Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guest-blogger Michael Hogan on The Irish Soldiers of Mexico

A well-known figure in Mexican history circles, and also among English-language writers in Mexico, Michael Hogan (shown above, with an actor in uniform) has been researching and writing about the "San Patricios" for many years now, so it is a special honor and a delight to have him guestblogging this Wednesday on the occasion of two of his books being released on Kindle.

The Irish Soldiers of Mexico
by Michael Hogan

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day: a history and a novel about the Irish in Mexico. The history is The Irish Soldiers of Mexico (Revised edition, 2011, $9.99) just released on Kindle. In this book I recount the little known story of the Irish battalion which fought in the Mexican War. This is the least studied and least documented war in American history, although the U.S. invasion and subsequent conquest of Mexico deprived Mexico of half of its territory, enriched the U.S. by two- fifths of its current land mass, and relegated Mexico to Third World nation status.

Manifest Destiny and a pervasive Anglo-based American ethnocentricism were the powerful impulses prodding mid-19th century American politics, resulting in the nation’s imperialistic designs on Mexico and precipitating the Mexican American War. Critics of the war included, among others, two future presidents, Lincoln and Grant, and author Henry David Thoreau who wrote his famous "Civil Disobedience" in reaction to the U.S. invasion of its southern neighbor. Within the U.S. there were over 9,000 deserters; a larger number than all our other wars combined. Among the latter were Irish-Americans, many of whom, for diverse reasons (including discrimination against the Irish and anti-Catholicism) joined the Mexican military, forming the St. Patrick’s Battalion. In this study I explore the motivation of these Irishmen, their valiant contributions to the Mexican cause, and the consequences when they were captured, including military courts-martial and hangings.

An MGM film, “One Man’s Hero” starring Tom Berenger, was based loosely on this history, in addition to two award-winning documentaries which were shelved by U.S. distributors but viewed widely by international audiences. Last year, Ry Cooder and the Chieftains released an album called “The San Patricios” commemorating the Irish battalion which demonstrates the on-going attraction of this period of history and these Irish renegades.

Molly Malone and the San Patricios, the second book on this subject and the winner of the Ojo del Lago Award for fiction in Guadalajara, Mexico, has just been released this month in a Kindle Edition in English ($5.99). Hungry, homeless and in trouble with the law after eluding slow death in the Irish Famine, Kevin Dillon enlists in the American Army. When he discovers that the “Army of Observation” in Texas is poised for the invasion of a peaceful Catholic country, Kevin and his friends slip across the Rio Bravo at night. There they join John Riley of the St. Patrick’s (San Patricio) Battalion and fight on the Mexican side.

The last of the recruits, a golden-eyed Doberman dubbed Molly Malone, proves to be a warrior of unquestioned loyalty and courage. She follows Kevin and the Irishmen through the deadliest of battles, even to the gallows where 85 of them are hanged. Praised by critics for its characterization and by the Mexican military for the accuracy of battle descriptions, this recreation brings the history of the era alive with all its violence and nobility, contradictions and ideals.

A earlier book on the topic, The Shamrock and the Sword (1989) by Robert Ryal Miller is often compared with my book. The Shamrock and the Sword drew largely on U.S. military sources and gave the perspective from the American side. The Irish Soldiers of Mexico was written to some extent in reaction to it, with Professor Miller’s blessing. I am a permanent resident of Mexico and bilingual so I had opportunities that Miller did not have. I was able to search the Mexican military archives at my leisure, to visit all the battlefields, to translate personal papers and documents of contemporaries of the period, and to interview descendents of the Irish soldiers. I drew largely on Mexican sources and contemporary accounts of anti-Catholicism, racial discrimination against the Irish, and solidarity of Irish and Mexicans. Both books, however, are thoroughly documented with hundred of notes and extensive bibliographies as well as with maps and photographs. Miller tells the story from the perspective of the winners (as most histories do), while I give the perspective of those who fought gallantly and lost.

More links:

*Review of Irish Soldiers by Hans Vogel of Leiden University (Netherlands) from HNet.

*A video showing the Museo de Intervenciones which is the museum depicting the history of the many invasions of Mexico by foreign powers, primarily France and the United States. It is also the former Convento de Churubusco where the fiercest battle between the Saint Patrick’s Battalion (San Patricios) and U.S. forces took place.

*Homepage of author with photos of the filming of the movie, battle scenes, opening events with Berenger and excerpts from both books.

-- Michael Hogan

---> For the full archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.
Guest-blog posts include Roberta Rich on 5 + 1 Books to Inform an Historical Thriller; Solveig Eggerz on 5 Works of Historical Fiction; and Stephanie Elizondo Griest on 5 Glimpses Into the Mexican Underworld.

P.S. Small world! I have also been in touch with Robert Ryal Miller (may he rest in peace). See my post on Miller's alerting me to a rare unpublished eyewitness memoir of Maximilian in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.