San Patricios Will Be Inducted Into the Irish America Hall of Fame
By Matt Skwiat, Editorial Assistant
August 7, 2013
The San Patricio Battalion Pipe Band, whose namesake was made famous in the Mexican American War of 1846, is being inducted by the JFK Trust and Irish America Magazine into the Irish America Hall of Fame on August 8 with a reception at the Dunbrody Immigrant Experience in Wexford. This event sheds light on a little known part of American and Mexican history and unveils the hidden relationship between Ireland and Mexico. Guests will include the San Patricio Battalion Pipe Band, Mexican Ambassador Carlos Garcia de Alba, Noel Whelan, chairman of the JFK Trust, and Kate Overbeck the VP of Marketing and Events at Irish America Magazine.
The San Patricio Battalion Pipe Band from Mexico City is the only pipe band in Mexico and one of only a handful in South America. Few of the members have Irish blood, but they serve as a reminder of Mexico’s history with the Irish and their music keeps that history alive. Irish music and culture seem to be catching on in Mexico in recent years with many Irish music and pubs making their way into the heart of the country.
Creation of the San Patricio Battalion occurred at a watershed moment in Irish American History. The Mexican American War which broke out in 1846 over hostilities to the annexation of Texas, came at a time when millions of Irish were immigrating to America due to the catastrophic effects of the Irish Famine. Immigrant discrimination was on the rise in America with many expressing nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment towards newly arrived peoples. Many Irish saw the war with Mexico as a fight against Catholicism, since they shared a religion with Mexicans and were not allowed to attend Sunday mass and practice their religion freely in the American Army.
In November 1846, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna organized a group of American deserters, Irish and German immigrants, and many runaway slaves into the San Patricio Battalion, a name coined by Jon Riley, a native of Galway and deserter of the American Army. The San Patricio Battalion fought with bravery in numerous battles including the Battle of Monterey in which they fought off three separate assaults on the city. Their rising popularity resulted in their ranks swelling to over 700 men. The Mexicans popularly called them Los Colorados(The Red Ones) for their sun burnt complexions and red hair. Leading them into battle was the Saint Patrick’s Battalion flag which showed a harp and shamrock upon a green field. John Riley commented that, “it was that glorious emblem of native rights, that being the banner which should have floated over our native soil many years ago.” The flag has been lost to history, having been stolen from the chapel at West Point.
The American victory in the war resulted in the execution of many in the San Patricio Battalion with future Civil War general Winfield Scott sentencing over fifty to be hanged. Attitudes towards the San Patricio Battalion have been mixed throughout history, with many equally lauding or condemning their actions. It was revealed in 1915 that the U.S government had tried to cover up the existence of the San Patricio Battalion over fears of desertion in the Army.
Today, the San Patricio Battalion stands as a moment of Irish and Mexican solidarity. Interest in the battalion is on the rise with numerous books on the subject, a movie, an award winning documentary by Mark Day, and a popular album by the Chieftans titled ‘San Patricios.’ Mexico has proudly noted the significance of the battalion with a monument erected to the San Patricios in Mexico City in 1997.
The San Patricio Battalion induction into the Irish Hall of Fame will honor and shed light on the intersecting parallels of the Mexican and Irish people’s history. Sean Reidy, CEO of the JFK Trust has said that their induction is a “testament to the bravery and compassion of those Irishmen who stood by their personal beliefs to aid a nation they identified with”, and Patricia Harty, Editor in Chief and Co-Founder of Irish America Magazine concludes that “the San Patricios were brave men who fought gallantly for a cause they believed in.”