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Reviving the Saint Patrick's Battalion
By Dan Leahy


Parish church at San Patricio, Melaque.

Discovering San Patricio/Melaque

For the academic year 1994-1995, I took a sabbatical from the Evergreen State College and along with my wife, Bethany Weidner, and our two sons, JD Ross and Chad the Rad Kid Queso, left for Zacatecas, Mexico in August 1994.

Zacatecas is located in North Central Mexico, a beautiful old silver-mining town. However, the ocean, a necessity for those of us who grew up on Puget Sound, was far away. I checked out the Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico for the nearest town on the Pacific Ocean and it was a place called San Patricio-Melaque in the state of Jalisco, a twelve-hour bus trip. 

What was more interesting, however, was that the guidebook said that this town had a ten-day celebration leading up to St Patrick's day, and that the two towns had originated from two Irish haciendas. There was no doubt in our mind that those Irish haciendas had been founded by veterans of the original battalion.

We immediately switched the site of our gatherings from the Sacred Plaque in Mexico City to San Patricio, Jalisco and sent out communiqués to all comandantes (arriba y abajo) to converge on San Patricio ten days before St. Patrick's day, 17 March 1995. Thus began the now historic relationship between the Heroico Batallón de San Patricio and the people of San Patricio/Melaque.

Our First St. Patrick's Day in San Patricio/Melaque

There were about fifteen of us there for St. Patrick's Day 1995. Friends and family came from Washington State. Two Canadians from British Columbia joined us, along with three Icelandic Vikings, Floki, Breki and Steina, from Reykjavik. Two of these Vikings, Breki and Steina, would become famous in battalion annals for tracking down one of the silver medallions minted in 1960 in honour of the Battalion.
We had lots of fun celebrating our first Saint Patrick's Day in San Patricio/Melaque and we established a pattern of activity that lasted for the next seven years. 

The swearing-in ceremony

Our Rituals

We found a wonderful hotel, the Puesta del Sol, run by Nacho and Maya Gutiérrez, that became our headquarters. We attended the evening fireworks display in front of the Church on the Plaza de Armas and dodged the 'torojito' like everyone else. We marched in the Saint Patrick's Day parade proudly wearing our battalion T-shirts and carrying Mexican and Irish flags. We attended mass on St. Patrick's Day where Father Antonio welcomed us. 

We also held a communal dinner on the beach at the Terraza Cortez restaurant where we read the names of those who were hung by the US Army and said: 'Muero por la Patria." 

We drank bottles of Jameson thanks to the sponsorship of Irish Distilleries and their public relations man, Paul Scanlon. (Here, however, we came up with a new rule. Begin drinking Jameson's during the day and don't consume it all during the Saint Patrick Day's dinner.)

Our Swearing In

We also came up with a ceremony as a part of our communal dinner to initiate new Comandantes into the Battalion. Each recruit would have to tell us their four names and their 'cargo.' Then, Mary Rose or Marcos Frijolero would hold a hat over their head (sometimes a Malcolm X hat, other times a sombrero), announce their name, and all would salute the new Comandante with 'arriba, abajo, al centro, a dentro' while downing 'your best shot to be Irish,' compliments of Irish Distilleries.

Joint Projects

As participation in our annual event grew, we began taking our responsibilities to the San Patricio/Melaque community more seriously. For a couple of years, everyone brought similar things on the plane. One year it was baseball equipment. The next year it was school supplies. We also formed a Mexican civil association, helped fund a health clinic, a mission church and held a book-signing event for Patrick Hogan's The Irish Soldiers of Mexico.

The battalion even got in the business of marrying people and organised an elaborate ceremony for the marriage of Cmdte. Lawrence Alford and Cmdta Teresa Terran. Lawrence was a Vietnam veteran living in San Patricio, and doubling as St. Patrick himself in the St. Patrick Day's parade. Teresa Terrán was one of the first people we met in San Patricio/Melaque and remains a loyal member of the battalion to this day.

Also, by 1999, the battalion was listed as one of the community sponsors of the parade itself. 

A New Kiosko

There was an earthquake in October 1995 that cracked many of the buildings in San Patricio/Melaque and destroyed the town's Kiosko in the centre of the town square. It was this tragedy that brought us into closer and sustained contact with the community.

We met Dr. María del Carmen González and members of her organisation, Grupo Femenino, at our battalion gathering in 1996. She had detailed plans to rebuild the Kiosko on the town plaza and we pledged to help. Over the next two years, she raised $16,000 and the battalion contributed a modest $2,000. The new Kiosko was completed and opened in March 1998 and much to our surprise, there was a beautiful bronze plaque honouring the battalion's contribution. History had in fact come alive. We were very proud to be recognised by the community.

San Patricio town officials at the formal opening of the kiosko, March 1998. 

An English Language Contest

Our work with María del Carmen led to other projects. Her brother Flavio taught at the local school, and we proposed a trip for students who could tell the history of the battalion in English. The school set up a contest and battalion members Tini and Tom from Colorado who ran a biking excursion company, offered a free trip to Ireland for the winners. As it turned out, Ireland was a bit too far for the students, so the battalion brought the two winners, Ramón and Perla, to Washington State for two weeks of touring and celebrations. Several years later, thanks to help from battalion members H. Dale and K. Fortin, Ramón graduated in architecture from the University of Guadalajara and is now a practising architect.

The 150th Anniversary (1847-1997): A Letter from the President

We made a great effort to highlight the 150th anniversary of the battalion, as did the Mexican government, which produced a postage stamp in our honour. We mailed postcards to all the educational unions in Mexico inviting them to San Patricio and brought about fifty people to our headquarters at the Puesta del Sol. 

However, our greatest accomplishment was when battalion members in Ireland convinced Mary Robinson, President of Ireland, to send a letter to the people of San Patricio/Melaque. 

She wrote, 'The San Patricio Battalion fought with distinction on the side of Mexico and many members of the battalion paid the ultimate price for their bravery. Their participation established a bond of friendship and warmth between the peoples of Mexico and Ireland that lives on to this day'. She concluded her letter by writing, 'I would like to send my warm good wishes to all those who will gather to reflect on the contribution of this Irish battalion in San Patricio-Melaque, for a most enjoyable and fruitful celebration.'


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 15 March 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Leahy, Dan, 'Reviving the
St. Patrick's Battalion' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:1 (March 2007), pp. 23-30. Available online (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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