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Remembering the San Patricios, Heroic Irish Immigrants Who Fought US Empire Alongside Mexico

IN PICTURES: Fed up with discrimination, Irish immigrant soldiers defected and fought the invasion of Mexico in the legendary St. Patrick's Battalion.

The Batallon de San Patricio, or Saint Patrick’s Battalion, a unit in the Mexican Army comprised of brave Irish and European immigrants to the U.S., has long held legendary status for fighting to defend Mexico from invasion and conquest during the 1846-48 U.S. war of aggression against Mexico.

Primarily Irish and European Catholic immigrants who were among the millions fleeing famine and civil war, the San Patricios were conscripted into the U.S. war on Mexico only to face anti-Catholic and xenophobic bigotry from wealthy and conservative officers in the U.S. Army. The embittered migrant soldiers were forced to attack both military and civilian targets in a fierce campaign widely regarded as the first imperialist war launched by the U.S., with the primary purpose of expanding an empire of slavery into sovereign Mexico for the benefit of southern aristocrats. 

Unable to continue bombarding Catholic cathedrals and shedding the blood of primarily Indigenous and mestizo Mexicans, hundreds of immigrant U.S. servicemen began to defect from the U.S Army, joining their fellow Catholics in the Mexican Army, where they quickly earned a reputation for being one of the most battle-hardened and valiant units in the republic's military.

After fighting in several key battles, the San Patricios were eventually defeated. While many of the non-Irish deserters to the Mexican Army from Germany, France, Italy, Poland, England and other countries were pardoned or given light sentences following U.S. military courts-martial, Irish defectors were executed for treason and lynched en masse on September 12, 1847.

The San Patricios are celebrated as martyrs in Mexico and Ireland, where they are honored for their valor, selflessness and resistance to the rapacious policies of the United States in a war that even Gen. Ulysses S. Grant called "one of the most unjust wars ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation." Each year on September 12 and March 17, the fighters are commemorated with music, parades and celebrations of Mexican-Irish relations, ties and cultural affinity. 

teleSUR takes a look at the St. Patrick's Battalion, who put their humanity above their allegiance to the warmongering U.S. government.

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Mexican handbills distributed to the impoverished European immigrants in the U.S. Army proved convincing, winning over those who would later become the St. Patric
Mexican handbills distributed to the impoverished European immigrants in the U.S. Army proved convincing, winning over those who would later become the St. Patric's Battalion: ""You must not fight against a religious people, nor should you be seen in the ranks of those who proclaim slavery of mankind as a constitutive principle ... liberty is not on the part of those who desire to be lords of the world, robbing properties and territories which do not belong to them and shedding so much blood in order to accomplish their views, views in open war to the principles of our holy religion"" Photo:teleSUR photo combination (public domain)
In 2004, the Mexican government gave a commemorative statue to the Irish government in perpetual thanks for the bravery, honor and sacrifice of the Saint Patrick
In 2004, the Mexican government gave a commemorative statue to the Irish government in perpetual thanks for the bravery, honor and sacrifice of the Saint Patrick's Battalion. The statue was erected in Clifden, Connemara, Ireland, where leader John Riley was born. In honor of John Riley, on Sept. 12, the town of Clifden flies the Mexican flag. In 2014, Sinn Féin named a cumann in Clifden in honor of John Riley. Photo:Wikimedia Commons
In the Battle of Buena Vista, the San Patricios managed to repulse a U.S. offensive through a fierce exchange of artillery barrages, covering a Mexican retreat. General Francisco Mejia’s battle report described the San Patricios as “worthy of the most consummate praise because the men fought with daring bravery."
In the Battle of Buena Vista, the San Patricios managed to repulse a U.S. offensive through a fierce exchange of artillery barrages, covering a Mexican retreat. General Francisco Mejia’s battle report described the San Patricios as “worthy of the most consummate praise because the men fought with daring bravery." Photo:Public Domain
Mexican children commemorate the St. Patrick
Mexican children commemorate the St. Patrick's Battalion. Photo:Embassy of Ireland 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
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" Photo:Wikimedia Commons
The San Patricios are regularly honored by officials in both Mexico and Ireland, as seen here in this commemoration held at the Monument to the St. Patrick
The San Patricios are regularly honored by officials in both Mexico and Ireland, as seen here in this commemoration held at the Monument to the St. Patrick's Battalion in Mexico City. Photo:EFE
Mexican and Mexican-Irish communities in the United States also celebrate the San Patricios
Mexican and Mexican-Irish communities in the United States also celebrate the San Patricios' defense of the Mexican people, as seen in this photo from the San Patricio Battalion Contingent at a St. Patrick's Day parade in Bellingham, Washington. Photo:Community to Community Development
In the Battle of Churubusco, a mere 5 miles from Mexico City, the San Patricios prevented a Mexican surrender, preferring to fight to the death to avoid their fate following capture. However, the battalion – as well as leader John Riley – were ultimately captured and court-martialed for desertion.
In the Battle of Churubusco, a mere 5 miles from Mexico City, the San Patricios prevented a Mexican surrender, preferring to fight to the death to avoid their fate following capture. However, the battalion – as well as leader John Riley – were ultimately captured and court-martialed for desertion. Photo:Library of Congress
The San Patricios are honored in Mexico
The San Patricios are honored in Mexico's martial history as one of the finest units to have bravely shed their blood in defense of the republic against foreign invaders. Photo:Public Domain
Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick's battalion members were officially executed by the U.S. Army. Collectively, this was the largest mass execution in United States history—the hanging of 38 Sioux at the conclusion of the Dakota War of 1862 appears to be the largest execution by hanging at a single event Photo:Public Domain
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