St. Patrick Battalion

My name is John Riley
I’ll have your ear only a while
I left my dear home in Ireland
It was death, starvation or exile
And when I got to America
It was my duty to go
Enter the Army and slog across Texas
To join in the war against Mexico

It was there in the pueblos and hillsides
That I saw the mistake I had made
Part of a conquering army
With the morals of a bayonet blade
So in the midst of these poor, dying Catholics
Screaming children, the burning stench of it all
Myself and two hundred Irishmen
Decided to rise to the call

From Dublin City to San Diego
We witnessed freedom denied
So we formed the Saint Patrick Battalion
And we fought on the Mexican side

We marched ‘neath the green flag of Saint Patrick
Emblazoned with “Erin Go Bragh”
Bright with the harp and the shamrock
And “Libertad para la Republica”
Just fifty years after Wolf Tone
Five thousand miles away
The Yanks called us a Legion of Strangers
And they can talk as they may


We fought them in Matamoros
While their volunteers were raping the nuns
In Monterey and Cerro Gordo
We fought on as Ireland’s sons
We were the red-headed fighters for freedom
Amidst these brown-skinned women and men
Side by side we fought against tyranny
And I daresay we’d do it again


We fought them in five major battles
Churobusco was the last
Overwhelmed by the cannons from Boston
We fell after each mortar blast
Most of us died on that hillside
In the service of the Mexican state
So far from our occupied homeland
We were heroes and victims of fate


Sheet music:
St Patrick Battalion


“St Patrick Battalion” originally appeared on the 2001 CD, Living In These Times.  It has also appeared on Behind the Barricades:  the Best of David Rovics (CD, 2003), For the Moment (CD, 2005), the Commons (CD, 2007), Waiting for the Fall — a Retrospective (2009), Troubadour:  People’s History in Song (2010).  The song has been recorded by various other artists around the world, including the Wakes in Scotland.

The story of the international battalions that participated in the Spanish Civil War is fairly well-known.  Far less known is a similar historical episode, when 202 men, mostly Irish, but including a few others (Polish and Welsh as far as I know), deserted from the US Army during the course of the US invasion and annexation of Mexico known in the US as the Mexican-American War, and joined the Mexican Army, fighting under General Santa Anna’s command in five major battles.  Most of the San Patricios were killed in battle.  Fifteen of those captured were hanged for desertion.  More would have been hanged, if not for the intervention of the Pope.  Others escaped during the disastrous Battle of Churubusco, and ultimately settled in the San Jalisco neighborhood of Mexico City, where they had red-haired babies and lived happily ever after.