Los San Patricios : Saint Patrick’s Brigade : The Irish in Mexico

Commemorative plaque placed at the San Jacinto Plaza in the district of San Ángel, Mexico City in 1959

“In memory of the Irish soldiers of the heroic St. Patrick’s Battalion, martyrs who gave their lives to the Mexican cause in the United States’ unjust invasion of 1847”

March 17th is the day we traditionally celebrate the feast of the Irish saint St Patrick. In México, on September 22nd the Irish are remembered in México for the sacrifice they made in defence of La Patria during the Mexican – American war. Called traitors by the Americans and martyrs by the Mexicans these crazy Irish rook their place on the world stage by choosing the path of righteousness.

In 1840 the Irish suffered under An Gorta Mor, “the great hunger”. The mainstay of the Irish working class, the potato, was being destroyed by a disease (which ironically originated in México). Millions of Irish died during this famine. As a result many Irish left their homeland for greener pastures. Many migrated to a new, young country called America. A lot of these new immigrants joined the armed forces. They would be fed by and fight for their new country. The soldiers were drawn into the battle being fought over the disputed territory of Texas. After Mexico’s victory at the Alamo the Americans attacked in earnest, eventually bringing the battle into the very streets of México City. This culminated in the battle of Churubusco which also created the legend of los Niños Héros. The “child heroes”. As the story goes, Juan Escutia, a teenage cadet at the college in Churubusco, wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and threw himself from the walls of Chapultepec castle rather than allow the flag to be captured by the Americans.

These Irish soldiers were staunch Catholics and they were treated very poorly by their protestant leaders. Many also disagreed with the treatment of the catholic Mexicans they were fighting against. An Irishman by the name of John Reilly led a group of defectors across the border to fight on the side of God and México. Between 600 and 800 foreigners, mostly Irish, formed a battalion and were responsible for some of the most ferocious fighting that occurred. Knowing full well their fate if captured by the Americans the Irish fought with no thought of surrender, they even threatened to kill any Mexican who dared raise the white flag of surrender. After the battle of Churubusco many were captured and branded on the face with the letter D for deserter. The majority were illegally hung by the American army. The records of which were hidden for many years. It is said that as they were hung they cheered the flag of México as a final act of defiance against the invaders who had neither god nor righteousness on their side. Such was their hatred of the Irish that a man by the name of Francis O’Connor who had lost both his legs in a previous battle was dragged from his hospital bed to be hung alongside his compatriots. The commander responsible was quoted as saying “I was told to hang thirty and by god I’ll hang thirty”. The sentences imposed on the San Patricios outraged the Mexican public.

In 1997 Los San Patricios (or Los Colorados as they were commonly known) were officially recognised by the Irish and Mexican governments. Monuments were erected in both countries to commemorate these heroes of conscience.

At the dawning of the light, we will remember them.

Viva Los San Patricios.

  • B. Kimball Baker, “The St. Patricks Fought for Their Skins, and Mexico,” Smithsonian 8 (March 1978).
  • G. T. Hopkins, “The San Patricio Battalion in the Mexican War,” U.S. Cavalry Journal 24 (September 1913).
  • Richard Blaine McCornack, “The San Patricio Deserters in the Mexican War,” The Americas 8 (October 1951).
  • Sister Blanche Marie McEniry, American Catholics in the War with Mexico (Washington, 1937).
  • Edward S. Wallace, “Deserters in the Mexican War,” Hispanic American Historical Review 15 (August 1935).
  • Dennis J. Wynn, The San Patricio Soldiers: Mexico’s Foreign Legion (Southwestern Studies Monograph 74, El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1984).

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