The Irish heroes who fought for Mexico

Every year, Mexico celebrates Saint Patrick's Day but they also remember and honor a group of Irish men who fought alongside Mexico in the war against the U.S.

Saint Patrick's Battalion, the Irish heroes who fought for Mexico
The Irish flag flies above the General Post Office on O'Connell Street, in Dublin, Ireland - Photo: Cathal McNaughton/REUTERS
English 17/03/2019 12:33 Newsroom/EL UNIVERSAL in English Mexico City Actualizada 12:42

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Every year, Mexico celebrates Saint Patrick's Day with traditional Irish music, dances, and a parade but Mexicans also remember and honor the Saint Patrick's Battalion, a group of around 175 men, mainly Irish, who fought alongside Mexico in the war against the U.S. from 1846 to 1848.

John Riley, an Irish soldier who joined the U.S. Army and then deserted to join Mexico, was the founder, along with other soldiers from Germany, Canada, England, France, Italy, Poland, Scotland, Spain, and Switzerland.

In The Irish Soldiers of Mexico, Michael Hogan explains that the creation of the Saint Patrick's Battalion “took place in a climate of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice during a period in the United States of unprecedented Irish immigration…the character of the Battalion was formed in the crucible of this burning conflict.”

The battalion had a green silk flag, Ireland's color, with an image of Saint Patrick, a clover, and a harp. They were known to be fierce soldiers but their most famous battle was the Battle of Churubusco, where the Irish battalion and the Mexican army was defeated by the U.S. Army. The Irish soldiers were taken prisoners, they were tortured and some of them were hanged or shot for deserting the U.S. Army.

When the war was over and Mexico and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, it dictated that any remaining members of the Saint Patrick's Battalion held prisoner should be released. Some of the surviving soldiers, including Riley, joined Mexico’s military. According to Michael Hogan, some stayed in Mexico for the rest of their lives and others returned to Europe.

In Mexico City, the government placed a plaque bearing their names with an inscription of gratitude, describing them as “martyrs” who gave their lives for Mexico, as well as a bust of Riley at the San Jacinto Plaza in 1959.