The Irish Soldiers of Mexico: 20 Years Later

By Michael Miller

Dr. Michael Hogan at Open Circle

GUADALAJARA, MEXICO — Dr. Michael Hogan enthralled listeners this week at Lake Chapala’s Open Circle with his tales of research of the Irish Soldiers of Mexicopublished two decades ago. He revealed to a crowd of over 350 how he discovered a cache of rifles hidden in the basement of the Ex Convento de Churubusco, where they had been hidden 171 years ago by defeated Mexican soldiers. The United States had already won the Mexican American War and occupied Mexico City. But the story of the rifles, with the brass disk on the stocks proclaiming, “Harper’s Ferry-1847,” indicated that they were robbed by Guatemala gunrunners who passed through the Veracruz blockage and smuggled into Mexico a few months too late to be of use. There they were buried for more than a century-and-a-half.

When Dr. Hogan began his research more than two decades ago, little was known about Soldiers of St. Patrick (Los San Patricios), who deserted the U.S. forces and fought on the Mexican side. The only book about them was one by Robert Ryal Miller, who portrayed them as drunks and misfits. Forty-eight of the San Patricios were hanged by the Americans when they were captured.

Unlike Ryal Miller’s book, Dr. Hogan’s work used Mexican documents and other sources to show that these Irish soldiers were motivated by sympathy for the Mexican cause, a reaction to the violent anti-Catholicism at the time and the mutual history they shared with Mexico of invasion by an Anglo-Protestant army. He proved that several of the San Patricios were awarded with medals for bravery and promoted to the officer ranks. Dr Hogan’s book also showed the deep affection in which the Irish were held in Mexico throughout the 19th century.

The former Mexican ambassador to Ireland, Carlos García de Alba, observed that “Dr. Hogan has done more than any other individual to solidify relations both cultural and business between Mexico and Ireland.” Prior to publication of The Irish Soldiers of Mexico, all that existed was plaque in a San Ángel furniture store and a romantic novella about the San Patricios. A year after the publication of The Irish Soldiers of Mexico in 1998, Jason Hool made a documentary about the story, based on Dr. Hogan’s book. The Mexican Postal Department and the Irish Post Office issued a joint commemorative stamp of the St. Patrick Battalion. The following year, there was an MGM movie starring Tom Berenger and Daniela Romo called One Man’s Hero with Hogan as historical adviser. Then there was a musical CD in Ireland with Ry Cooder and the Chieftains.

General Clever Chávez Marín had the book translated into Spanish and published by a university press. Gold letters were installed in the Jalisco Legislature at the urging of Dr. Hogan and Gen. Chávez: “LOS SAN PATRICIOS—HÉROES DE LA REPÚBLICA.” The Federal Congress in Mexico City soon followed suit and passed a resolution allowing the Mexican flag to be flown at half-mast on September 12, the date of the Irish soldiers’ hanging. Just recently, a series of articles was published in both Mexico and Ireland (thanks to Dr. Hogan’s latest research) about what might have happened to John Riley,  the leader of the San Patricios battalion.

Mexican and Irish relations have been solidified in the years since. Here are just a few examples:

  • A bust of Riley was erected in Mexico City as a gift of the Irish government.
  • A memorial was erected in Clifden, County Galway as a gift of the Mexican government.
  • Dr. Hogan was invited by the Irish and Mexican government to give lectures and presentations in both Mexican and Irish universities, always emphasizing the commonalities of Irish and Mexicans and supporting solidarity between both nations.
  • CEMEX signed a deal to supply cement for a major housing development in Dublin.
  • Irish dance schools were opened in Mexico City and Guadalajara.
  • A scholarship fund was developed for Mexican students wishing to study in Ireland.
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