak about the San Patricos and made huge scene at the meeting. She, of course (has a near-psychotic hatred of mexicans), said that they were traitors. I, of course said that being how mistreated the irish were in this country, how could they help but identify with the mexican side of the conflict? I had been raised by my irish immigrant parents to think of them as heros. I still do.
posted by echolalia67 at 6:06 PM on March 17, 2012


The way the story gets told down there, they were mostly Irish immigrants fresh off the boat who were rounded up and impressed into the American army before they had time to really think of themselves as Americans, even.

That's kind of pushing it just a bit. There was no doubt a sweet talking recruiting sergeant waving the promise of three squares a day and a dollar on the drum, but that's not "being impressed". Indeed, General Scott was stymied for a while when the one year enlistments ran out and he had to wait for reinforcements. It was the Civil War that got us a real draft, thank you, Mr. Lincoln.

That said, the Mexican war was a shameful episode on the US side, as even US Grant said later on.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:24 PM on March 17, 2012


This is a really interesting aspect of American/Mexican/Irish history that I wasn't aware of. Thanks!
posted by mollweide at 6:26 PM on March 17, 2012


I had been raised by my irish immigrant parents to think of them as heros. I still do.

They were Irish-Americans who deserted to kill American soldiers. On no level should an American consider them to be heroes.

I say this as a fellow descendent of Irish immigrants.
posted by codswallop at 6:30 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


God Save Ireland
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:38 PM on March 17, 2012



They were Irish-Americans who deserted to kill American soldiers. On no level should an American consider them to be heroes.

I say this as a fellow descendent of Irish immigrants.


Maybe if they had been actually treated as if they were Americans instead of sub-human cannon fodder, they might have regarded themselves as Americans. When you see the same people who treat you like shit every day and remind you constantly that you aren't "a real American" abusing civilians and desecrating churches, why wouldn't you say "fuck it" and join the ranks of the other side?

From the links above:

Although the American Army was composed of recent immigrants, discrimination permeated through the ranks. Catholic prejudice and harsh treatment by Anglo-American superiors and the use of extreme disciplinary measures such as flogging added to the reasons for the desertions from Taylor’s ranks. “Potato heads” as the Irish were commonly called were particularly singled out for harsh treatment. Under these conditions the immigrants had no difficulty abandoning their army and joining the Mexican lines in defense of Mexico. Mexico was especially active in recruiting the deserters.

But, as soldiers, they also felt a sense of duty and, despite the fact that Irish immigrants were treated poorly in the United States, a loyalty, to their adopted country.
By most accounts, the final straw came when the Irish, who were also Catholic, witnessed fellow Soldiers desecrating churches and mistreating priests and nuns.

posted by echolalia67 at 7:08 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


...so they went to fight on behalf of a Catholic "imperial" state against a (largely) Protestant "imperial" state. Gotcha.
posted by TSOL at 8:36 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


They were Irish-Americans who deserted to kill American soldiers. On no level should an American consider them to be heroes. - codwallop

have a giant, rib-crushing hug, C.W.

My German immigrant ancestors were jailed by British in the Revolutionary war for inducing Hessians to desert. What makes a hero in my book is exactly destruction of military reliability, no matter what fucking state they belong to.
posted by mwhybark at 9:24 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Rovics performing his song "Saint Patrick's Battalion" in 2006:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4BGrNrkbMU
posted by GregorWill at 11:14 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


...so they went to fight on behalf of a Catholic "imperial" state against a (largely) Protestant "imperial" state. Gotcha.

At least the Catholic state wasn't trying to expand slavery.
posted by jonp72 at 7:37 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Los San Patricios were remembered fondly where I lived in Mexico. To this day you are safer carrying an Irish passport than an American one in many parts of Latin America.

At one point the Mexicans nationalized their oil, so the US slapped on some sanctions.
The Republic of Ireland even now is a good customer for Mexican oil.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:46 PM on March 18, 2012


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