Everyone seems to wear something green on St. Patrick’s Day – even the vomit! And even though everyone pretends to be Irish on St. Patrick’s day, for Latinos the holiday is also a reminder that the Irish Diaspora emigrated all over Latin America, including Mexico. It wasn’t all good drunk times. Irish men have fought and died for Mexico.
I think you know where I am going with this.
Yes, Ladies and Gentleman, this is the story of the Batallón de San Patricio. Let us bear witness to the incredible story of men who dared to dream… and were later screwed royally. Talk about inspiration!
How the hell did Irish people end up in Mexico? Let us explain. Around the 1840s, Ireland was facing what is now known as the Potato Famine; the crisis killed at least a million people and the country was just a terrible place to be in, what with Anglican overlords riding roughshod over native Catholics. Many Irish did the sensible thing and moved to places where they could have a decent chance at happiness.
The United States proved to be a good starting point: there were already Irish people there and the English weren’t around! But the Irish forgot that Americans hate people who talk and act different than they do. I mean, it’s like these Americans didn’t want them around taking their jobs, and if they could have, they would have built a wall to keep them out! Kinda reminds us of a certain issue going on right now… eh, we’ll remember it later.
So, the Irish remained the underdogs and some joined the U.S Army. By that time, the Army was at war with Mexico. Manifest Destiny needed to be proven damnit, and America wasn’t going to let complex realities get in its way!
It was then and there that Irishmen found an opening. They were mistreated by their (supposed) compatriots and the war was seen by many as a war of aggression. The Mexican government offered the Irish land, officer commissions and money. From then on, those soldiers, led by Jon Riley, defected to the Mexican Army. They were renamed the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. The unit was used as an artillery battery and supported Mexican army assaults and defensive actions. They were highly regarded by both sides; they were responsible for many American casualties and the Mexicans used them as a reserve to plug gaps in their defensive lines. They were also used as shock infantry.
These men were good, but the attrition rates were high and the Americans were not exactly dealing with a military genius in Santa Anna. The war’s outcome was never seriously in doubt. Yet the Battalion kept fighting – they faced certain death if captured, and the lure of compensation and – much more importantly – equality was too great to resist. By the second half of the war, the battalion had taken on infantry duties as the Mexican Army continued to melt away in the face of the Americans. To be fair, many Americans also deserted and the battalion could count on fresh deserters to replenish its ranks. Yet the battalion was hampered by the worsening strategic situation and a poor logistics system; there were instances of ammunition being delivered to units with incompatible guns and the political situation in the capital made continued resistance impossible if not incredibly difficult. Talk about the luck of the Irish!
Let’s step back for a second. The Irish soldiers were treated like trash back home and they went over to the Mexican side just in time for their new benefactors to start infighting. Never fear though, because our gallant Irish comrades had a happy ending. No, wait oh, they got it pretty bad.
After the war, the U.S Army took swift and, in many cases, cruel vengeance on the men. The captured members were hanged en masse and Riley himself was branded with the letter “D” for deserter. He died in 1850, alone and broken.
Ever since the 1840’s the Mexican government has honored the volunteers, naming streets and areas for the battalion. To Mexico, the men were fellow Catholics who came to their aid and their underdog status in American society only added to their allure. It was a match made in heaven; both ethnic groups were treated like dirt, both were Catholic and both have now developed cartoonish drinking stereotypes. Irish involvement in Mexico didn’t stop there, since a certain Mexican president by the name of Alvaro Obregon was of Irish ancestry. (O’Brien → Obregon = mind blown) Now it’s on to our next endeavor; to create a super alcohol spirit. Si se puede/Is féidir linn!
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!