17 March 2008

Los San Patricios

Saint Patrick’s Day is not a widely celebrated holiday in Mexico except perhaps in Mexico City where the members of the Saint Patrick’s Brigade deserters of the U.S. Army during the war between the United States and Mexico in 1846 –1847 will be given a tip of the hat and a raise of the glass in honor of their service to Mexico. The brigade was composed of about 600-800 men who shortly after fleeing a famine in Ireland and emigrating to the United States were recruited for service in the U.S. Army and shipped off to Mexico. They found themselves betwixt two worlds. The Patricios were badly treated by the U.S. Army officers (who were Protestants) because they were lowly Irish Catholic immigrants. Being Catholics, they had no stomach for shooting at their Mexican Catholic counterparts so they deserted and joined the Mexican Army to fight against the U.S. forces. Their leader was a man named Captain John Riley.

The San Patricios fought valiantly for Mexico but in the end defeat was inevitable. General Winfield Scott, the U.S. commanding general, gave the order that at the precise moment that the flag of the United States was raised above Mexico City, those who had entered the Army following the declaration of war were to be hanged en masse as traitors. At least 30 San Patricios were hanged simultaneously, precisely at the moment that the American flag was raised over the city so that “they could take that sight to hell with them" or so the story goes. Those who had entered the Army before the official declaration of war on Mexico were branded on their face with the letter “D” for “deserter” and sentenced to prison for a spell of hard labor. Afterwards they just disappeared into history.

The former monastery of Churubusco, where the San Patricios were finally defeated and captured by the U.S. Army, is now a national museum dedicated to the various invasions Mexico has suffered. The bullet holes are still in the walls, and the cannons commanded by John Riley stand outside. Every first Sunday of the month, the St. Patrick’s Battalion Bagpipe Marching Band plays in honor of the San Patricios. On special ocasions, an actor portraying Riley gives talks to schoolchildren and tourists. To commemorate the support of those Irish-American renegades in the Mexican army, the street in front of the Santa María de Churubusco convent was named Mártires Irlandeses (Irish martyrs). As a token of high esteem, the battalion's name is written in gold letters in the chamber of Mexico's House of Representatives. There was a movie made about the San Patricios in 1999 starring Tom Berenger, Joaquim De Almeida, Daniela Romo, Patrick Bergin and Don Wycherley. It was directed by Lance Hool.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.