On St. Patrick's Day, Mexico Celebrates The Irishmen Who Fought For Mexico In the Mexican American War
When the United States invaded, these Irishmen fought on the side of Mexico.
A group of Irish immigrant soldiers deserted the U.S. army and formed el Batallón de San Patricio, fighting - and dying - bravely in defense of Mexico.
At the time of the Mexican-American War, in the 1840s, many Irish immigrants had escaped famine in their homeland, only to be faced with discrimination and hate crimes in the U.S. The Irish were treated as second-class citizens because of their Catholic faith and their poverty. Catholic churches in Philadelphia and other U.S. cities were burned.
So, when the U.S. declared war on Mexico in order to legitimize their annexation of California and Texas, a group of Irish immigrant soldiers defected and joined the Mexican cause.
Political & history writer Martin Paredes tells PRI:
“When the US actually went to war, many of them — being strong Catholics — saw what they considered an unfair invasion of a foreign country."
The Batallón de San Patricio, St. Patrick's Battalion, was made up of Irishmen and other foreigners, including some escaped slaves. They fought under a green banner emblazoned with the Mexican coat of arms, an image of St. Patrick, and the words “Erin Go Bragh.”
Trained by their leader, Galway-born John Riley, as an elite artillery force, they fought with distinction in every major battle and were awarded medals of honor by the Mexican government.
At the Battle of Churubusco, the battalion refused to surrender and was captured. Forty-eight men were tortured and hung, "the largest hanging affair in North America." The rest were brutally beaten, branded, and sentenced to hard labor.
The service of the San Patricios is still commemorated in Mexico today, with official celebrations on September 12th, and unofficially on St. Patrick's Day as well. The battalion has statues, plaques, even streets named in their honor, as well as their own postage stamp.
“Every St Patrick’s Day, the first toast that I make is in honor of the San Patricios. A group of Irishmen came to the defense of Mexico, and many of them died in defense of Mexico. That has to be lauded as one of the greatest honors ever, because they were fighting for an adopted nation — and they died for an adopted nation.”