The Irish and Mexicans have a history that dates back to the 1840s when an alliance established the beginning of a relationship that still exists today. While it may seem like an uncommon association – different cultures and different continents – throughout their history, Mexico and Ireland experienced comparable situations. As playwright Luis Valdez put it, “The Irish are the Mexicans of Europe.”
Before diving into their connection, let’s preface what was going on in the early 1840s:
- United States - Manifest Destiny
- The United States desired to expand their territory westward all the way to the Pacific. Much of that land belonged to Mexico. The U.S. offered $5 million for New Mexico and $25 million for California but Mexico declined.
- Mexico - Independence from Spain
- Mexico gained independence in 1821 after dealing with years of oppression from Spain, but suffered from the struggle to achieve it. Newfound freedom also led to years of government tribulation until they finally formed the Republic.
- Ireland - The Great Famine
- Differences in beliefs led to political and religious divisions in Ireland throughout the 16th and 17th century. In 1845 Ireland experienced a period of mass starvation due to potato crop failure. The potato was a stable diet for Ireland's rural population, but blight turned the potatoes black, which led to over a million deaths and over a million fleeing the country - many coming to the United States.
Starting to see a connection? Let's tie it all together.
The Irish immigrants in America, majority of them Catholic, enlisted in the army so they could earn enough money to send some back to their families in Ireland. At the time, the U.S. Army was predominantly Protestant and the Irish Catholics fell victim to hate jokes and ostracism.
By 1846, the U.S. was ready to invade Mexico. There is speculation over the true motives behind President Polk’s readiness to invade, but the takeaway is that it raised red flags with the Irish. Mexico, like Ireland, was a Catholic country. Many of the Irish felt empathy towards Mexico due to similar situations.
With the Mexican government being aware of the U.S. treatment towards the Irish immigrants, they offered land, money, and citizenship to anyone who would fight on their side. Several of the Irish (among others) switched to fight and save Mexico from U.S. aggression. They became known as deserters.
In the fall of 1846, these deserters gathered to form the Los San Patricios Battalion (Those of Saint Patrick). Los San Patricio participated in all the major battles of the Mexican-American War, including the Battle of Churubusco in 1847. The San Patricios Battalion fought bravely until inevitable defeat. Americans captured 85 members, torturing some, hanging others. Los San Patricios didn’t end here, though.
Near the end of 1848 Mexico had enough deserters to form two more San Patricio Battalions. These battalions fought until The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the entire war. Once the war ended, the vast majority of Irish deserters stayed and settled in Mexico, with many in the mining areas.
Today Los San Patricios are regarded as valiant heroes who fought for an honorable cause - protecting ideals of religion. To this day the connection between Mexico and Ireland remains strong. Every year people convene in Mexico to honor the San Patricios, with bands playing both Mexico and Ireland’s national anthems. Both have impacted each other’s culture and continue to influence one another. They’re a prime example of camaraderie that transcends time – a relationship worth emulating.