Category Archives: An Gorta Mór

THE IRISH SOLDIERS OF MEXICO IN FILM AND IN SONG

The story of the legendary San Patricios battalion and their legacy as told in film, books and song from bands as diverse as The Chieftains, Black 47, David Rovics, Larkin, The Fenians, The Wakes and others. 

by Michael Hogan

Next week sees the release of the debut album from Mexican Celtic-Punk band Batallón de San Patricio. Now not only does this show the truly international appeal of the scene these days but it also gives us an opportunity to look into one of the least-known stories of the Irish who came to America in the 1840’s, that of the Irish battalion that fought on the Mexican side in the America-Mexico War of 1846-1848. They came to Mexico and died, some gloriously in combat, others ignominiously on the gallows. United under a green banner, they participated in all the major battles of the war and were cited for bravery by General López de Santa Anna, the Mexican commander-in-chief and president.

At the penultimate battle of the war, these Irishmen fought until their ammunition was exhausted and even then tore down the white flag that was raised by their Mexican comrades in arms, preferring to struggle on with bayonets until finally being overwhelmed. Despite their brave resistance, however, 85 of the Irish battalion were captured and sentenced to bizarre tortures and deaths at the hands of the Americans, resulting in what is considered even today as the “largest hanging affair in North America.”

Hanging of the San Patricios as painted by Sam Chamberlain.

In the spring of 1846, the United States was poised to invade Mexico, its neighbour to the south. The ostensible reason was to collect on past-due loans and indemnities. The real reason was to provide the United States with control of the ports of San Francisco and San Diego, the trade route through the New Mexico Territory, and the rich mineral resources of the Nevada Territory – all of which at that time belonged to the Republic of Mexico. The United States had previously offered $5 million to purchase the New Mexico Territory and $25 million for California, but Mexico had refused.

Before the declaration of war by the United States, a group of Irish Catholics headed by a crack artilleryman named John Riley deserted from the American forces and joined the Mexicans. Born in Clifden, County Galway, Riley was an expert on artillery, and it was widely believed that he had served in the British army as an officer or a non-com in Canada before enlisting in the American army. Riley’s turned this new unit into a crack artillery arm of the Mexican defence. He is credited with changing the name of the group from the Legion of Foreigners and designing their distinctive flag. Within a year, the ranks of Riley’s men would be swelled by Catholic foreign residents in Mexico City, and Irish and German Catholics who deserted once the war broke out, into a battalion known as Los San Patricios, or ‘Those of Saint Patrick’.

The San Patricios fought under a green silk flag emblazoned with the Mexican coat of arms, an image of St. Patrick, and the words “Erin Go Bragh.” The battalion was made up of artillery and was observed in key positions during every major battle. Their aid was critical because the Mexicans had poor cannon with a range of 400 meters less than the Americans. In addition, Mexican cannoneers were inexperienced and poorly trained. The addition of veteran gunners to the Mexican side would result in at least two major battles being fought to a draw. Several Irishmen were awarded the Cross of Honor by the Mexican government for their bravery, and many received field promotions.

At the Battle of Churubusco, holed up in a Catholic monastery and surrounded by a superior force of American cavalry, artillery, and infantry, the San Patricios withstood three major assaults and inflicted heavy losses on the Yanks. Eventually, however, a shell struck their stored gunpowder, the ammunition park blew up, and the Irishmen, after a gallant counteroffensive with bayonets, were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. They were tried by a military court-martial and then scourged, branded, and hanged in a manner so brutal that it is still remembered in Mexico today.

(left: the Batallón de San Patricio Memorial plaque placed at the San Jacinto Plaza in the district of San Ángel, Mexico City in 1959: “In memory of the Irish soldiers of the heroic St. Patrick’s Battalion, martyrs who gave their lives to the Mexican cause in the United States’ unjust invasion of 1847”)

In September 1847, the Americans put the Irish soldiers captured at the Battle of Churubusco on trial. Forty-eight were sentenced to death by hanging. Those who had deserted before the declaration of war were sentenced to whipping at the stake, branding, and hard labour. Fuelled by Manifest Destiny, the American government dictated terms to the Mexicans in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. More than two-thirds of the Mexican Territory was taken, and out of it the United States would carve California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and parts of Kansas and Colorado. Among all the major wars fought by the United States, the Mexican War is the least discussed in the classroom, the least written about, and the least known by the general public. Yet, it added more to the national treasury and to the land mass of the United States than all other wars combined.

After the conflict, so much new area was opened up, so many things had been accomplished, that a mood of self-congregation and enthusiasm took root in the United States. The deserters from the war were soon forgotten as they homesteaded and laboured in the gold fields of California or, as the 1860’s approached, put on the grey uniform of the Confederacy or the blue of the Union. Prejudice against the Irish waned, as the country was provided with a “pressure valve” to release many of its new immigrants westward. The story of the San Patricios disappeared from history.

For most Mexicans, solidarity with the Irish is part of a long tradition and they remembered the help they received from the Irish and their friendship. In the words of John Riley, written in 1847 but equally true today,

“A more hospitable and friendly people than the Mexican there exists not on the face of the earth… especially to an Irishman and a Catholic.”

Riley sums up what cannot be clearly documented in any history: the basic, gut-level affinity the Irishman had then, and still has today, for Mexico and its people. The decisions of the men who joined the San Patricios were probably not well-planned or thought out. They were impulsive and emotional, like many of Ireland’s own rebellions – including the Easter Uprising of 1916. Nevertheless, the courage of the San Patricios, their loyalty to their new cause, and their unquestioned bravery forged an indelible seal of honour on their sacrifice.

In 1997, on the 150th anniversary of the executions, then Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo stated:

“Members of the St. Patrick’s Battalion were executed for following their consciences. They were martyred for adhering to the highest ideals…we honour their memory. In the name of the people of Mexico, I salute today the people of Ireland and express my eternal gratitude”.

***

This article first featured on the Latino Rebels web-site here. Michael Hogan is the author of 20 books, including the Irish Soldiers of Mexico, one of the major historical works on the San Patricios Battalion which encompasses six years of research in the U.S., Mexico, and Ireland. As a permanent resident of Mexico, he was the first historian to be granted complete access to Mexican archives and military records. His home page is www.drmichaelhogan.com and the Facebook page for the book and related videos, photos, maps and stories about the San Patricios can be found at www.facebook.com/IrishMex.

The little-known 1999 feature film One Man’s Hero tells the (again!) little-known story of the San Patricios. The plot centres around the story of John Riley, as played by Tom Berenger, who  commands the battalion, as he bravely leads his men in battle, and struggles with authorities on both sides of the border.

Country: Spain / Mexico / USA  Language: English / Spanish  Release Date:  8 October 1999

Director: Lance Hool  Writer: Milton S. Gelman

Stars: Tom BerengerJoaquim de AlmeidaDaniela Romo

Despite being a decent film and an mostly enjoyable couple of hours parts of the film are pure blarney so for an accurate account of the San Patricios, read The Rogue’s March by Peter Stevens, and watch the San Patricios documentary starting here in several parts.

As we said at the beginning Celtic-Punk is no longer just confined to the Irish and Celtic diaspora it has become truly international with bands represented on every continent of the globe. In the next few days though we will be reviewing our very first band from Mexico, Batallón de San Patricio. Their debut album takes influences from both Ireland and their home country to make something truly wonderful as well as unique. I hope you revisit these pages to check them and their album out. You can subscribe to the London Celtic Punks Blog by filling in the ‘Follow Blog’ box that will be either on the left or below depending on how you are viewing us. Cheers!

ALBUM REVIEW: ALTERNATIVE ULSTER- ‘Craic Agus Ceol’ (2019)

Energetic Irish-American Celtic-Punk experience fuelled by Irish whiskey, Irish History and Great Highland Bagpipes!

The roots of Alternative Ulster began in March 2015 in NY State’s Catskill’s region. Since then album’s have have been released at regular intervals starting with their debut album, Rebellion. Raw punk rock with Highland bagpipes or as piper John McGovern says ‘1916 meets 1977′. A reference to both the Irish Uprising and the year Punk Rock exploded onto the streets of London. An amazing three albums last year with Pog Mo Thoin, then Boobies, Bagpipes, Banjos & Beer’ and finally the Christmas themed Merry Feckin’ Christmas kept their name in the air and so it is again with the release of Craic Agus Ceol last month which translates quite simply into Fun And Music.

The album starts off where all the other albums have left off. The guitars may not be fast but they are hard, heavy and loud and the same can be said about the pipes too! Though we are in for a shock as the singing starts and Wendy takes over the vocal duties. A strong voice that fits the music well and we not one of those sites that’s going to go mad just because its a women it is still a refreshing change. It was while recording their Christmas album the Bhoys thought it would be cool to get a female voice in for some vocals and so blown away were they that now Wendy has become a full member of the band. 

(hear Merry Feckin’ Christmas below on the Bandcamp player)

On ‘It Took A Lot Of Love (To Hate You The Way I Do)’ the band have a perfect vehicle for their sound in-between the rocking of AC/DC and the Celtic of the Dropkicks when they thrash it out. Next up is a song very close to our hearts. In fact we were the ones that suggested Alternative Ulster might cover it and cover it they have done. They took the simple acoustic folk of Pól MacAdaim’s ‘Justice For The Craigavon 2’ and have turned it into a proper punk rock anthem. Telling the story of Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton two innocent guys who were convicted of the Murder of PSNI constable Stephen Carroll and sentenced to life imprisonment. London Celtic Punks firmly believe that the case was corrupt and the ‘evidence’ used inconclusive, contradictory and discredited. Both men found themselves victims of a system that sought to find scapegoats in the wake of the political and media backlash following the killing. We are doing our wee bit for the lads over on our Bandcamp page where every single penny raised goes direct to the #JFTC2 campaign. 

(you can hear the original version of ‘Justice For The Craigavon 2’ by Pól MacAdaim below for free and download it for a pound)

A rousing and righteous track where this time it’s Todd that spits out the angry words while on ‘Port Of New York’ Wendy returns to vocal duties and again its that heavy rock/punk sound dominates while Johnny’s pipes wail along in the background on a song that tells of the ‘welcome’ the Irish received on arriving in the States.

“We were not welcome
But you feckin got us now!”

is but one of the excellent lines in this song. A fantastic song that really gets the blood pumping and easily as good as any modern day rebel song I have heard. That love of Irish history again rears its head during ‘Battle Lines’ a slower heavy number about Irish people forced to take part in the American Civil War. To fight or starve many were signed into the army as they disembarked ships not knowing what they agreeing to.

Alternative Ulster left to right: Todd Henry- Drums, Vocals) * John McGovern- Bagpipes, Banjo * Wendy Henry- Vocals * Jay Andersen- Guitars, Recording/Mixing/Mastering * Steve Hoelter- Bass *

One of the things I loved on previous albums was Alternative Ulsters choice of unusual covers and they don’t disappoint here either with the Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ with Wendy taking on the role of ‘Scots’ unionist Annie Lennox.

‘Drunken English Punk’ has Todd loudly reciting the angry words over a Celtic-PUNK tune while and ‘Swine Before Pearls’ also takes an different path to the rest of the album. While the rock element of the album has been self evident they take it to another level here with a slow(ish) rock ballad with Wendy’s powerful voice again dominating proceedings. Next up is ‘Punch A Nazi’ and a sentiment we can all agree with especially the band as they all had family members who fought actual Nazi’s in the 2nd World War.

“When I was a lad on grandpa’s knee
This is what he said to me
Because we live in the land of the free
It’s our duty to punch a nazi”

The only thing I would add is not to get carried away and start believing everyone you don’t like is a Nazi. Sadly a trait all too common in America and now stupid ‘identity politics’ are infesting politics over here as well. Short and sweet and to the point Alternative Ulster don’t go in for subtleties! Next up is probably the song that most divides the Irish communities around the world with it being the most popular song in North America but thought of as being among the corniest of Irish songs! Still, here ‘Danny Boy’ is given a face lift that would melt the hardest of faces with Todd and Wendy combining on vocals (something the band should experiment with a lot more as it sounds absolutely brilliant!) while Jay’s chugging guitar, Johnny’s wailing pipes making it one of the highlights of the album. Not something I ever thought i’d say about ‘Danny Boy’ ever. Alternative Ulster play music from both the heart and the head and occasionally the sleeve too as on ‘If It Ain’t Scottish It’s Crap’ which a good Catholic boy like myself cannot tell you what the song is about suffice to say its great craic and the piping here is amazing. We are nearing the end and the last of the self penned tracks ‘Drinking Tonight’ which again takes the rock road but is catchy and a with a great driving tune. All the Alternative Ulster lyrics were written by either piper Johnny or guitarist Jay and the tune put together by the band which leads us up to possibly the best known Celtic-Punk song of all time and well I couldn’t actual believe it when I saw it was a cover of a cover! I must have played and heard ‘Shipping Up To Boston’ 1000’s of times but never did i know it was written by Woody Guthrie!

“I’m sailor peg
And I’ve lost my leg
A climbing up the topsails
I’ve lost my leg”

Sadly I couldn’t find a video of Woody recording it so if you know of one please leave it in the comments. Alternative Ulster give it plenty of oompf and to be honest its as perfect a song as any written and would be impossible to play it any other way than utterly brilliantly!

They surely can’t keep up the pace of three albums a year but even one we’d be happy with! Plans are afoot to bring their raw rock’n’roll bagpipe Celtic-Punk rock over to these shores in the summer and London Celtic Punks will of course be heavily involved in helping out so keep your ear to the ground for more details of that as they come in.

(you can hear Craic Agus Ceol for *FREE* before you buy on the Bandcamp player below)

Buy Craic Agus Ceol

FromTheBand  iTunes

Contact Alternative Ulster

Facebook  Bandcamp  YouTube  Spotify

To find out more on the Craigavon 2 case please visit either jftc2.com or on Facebook here. Offers of help or donations via PayPal are welcomed at justice4thetwo@gmail.com and check out the London Celtic Punks Bandcamp page here for a list of albums available for download for free or donation to the campaign.

NEW FILM. A REBEL I CAME- THE STORY OF ÉIRE ÓG LIVE AT THE BRAZEN HEAD

In 1997 Éire Óg released their Live At The Brazen Head album, one of the most iconic rebel album of its generation. This film, produced by The Rebel Collective podcast, brings together some of the original members of the band and many other prominent musicians from the rebel/folk scene to discuss how the band and album came about, its impact and legacy more then twenty years later.

Many of the best rebel bands of the modern era hail from Glasgow. Among them Saoirse, Athenrye, Shebeen, Mise Éire and Pádraig Mór but the foremost was the legendary Éire Óg who led the way inspiring all around them. Formed in Glasgow, Scotland in the early 1990’s, they toured throughout Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Europe and the USA extensively during their time together.
What made them unique was their introduction of the marching drums to their music, a style that has subsequently been copied by many bands ever since. It gave them an unmistakable and uncompromising sound that became the soundtrack of an entire generation during a period of civil strife prior to the IRA ceasefire of the late nineties.
The band was led by Irish republican supporter, Glasgow-born folk rock singer Gary Og, who is now a successful solo artist and we recommend checking him out here.

The video is viewable for free but we would appreciate if you could donate to: 
https://angortamorglasgow.com

An Gorta Mór Glasgow

 We’re Building a Famine Memorial in Glasgow

Between 1845 and 1855 over one million people fled starvation conditions in Ireland. Around 100,000 made their way to Glasgow. Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór (Great Hunger Memorial Committee) has been formed to build a permanent memorial to those who died of starvation or were forced to emigrate, including those who came to our city during ‘An Gorta Mór’.

We need to have a monument worthy of the memory of our ancestors who were forced to leave Ireland and those who were starved to death by the British government and the British ruling class, so please give generously. There is an online shop where you can buy goods with the An Gorta Mor logo. All profits go to the fundraising plot. Thank you. We are building it!

THE REBEL COLLECTIVE

The Rebel Collective podcast is a monthly music based podcast that features various guests of a rebel nature. We will be getting to know some of their favourite songs and the songs that helped shape the artist they are today, and hopefully gaining a bit of insight into their background and influences.

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BUY LIVE AT THE BRAZEN HEAD CD HERE

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