St. Patrick Battalion

This page is dedicated to the brave Irish men who fought and died for their Faith and for the Freedom of the Mexican people in the Mexican-American War. 

The US government was victorious over the Mexican people in its US aggression from 1846-1848. History belongs to the victors and thus several important facts regarding Irish-American history has and continues to be well hidden from the American public. One important historic fact is the account of the Saint Patrick Battalion during the Mexican - American War.

The history of the these brave Irish men who fought with Mexico for their independence and freedom is well known in Mexico. For the last 153+ years many articles have been written in Mexican historical magazines. Articles have also been written by British and US authors.  Depending on their political and religious views each depicts the Irish of the Saint Patrick Battalion in a different light.

Authors who tend to be anti-Irish and anti- Catholic  and prejudiced against the Irish Nationalists of Ireland often portray the Heroes of Mexico as deserters or drunks. Bigoted thinking still remains to this very day in Northern Ireland and mush still exists in America.  History will confirm that the Irish were in fact Irish Mexican patriots and heroes, citizens and defenders of Mexico.

September 1999 marked the 150th anniversary of the U.S. military executions of the San Patricios, mostly Irish immigrants who, in an unselfish act of solidarity, elected to leave the U.S. Army, become Mexican citizens.  They fought in five major battles defending Mexican civilians, men, women, and children from the injustices of that period done to them by US soldiers in their homeland.

These brave men became known as the San Patricios (St. Patrick Battalion) because of the banner they carried into battle against the U.S. Army during its war on Mexico. A newspaper reporter from New Orleans described it as "green silk, and on one side is a harp, surmounted by the Mexican coat of arms, with a scroll on which is painted, `Libertad por la Republica Mexicana' [Liberty for the Mexican Republic]. Underneath the harp is the motto `Erin go Bragh' [Ireland forever]. St. Patrick adorned the front."

Irish immigrants originally joined the US army to obtain citizenship while fleeing from the cruelty and terrorism of the British Government especially against Catholics, only to witness similar cruelties against the innocent people of Mexico. "There comes a time for every man and Nation to choose for the good or evil side, that is when brave man takes a stand and the coward stands aside". 

Soon after enlisting in the US army the men of the San Patricios began to see they were fighting on the side that dealt in Injustice. They saw the United States carrying out a huge, greedy and cruel land grab, reminiscent of the English occupation of Ireland. The looting, rape and senseless killings of Mexican civilians and the destroying and claiming of Mexican property reminded them of the same British violation of human rights and injustices back in Ireland. 

The San Patricios did not want to be on the side of the exploiters, the expansionists, religious bigots and the slave owners.  Southern states supported slavery and were nearer to Mexico, thus a high percentage of US troops came from that area.  Most were British or Scottish Protestant background and not very friendly to Catholics. Their prejudice was brought to light and played out in the American Civil War. Unfortunately, this bigoted and prejudicial thinking still thrives in the year 2002 in both Northern Ireland and in many parts of the USA.

The San Patrcio Battalion, also known as Irish Volunteers, "Los Colorado's" (because of the disproportionate number of red-headed soldiers): San Patricia Guards; San Patricio Company; Foreign Legion; Legion of strangers and other designations, they were mainly made of immigrants to America who fought on the Mexican side in the Mexican/American War.

Of the nearly 40,000 U.S. regular Army soldiers who enlisted during the war, a stunning 5,331 – nearly 13 percent – choose to fight for Mexico.   Of those, almost 1,000 were Irish who fought under the flag of the San Patrcio Battalion.

The number of soldiers choosing to fight for Mexico was nearly double that of any war the United States has ever fought.  Considered heroes and citizens of Mexico by the Mexican Government but deserters by the United States.

On Sept. 13, 1847, the last of Riley's men were executed after standing for hours at the gallows, nooses around their necks, on a hill where they could see Mexican and U.S. troops battling at the Castle of Chapultepec. When the U.S. flag was raised over the castle, they were hanged. Riley was not executed. Instead, he was flogged, branded on both cheeks with the letter "D" for deserter and forced to dig the graves of his men, Stevens said. He remained in Mexico until his death in 1850. In all, 50 men in the battalion were hanged during the war.

For the next 150 years, the records of their courts-martial were kept at the U.S. War Department, away from public view. Even to this very day obtaining information regarding the Irish and Catholic Immigrants who fought for Mexico is not well know or readily obtainable. Only recently a movie was made “One Mans Hero” starring Tom Berenger-which for some reason is not readily available at most video rental stores gives the US version of the war and attempting to give blame to just a few instead of exposing the governmental policy of discrimination against Catholics and the number of nearly 40,000 U.S. regular Army soldiers who enlisted during the war, a stunning 5,331 – nearly 13 percent – who choose to fight for Mexico.  

"With the Civil War looming, both the Confederate and the Union sides knew there were going to be heavy numbers of Germans and Irish Catholics fighting in both armies. What they didn't want were stories of mistreatment of a decade ago coming out at that moment," "From the U.S. government's point of view and the Army's point of view, there were reasons to keep this well hidden."

For the past 47 years, the soldiers of St. Patrick's Battalion have been remembered each September at a quiet park in the neighborhood of San Angel. The Mexican bagpipers of the St. Patrick's Battalion Pipe Band play their music not far from the spot where 20 of Riley's men were branded, tortured and hanged. A plaque lists those soldiers' names and expresses Mexico's gratitude for their help. Hymns are played, the flags of Mexico and Ireland are flown, and speeches remember their contribution.  In Mexico they're considered heroes."

Why did these men choose to defend Mexico.  The San Patricios, also known as the Saint Patrick's Battalion, comprised  a group of mostly Irish soldiers who left the United States army during the Mexican-American War to fight with their Catholic co-religionists in Mexico.

Many Historians depending on their personal religious view dos not touch upon the fact that the US army in the South was very anti-catholic. The KKK was strong and the NINA (No Irish Need Apply) signs were still hanging in storefronts.  Much as it is today with the Liberal and Conservative, Catholic – anti-Catholic point of view.  History supports the fact that the wealthy bought their way out of the army and the poor immigrants given US citizenship had little choice but to fight even in the civil war.

The Irish Immigrants after seeing the destruction and rape of Mexican Catholics and small catholic villages gave their loyalty to Mexico especially after suffering anti-Catholic and anti-Irish from their native Ireland and abuse from their US officers in the American army prior to the civil war. They were considered Mexican citizens renowned for their bravery in the face of certain defeat and were also given land, as were many immigrants in the US. Mexico was mainly a Catholic Country.

After the defeat of Mexico and the executions by the U.S. army of those who would not surrender of the battalion, Riley, who escaped the same death, wrote in 1847, "In all my letter, I forgot to tell you under what banner we fought so bravely. It was that glorious Emblem of native rights, that being the banner which should have floated over our native Soil many years ago, it was St. Patrick, the Harp of Erin, the Shamrock upon a green field"

RESEARCH OF Michael Hogan

Thanks to the scholarly research of Michael Hogan in his new book, The Irish Soldiers of Mexico, there is a balanced and objective analysis of the San Patricia defense of Mexican people.  Hogan, a history professor at the American School in Guadalajara, Mexico, proves conclusively that the San Patricios were, in fact, one of the most disciplined, courageous and effective units in the Mexican American war. 

Like many Irish, those in the San Patricios had emigrated to the U.S. to avoid the 1846-50 -during the Irish  Holocaust.  In British-ruled Ireland, Irish peasants had little land to cultivate for survival since the British had taken their cattle, crops, land and property. Starvation took over one million lives. The boats the Irish boarded to flee in desperation became known as "coffin ships," because so many passengers died of disease and hunger before reaching their destination.

Those who arrived in the United States faced bigoted campaigns, similar to today's reactionary immigrant bashing. Irish immigrants faced police violence and murder, like many oppressed immigrants today.

At a museum in Mexico city devoted to the "invasions" endured by Mexico since the Spanish conquistadors, there are souvenirs of the Irish because many died at that spot - defending the 17th century monastery which is now beautifully preserved as the museum - in the battle of Churubusco, where the US troops entered the capital after destroying other Mexican churches.

The quiet square in front of the building is called Plaza Battalion San Patricio in honor of the Irishmen who died in battle. There are commemorations in other Mexican cities where the Irish fought against the invading Americans.

History cannot be ignored as the Mexican Government continues to honor the Irish who fought as citizens of Mexico as their heroes to this very day. For more than 150 years the Irish have been honored. The Mexicans call them "The Irish Martyrs" of the war of 1847 when the United States invaded Mexico and took by force almost half its territory. The most devastating event in the Mexican history was the war with the USA. California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Montana were taken by military force from Mexico. This area is larger than Spain, Italy and France combined. Even Abraham Lincoln, then a young Congressman, and Ulysses S. Grant, the future Civil War victorious commander and US President, believed that the invasion of Mexico was not justified. These Irish men of the San Patricios are commemorated in a suburb of Mexico City where they were tortured and hanged without trail by the US army, the remaining flogged and branded with red-hot irons on their faces with a "D" in spite of the Mexican Government's plea to treat them they would any other Mexican citizen and soldier.

The Mexican government in 1959 dedicated a commemorative plaque to the San Patricios Battalion. It is located near the San Jacinto Plaza in Mexico City. The plaque lists the names of those who bravely defended Mexico from US aggression. Saint Patrick’s day marks a day of festivities and remembering these Irish men as martyrs. A major celebration was held there in 1983, when the Mexican government authorized a special commemorative medallion honoring the San Patricios.  More recently, in 1999 the Mexican Government issued a commemorative postal stamp in memory of the San Patricio Battalion.

The US army at that time was made up of bigoted individuals who were either part of the Revolutionary War many supporting the British side which preceded it, or the Civil War, which followed shortly afterward.  Like the Civil War, the Irish fought on both sides. It is a fact that Irish made up a large part of the US army.  The army of George Washington was about one-third Irish and an even higher percentage during the terrible winter at Valley Forge. There were Irish brigades on both sides of the Civil War. Irish immigrants were granted a US citizenship if they joined the Army and literally did the dirty work for the US politicians and rich at that time.  The wealthy US citizens bought their way out of the army by paying an Irishman to fight in their place.

The US history books choose to ignore historic fact probably because like the conquest of the American Indian, the US government only wanted its story told in order to justify further land grabs and their injustices to the American Indian.

John O'Reilly, who had emigrated from Galway Ireland, deserted before war was declared. Other Irish soldiers followed him across the Rio Grande to join the Mexican forces soon to be headed by General Santa Anna, the conqueror of the Alamo 10 years earlier.

It is said the Irish were attracted by the Catholic culture of Mexico as well as repelled by the discrimination against them in the US armyDuring the 1846 Mexican-American war the Irish were used as cannon fodder by the U.S. military. 

Declaring oneself to be Irish and Catholic in the U.S. army at that time was akin to declaring oneself Jewish in Nazi Germany, a point graphically made by the Mexican-Jewish artist, Luis Camnitzer.

Religion was another major issue in the conflict, which has been ignored or glossed over by many historians. The invading U.S. Army deliberately bombarded Catholic cathedrals, churches and convents in Mexico; and U.S. soldiers often brutally interrupted Mass service, religious  processions and other citizen religious services.

As for the formation of the battalion, Hogan suggests that the decision to join the Mexican side was probably due more to impulse and emotion like many of Ireland's rebellions, including the Easter Uprising of 1916. "Nevertheless," he concludes that the courage of the San Patricios, their sense of loyalty to their new cause and their continuous allegiance to Mexico even after whippings, brandings and imprisonment, forged an indelible seal of honor on their sacrifice."

Finally, Hogan reminds us of the affinity that existed, and continues to exist, between the Irish and the Mexicans due to a shared historical experience of struggle to preserve their unique identities, despite repeated and sometimes brutal attempts by their more powerful neighbors to destroy that identity.

Pursuing this theme, Hogan quotes a Mexican newspaper which condemned the "savage outrages" to which the condemned San Patricios were subjected to by U.S. Army officials: "Mexicans, these are the men that call us barbarians and tell us that they have come to civilize us. These men who have sacked our homes, taken our daughters, camped in our holy burial places, covered themselves in blasphemous uproar with the ornaments of our altars--and have gotten drunk from our sacred chalices."

As the war progressed, the Irish grouped in the San Patricio battalion, under a green banner with St Patrick and the Mexican eagle, distinguished themselves as artillery specialists and inflicted heavy casualties on the US invaders at the battles of Monterey and Buena Vista. But the Mexican forces were being pushed back towards the capital as Santa Anna made a series of tactical blunders.

The US army now under the command of a tough Virginian, General Winfield Scott (Old Fuss and Feathers), landed at Vera Cruz and marched on the capital.

The San Patricios, whose bravery and skill were noted by the Mexican officers, fell back with their allies on Mexico City.

Those who survived the Churubusco battle and were captured were soon court-martialed for desertion. The historian, Michael Hogan, author of The Irish Soldiers Of Mexico, says the punishments inflicted on the Irish went beyond what was allowed by the military code of the day and that the whole episode was denied for years by the US army and still remains deeply hidden in USA history to this very day.

The hangings and brandings were particularly brutal. Thirty officers of the condemned were forced to wait for hours with the noose around their necks until the final Mexican surrender at Chapultepec Castle.

This mass hanging, according to "Robert R. Miller, author of "Shamrock and Sword," was the largest group execution ever carried out in U.S. military history. Those few who were spared received 50 lashes and had their faces branded with hot irons.

On Sept. 12, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo honored the San Patricios at a ceremony at San Jacinto Plaza in Mexico City where the first 50 of the soldiers were hanged. Zedillo called their desertions "an act of consciousness," saying they "listened to the voice of justice, dignity and honor, and joined Mexican patriots who faced an aggression that lacked any justification."

Perhaps another reason that the Mexican Government honors the Irish is because of the role of Father Eugene McNamara an Irish born Missionary who was ministering in Mexico.  This missionary priest encouraged Irish-born US soldiers to defend the Faith and Mexico and to defect from the US side. Fr. McNamara was consulting with the Mexican Government prior to the war about a plan to bring ten thousand Irish immigrants to settle in the Sacramento Valley of California. Because Mexico lost what is now the state of California to the US in the war, Fr. McNamara did not see his plan become a reality. It is believed that if the US did not invade Mexico, ten thousand Irish would have settled there. Mexico would have rivaled Argentina as the country with the largest Irish population outside of the English-speaking world. The Irish community was welcome in Argentina and were successful as surely they would have been in Mexico. Fr. McNamara was lucky to escape with his life while eluding the invading US soldiers looking for him at that time.  He returned to Ireland. The history of Fr. McNamara was first published in the Irish Roots Magazine

Almost no one who grows up in the United States learns about the St. Patrick Battalion. This bit of Irish-American history remains a well-kept secret to this very day.  Mexico, Ireland and many Irish Americans will continue to honor the St. Patrick Battalion in the same manner as they did with the official commemorations of the battalion at mid-September 1999 events. They will not be forgotten.

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Led by Captain John Riley of County Galway, the St. Patrick's Battalion fought in all the major battles of the U.S.-Mexican War, only to be captured and executed by their former U.S. Army. This is the TRUE story about brave men who abandoned a conquering army to follow their consciences.

PBS Broadcasts Updated 3/99

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"One Man's Hero" a film of the San Patricio Battalion (a Paramount Release) can now be rented at Blockbuster.  It white washes the injustices of the US Government and Army against the Mexican civilian population and Catholic immigrants.  It fails to point out the burning of churches, rapes and killings of innocent civilians, but at least acknowledges the event in history. 

The Irish Soldiers of Mexico  and  Molly Malone and the San Patricios Michael Hogan

Irish President Mary McAleese, in an official visit to Mexico City, paid tribute to an Irish-American battalion that joined Mexico in its 19th century war against the United States. McAleese is the first Irish president to visit Mexico. (Associated Press 4/5/99)


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Verifiable records i.e., quotations of George Washington and Washington’s adopted son Parke Custis, the English government’s Parliamentary record and other documents, et. all clearly demonstrate that the participation and contribution of Ireland and the Irish (who comprised one-half of Washington’s army) during the American Revolution were indispensable to America gaining her independence.

It was America’s intention that Ireland also have her independence, "…soon be relieved from the lion’s grasp" said George Washington; that America would act accordingly, per Ben Franklin on October 4, 1778 who said "I am charged to assure you, that means will be found i.e., by the Continental Congress to establish your freedom…", and per Franklin, in Dublin, June 17, 1781 "…now is the time for France and the United States…to help Ireland to secure her independence."

As the anniversary of America’s Independence Day arrives, we must not forget that part of Ireland is still in the lion’s grasp.

As Americans, we have supported freedom for countries around the world. Isn’t it time we paid the debt we owe to that island and its people by demanding that the British government stop stalling and immediately implement the Good Friday Agreement in its entirety as a positive step in ending British colonialism and occupation in Ireland, so that the long delayed fulfillment of the Continental Congress’ promise can come to pass for Europe’s last Captive Nation.

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