9 August 2011

Father of The Battallón de San Patricio: Jon Riley

The Story of The Wild Geese is timeless. A search for Freedom.

This was certainly true of the Irish emigrants of the 1840s who travelled to North American searching for Freedom from oppression and hardship. However, upon arrival on the continent, it quickly became apparent that their dream of freedom was far from a reality. 

Faced with a nativist ideology in North America, many Irish immigrants were ghettoised and treated poorly by their new nation. But for many, the American Army offered a chance to pursue freedom and integrate into a new community. Among them was Jon Riley, who joined the army in the hopes of fighting the British. But, like Patrick Sarsfield, Riley was soon faced with a stark choice. With an impending invasion of Mexico by North America, Riley chose to abandon his army post and joined the Mexicans in their struggle for Freedom.

Call To Arms 

Born in County Galway in 1818, Riley emigrated to North America in 1843 - landing in Michigan already an experienced soldier and artilleryman. His artillery skills were desperately needed by the Mexican army and quickly shone in battle, providing vital support for the Mexican forces. 

'One Man's Hero' is a 1999 film based on the story
of Jon Riley and the Saint Patrick's Battalion

It was then decided that the Mexican army should establish a foreign battalion, which Riley would lead. He soon made the famous flag of the Battallón de San Patricio - which had 'Erin Go Bragh' (Ireland Forever) written across it - and the Battalion grew in numbers as more and more joined their campaign for freedom.

At the close of the war, many of the San Patricios were tried as deserters to the US army and hanged. Riley was not among them, however, and was imprisoned. He was tormented with lashings and branded with a 'D' on both of his cheeks, marking his decision to dessert the US army. Eventually, he was released from prison and allowed to live in the country he fought for. 

Statue commemorating the Saint
Patrick's Battalion in Co. Galway

Although it's tragic that Riley never truly knew the freedom he sought, his actions have been honoured in both Ireland and Mexico. Mexico produced a bronze statue commemorating the Battallón de San Patricio, which it gave to Ireland as a gift. This has been placed in Cliften, Co. Galway - the birthplace of the San Patricios' leader. 

No comments:

Post a Comment