Most folks know about the millions of Irish people lost to An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, aka “The Irish Potato Famine” of the 1840’s-1850’s. This caused significant cultural shifts in Ireland, as millions of native, Catholic, Gaelic-speaking Irish died from starvation or emigrated to North America, and other places around the world, seeking survival, safety, security, and the freedom to provide for themselves and their families on their own terms.
Not as widely known in the popular imagination is that there was a contingent of Irish Catholics who further left the United States for Mexico, and joined the Mexican Army to fight against the U.S. during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The Saint Patrick’s Battalion (Batallón de San Patricio), as it became known, was initially organized by Irish immigrant John Riley, from Co. Galway.
Flag of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion:
Once they arrived in America, many Irish immigrants suffered continued cultural alienation, discrimination, and abusive mistreatment as they had under British colonialist policies in Ireland. This was so pervasive and severe in the U.S. military, that it led some to defect to Mexico - with whom they shared the fellowship of a Catholic culture. John Riley was among them; his Saint Patrick’s Battalion included immigrants from Germany and other European nations, as well as escaped African American slaves.
The San Patricios fought against the United States military in some of the toughest battles of the Mexican-American War, especially the Battle of Churubusco. They were honored as heroes in Mexico and Ireland. Mexico offered them citizenship, retirement pension, and land. A commemorative plaque for the San Patricios and a bust of John Riley were erected in Mexico City, and their cause has been the subject of films, novels, and folk songs.
Commemorative Plaque for the Saint Patrick’s Battalion:
Ponder heroism and history over a cuppa Avalon Mist Mexican Light Roast from The Highland Bard, and simmer a pot of San Patricio Stew, inspired by the shared cultural fellowship of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion and Mexico.
San Patricio Stew
1 pound ham, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Irish butter, unsalted
One 15-oz can white beans (cannellini, white navy), drained
One 15-oz can white hominy, drained
One 32-oz carton chicken stock
2 tablespoons green chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 bay leaves
½ cup heavy cream
Sea salt and white pepper to taste
Melt butter in a pot (preferably cast iron) on medium heat, add diced ham, and saute until ham gets seared on all sides, with crispy/caramelized edges. Add leeks, onions, green bell pepper, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, approximately 5 minutes. Add minced garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves, stirring to combine. Let simmer for just a minute, then add beans, hominy, and chicken stock. Bring to a low boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for approximately 2 hours. About 15 minutes before done, add in potatoes. When potatoes are tender, remove the pot from the heat. Stir in cream, taste and adjust for final seasoning, serve with homemade bannocks.