Historian/ educator Michael Hogan enthralled listeners at a standing-room-only presentation at the Lake Chapala’s Open Circle Sunday, March 11 with tales about his research for his book “The Irish Soldiers of Mexico,” published two decades ago.
When Hogan spent six years researching and writing his book in 1991-1997, little was known about the Soldiers of St. Patrick (Los San Patricios), who deserted the U.S. Army to fight on the Mexican side. The only work about them was by Robert Ryal Miller, who portrayed them as drunks and misfits. Forty-eight of them were hanged by the American forces after they were captured in Mexico City.
Hogan’s historical study, however, used Mexican documents and other sources to show that they 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 used Mexican documents to prove that several were awarded medals for bravery and promoted to the officer ranks. In his book he also shows the high esteme in which the Irish were held in Mexico throughout the 19th century.
Hogan revealed to the crowd of 350 how he discovered a cache of rifles hidden in the basement of the Ex-Convento de Churubusco where the arms 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.
The former Mexican Ambassador to Ireland, Carlos Garcia 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” there was only the plaque in a furniture store in San Angel and a romantic novella about the San Patricios. A year after the publication of the book in 1998, Jason Hool made a documentary based on 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, an MGM movie starring Tom Berenger and Daniela Romo called “One Man’s Hero” with Dr. Hogan as historical a,dviser was released. In addition, an album was recorded in 2010 by Ry Cooder and the Chieftains, called “San Patricios.”
Gen. Clever Chavez Marin had the book translated into Spanish and published by a university press. The Federal Congress in Mexico City followed suit the next year and passed a resolution allowing the Mexican flag to be flown at half-mast on September 12, the date of their hanging. Just recently, another documentary titled “The Search for John Riley” was produced, and a series of articles was published in both Mexico and Ireland (thanks to Hogan’s latest research) about what might have happened to the leader of the Battalion.
Mexican and Irish relations have solidified in the years since. A bust of John Riley was erected in Mexico City as a gift of the Irish government, and a memorial was gifted to teh town of Clifden, Co. Galway by the Mexican government to commemorate the battalion. Hogan was invited by the Irish and Mexican government to give lectures and presentations of the book all over Mexico, as well as at Trinity, NUI Galway and other institutions in Ireland. 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.
Hogan’s book is available at Lakeside in the giftshop at La Nueva Posada and at Diane Pearl in Ajijic.