By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
On Monday, Sept. 12, Mexico pays homage to 83 Irish immigrants who fought beside Mexican soldiers in the 1846 invasion of Mexico by the United States.
The Saint Patrick Brigade, as this martyred group of Irish soldiers came to be known, had originally been drafted into the U.S. Army by General Zachary Taylor to invade Mexico in what some historians have called a war of Manifest Destiny.
However, resentful of their Anglo-Protestant officers and uncomfortable with what they perceived as an unjust war against a fellow Catholic nation, the Irish soldiers deserted Taylor’s army and joined forces with Mexico.
For two long years, the “San Patricios,” as they were called in Mexico, ardently defended their new adopted nation, but when U.S. troops stormed Churubusco in 1847, the surviving 72 Irish soldiers were taken captive by the aggressor and sentenced for treason.
Those who had deserted the U.S. Army prior to the formal declaration of war on Mexico were flogged and branded on the face with the letter “D,” and those who had deserted after the declaration of war were hung.
Nowadays, the San Patricios are honored in Mexico as national heroes and their martyrdom is commemorated each year with a solemn ceremony at the site of their court martial in Mexico City’s San Ángel Inn, where a plaque with the names of all 83 known fighting Irish is located.
The heroic gesture of the San Patricios build a bond of mutual respect between Mexico and Ireland, and underscored a shared commitment to independence and justice.
It is on the foundation of that special bond that the two countries have built closer ties of cooperation in culture, education, tourism and economic interests.
Combined bilateral trade between Mexico and Ireland currently amounts to nearly $2.1 billion annually, and Irish companies in Mexico employ about 7,000 workers in a wide range of sectors, including paper production, food processing and dairy.
Throughout the years, Irish immigrants have found refuge and sanctuary on Mexican soil, particularly during the time that the Emerald Isle was under British rule and during the Great Potato Famine of the late 1840s and early 1850s.
And, fortunately, not all the Irish who came to Mexico suffered the same tragic fate of the San Patricios.
In fact, many Irish immigrants have left their mark on Mexican history without having shed their blood.
Viceroy Juan O’Donojú used his influence to convince the Spanish to pull back their troops during the struggle against the colonists and signed Mexico’s Act of Independence in 1821.
Adventurer William Lamport, the real-life Zorro, whose statue still remains within the Ángel de Independencia monument on Avenida Reforma, was also a key fomenter of rebellion against the Spanish Crown.
The famous judicial reformer and educator Justo Sierra was a descendant of the O’Reilly clan.
Some of Mexico’s most famous muralists, including Juan O’Gorman and Pablo O’Higgins, were descendants of Irish immigrants.
In the world of business, the O’Farrill family is one of the most well-known and respected.
And Álvaro Obregón ( originally, O’Brien), who served as president from 1920 to 1924, oversaw massive educational reform, land reform and the fomentation of Mexico’s labor unions.
In August 1923, he signed the Bucareli Treaty that clarified the rights of the Mexican government and U.S. oil interests