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Reviving the Saint Patrick's Battalion
By Dan Leahy


New preparatoria school in San Patricio/Melaque

A New High School

From our work with Flavio González, we met another teacher, Adalberto Vigil, who had a bigger project in mind. He wanted to build a new high school, a Preparatoria, for the kids in San Patricio/Melaque. For several years, there was a community debate about the location of the new high school and the battalion did its best to stay clear of the controversy. By 1999, the site was chosen and the battalion was there for the placing of the first stone, but financing still had to be arranged before construction could begin.

The Battalion and Evergreen Students

By Spring 2000, I felt that the Battalion had established itself well enough to organise a joint project with students from my college. I organised a Spring class called 'The Mexican Nation-State'. Evergreen students studied Mexican Independence and the Mexican Revolution while travelling for the month of April on the route of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata from Chihuahua to Morelos. We concluded our trip by participating in the May Day Parade in Mexico City that, among other things, honours the struggle of the American worker for the eight-hour working day in the late 1880s.

After one month of travel, high-school teachers Adalberto and Rosa organised a one-month home stay in San Patricio/Melaque. My students lived for the month of May in the homes of the parents who wanted to build a new high school. In exchange my students each made a donation to the school construction fund.

Officer of the San Patricio Battalion
(Glenn Thompson, Irish Stamps, 1997) 

The joint project worked so well this first year that we agreed to do this class and home stay again in Spring 2002.

In Spring 2002, I was bringing more students to Mexico for a month's study of the Mexican Revolution and to San Patricio for another month's home stay. 

As was my custom, I first delivered the $4000 in home stay funds to the San Patricio High School Construction Fund and then flew to Chihuahua to meet my students and begin our travels. I was supposed to return to San Patricio with my students by early May to participate in the opening of the new High School. The battalion was by now the largest private donor to new High School. 

We never made it. In fact, we were expelled from Mexico on 2 May 2002. 

The Battalion and the People of Atenco

As we travelled in Mexico that April, I asked each of my students to develop a research project that they would present to the people of San Patricio/Melaque in their community centre at the end of May. 

Two of my students were studying the ejido system of communal land ownership in Mexico. While we were travelling, they became interested in the conflict between the Mexican federal government and the people from an ejido called Atenco. The people of this ejido were resisting a federal domain decree condemning their land for a new 11,000-acre, six -runway airport on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Just before arriving in Mexico City to participate in the May Day Parade, we had spent four days travelling the route of Emilio Zapata in the state of Morelos and studying his movement's main contribution to the Mexican Constitution of 1917, mainly the communally owned land system.

Once in Mexico City, the two students went to visit Atenco and came back with an invitation to march with the people of Atenco in the May Day Parade. We agreed and joined them on the broad boulevard of Reforma and entered the narrow street of Madero from which the parade participants pour into Mexico City's huge square, the Zócalo. 

As was our practice when we marched, all my students wore their battalion T-shirts with the symbol of the Mexican eagle and the Celtic cross on the front and 'San Patricio, Home of the Battalion' on the back. 

A month earlier, when we had marched in Hidalgo de Parral, Chihuahua, to honour the local heroine Elissa Grissen for leading the expulsion of General Pershing's army, we had proudly marched just behind the Mexican army band. When we entered the community auditorium, we were greeted as descendants of the original battalion and applauded for our commitment to Mexico.

The Batallón calvary on manoeuvres in San Patricio (May 2000)

When we entered the Zócalo with the people of Atenco on May Day, we received a different welcome. The private television company, Televisa, tried and convicted us on national television for interfering in the internal politics of Mexico. A few of my students were carrying machetes which had been given to them by the farmers and this made sensational photographs in the international press. 

The next day, 2 May, as we travelled toward San Patricio/Melaque to attend the opening of the new High School and begin our home stay, we were taken off the bus by federal police outside Guadalajara and four hours later put on an Aeroméxico flight to Los Angeles. 

Our official expulsion papers said that we had engaged in activities not sanctioned by our tourist visas. The 'activities' were not specified. Nevertheless, when we got home, we were asked by college authorities and the Mexican consulate to apologise for 'interfering in the internal politics of Mexico', something we had not been formally charged with. We refused.

In a written statement to both the college and Mexican authorities, we apologised for whatever violation of Mexican law we might have committed, but said that while we did not go to Mexico to march with the people of Atenco, we were proud to have done so.

Two months later in August 2002, the Mexican federal government cancelled their plans for an airport on the Atenco land. 

The Battalion Continues

Like the original battalion, the revived battalion ran into some problems with a Mexican administration. However, the Mexican tradition of hospitality and the battalion's commitment to honouring and building links between the Irish and the Mexicans will overcome these problems.

The newly built Kiosko remains central to the social life of San Patricio/Melaque. The new High School has opened and students are graduating. Some of the battalion members who were expelled have organised a sustained book drive to provide Spanish language literature to the new High School library. All books are stamped with the battalion symbol. Battalion members continue their participation in the Saint Patrick's Day celebrations and are working on new projects with the town. Our attachment to the people of Atenco remains. 'Land and Liberty' is as Irish as it is Mexican.


Dan Leahy


Heroico Batallón de San Patricio
PO Box 602
Olympia, Washington 98507
(360) 352-7086


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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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