to the History of the World- 'The Americas'
Irish- First Europeans to Discover America?
The great Irish writer Oscar Wilde once said, “Of course America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up.”
There is a certain grain of truth in this quote. For it was probably Irish monks who were the first Europeans to sail to the Americas via the Faroes Island and Iceland as they travelled too far distant lands to seek a sacred solitude that they felt would bring them closer to God. The modern explorer Tim Severin successfully sailed across the Atlantic in a leather-skin boat that was a replica of one that could have been used by the sixth century Irish saint Brendan the Navigator whose sea voyages were renowned throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The Celtic North Atlantic routes were probably sourced by Norse from captive Irish monks who followed their paths to Iceland and possibly Greenland and later America (Vinland).
The medieval Icelandic Landnamabok (Book of Settlements) mention Vikings exploring west of Iceland being met by indigenous peoples (Skraelings) who told them of Irish priests (papar) living amongst them.
Was the First European born in America Irish?
On the premise that all the Celtic monks living in these northern climes were celibate (unlikely!) or at least did not take their female partners across the Atlantic, the first European born on the continent came from the Viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland in circa 1000AD. Yet though the child’s father was Norse, it is quite possible that the baby’s mother was one of his Irish slaves(thralls) forced to submit to his lusty desires. A not uncommon occurrence at the time; female Celtic slaves were common and highly sought after by Vikings. Modern excavations uncovered Irish style clothes pins amongst the artifacts found in the Norse settlement.
'Hy Brasil' – An Mythical Celtic Land
Later still, Hy Brasil – which according to Irish legends is the name of a mythical land located the far side of the Atlantic - appears on European maps, inspiring voyages of Exploration and Discoveries as well as giving its name to a part of South America.
The Irish Liberation of the Americas - A Forgotten HistoryThroughout the centuries, the Irish have made a notable contribution to their new American homelands in many fields including music, architecture, politics, religion, education, law, human rights and business. But it was in the struggles for freedom from European colonial rule stretching from the United States to Chile that the Irish left a permanent mark on the history and folklore of a whole continent. Conscious of their own struggles in their native Ireland against foreign occupation, Irish men became leaders of liberation movements in at least nine American countries.
Of course there were many Irish that sadly took on the role of the oppressor and committed great crimes against native Indians, slaves and laborers. But these 'bad apples' were more than compensated for (I hope!) by their more enlightened fellow countrymen.
Yet this proud Celtic role has oftentimes been overlooked becoming lost in the mists of time even in Ireland. So starting with Mexico, I hope that my contributions here will hopefully go some way to rekindling interest in the Celtic elements of the history of the New World.
Was Zorro Irish?
Zorro is considered by many to be the greatest folk hero in Latin America. The dashing noble swordsman from Mexico was a champion of the downtrodden natives who fought and stole from the cruel Spanish aristocracy, giving his booty to the poor. It was not only the riches of the colonial nobility that he robbed. For many of their young beautiful daughters, married and unmarried, lost their hearts to this Latino equivalent of Robin Hood.
But amazingly, the exploits of this legendary Hispanic hero could well be based on the true story of William Lambert (aka Lampart or Lombardo) a seventeenth century soldier of fortune who hailed from County Wexford. William fled from Ireland to serve in an Irish regiment of the Spanish Army, received commendations for his bravery and eventually found himself posted to Mexico. However he eventually became disgusted with the harsh colonial regime and empathised with the oppressed peasants and the native Indians. Declared a traitor, he became a target of the feared Spanish Inquisition, the guardians of Spanish rule in 'New Spain'. Though captured he made a dramatic escape from prison and in true Hollywood style daubed the walls of Mexico City with autographed anti-Spanish graffiti!
His adventures of daring and intrigue continued for many more years. Yet even William’s final arrest only further enhanced his romantic folk stature. For he was finally caught while making love to the wife of the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico, the Marquis Lope Diez de Caderyta!!
This time though there was no happy ending and the Inquisition had him burnt at the stake in the Zocalo the main square of Mexico City.
Mexico Granted Independence by an Irishman!
Buried in Mexico City’s cathedral is the man accredited with granting independence to Mexico. General Juan O’Donoju O'Rian (O’Donohue O’Ryan) was born in Seville of Irish parents. He was the last Spanish Viceroy of Mexico who decided soon after his arrival in the country in July 1821 to negotiate with the rebels when he saw how little support Spain had. On September 28th, he signed the Act of Independence.
O’Donoju became a member of the Mexican Provisional Ruling Junta. But he died 11 days later of pleurisy.
the Irish Boys of St. Patrick’s BattalionIn a massive land grab, the United States in 1848 invaded and annexed the northern territories of Mexico- California, Nevada, Utah and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming. During the war, most of Mexico’s army units did not acquite themselves well due to the incompetent leadership of Santa Anna. However one unit was noted for its bravery, namely the Los
However their arrival as part of an foreign army invading Catholic Mexico shocked many especially when rape, murder and pillage occurred. The anti-Catholic propaganda of the American press did not help either. Nor did the harsh treatment that was meted out disproportionally to the Irish soldiery or ‘potato heads’ as they were at times insultingly called by their commanding officers. Approximately 500 (including Germans, Scots, English and a few escaped African slaves) deserted and became part of the Mexican Army serving under O’Reilly’s command. They marched under the flag of St. Patrick. The Mexicans nicknamed them the “Los Colorados Valientes” or “the brave redheads”, as so many had the Celtic features of freckles and red hair.The San Patricios performed well in their engagements against the Americans particularly at the Battle of Buena Vista, a battle that could have been won had not Santa Anna decided to withdraw. But the Irish were finally defeated at the battle for the convent of Churubusco. Though they pulled down the white flag hosted by their Mexican allies on a number of occasions, the 87 surviving brigade members out of a force of 220 eventually surrendered. Their treatment was particularly cruel. 16 were executed immediately. A further fifty condemned prisoners were taken to Mexico City. Nooses were placed around their necks and they were kept waiting for hours under the blazing sun until the US Flag flew over the last enemy stronghold of Chapultec fortress signifying its capture. Then the carts were pulled from under them and they hung until they died. 19 others including O’Reilly escaped the death penalty as they had switched sides before they formal declaration of war with Mexico was issued. But they were given 50 lashes, branded with the letter D on their faces and forced to bury their dead comrades at Churubusco.
The San Patricos have since become national heroes in Mexico and their story forms part of the history curriculum taught in schools. A memorial was erected in their honour in San Jacinta Plaza where Irish President Mary McAleese laid a wreath to their memory in 1997.
They have been praised in glowing terms by modern Hispanic revolutionaries such as subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas, the Mexican rebel movement.
Finally, a fine version of the song from musician David Rovics that celebrates the heroics of the St. Patrick's Battalion can be listened to by clicking here
First Mexican Ambassador to Britain was Irish!
Captain Tomas Murphy of the Mexican Army was taken prisoner at the aforementioned Chapultec and narrowly escaped summary execution by American soldiers thinking he was a survivor of the San Patricos due to his Irish name.In fact he was the son of another Tomas Murphy who was of Irish descent and became the first Mexican ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1827.
Thomas was probably a member of the Irish-Spanish merchant family of Murphys who traded from the major Mexican port of Vera-Cruz from at least the early eighteenth century.
Mexico’s greatest actor-Son of an Irish revolutionary
Hollywood legend Anthony Rudolfo Oxaca Quinn (1915-2001) was born in Chihuahua, Mexico the son of an Irishman Frank (Francisco) Quinn and a Indian Mexican mother (Manuela).
According to his biography, his father died fighting with the renowned revolutionary Pancho Villa.
Anthony appeared in over 200 films his most notable role being the lead in 'Zorba the Greek'.
He was also an accomplished painter, sculptor, boxer and architect.
(Some other biographies of his life state that his father was Mexican born to an Irishman of the same name).
Irish Origins of ‘Streets of Laredo’
The Streets of Laredo is one of the best loved Cowboy ballads of all time. Laredo was part of Mexico until the 1830s. A twin city just on the far side of the Rio Grande bears the same name (Nueva Laredo). The song has been recorded by many well-known artists including Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie and tells the story of a dying cowboy pleading with those that listen not to follow his life of crime.
But it is almost a direct copy of a much older traditional British song entitled Locke Hospital recorded by Irish musician Christy Moore on his album Prosperous (1972). See relevant lyrics below. Locke hospitals became associated with British garrison troops for the treatment of venereal disease. Christy believes that the tune is Irish. Which should come as no surprise as the Irish formed up to 40% of the British army up until World War One.
As I walked out on Laredo one day,
I spied a poor cowboy wrapped in white linen,
Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay.
Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin.
Six dance-hall maidens to bear up my pall.
Throw bunches of roses all over my coffin.
Roses to deaden the clods as they fall.
Then beat the drum slowly, play the Fife lowlyPlay the dead march as you carry me along.
Take me to the green valley, lay the sod o'er me,
I'm a young cowboy and I know I've done wrong.
Cold was the morning and dark was the day
I spied a young squaddie wrapped up in old linen
Wrapped up in old linen as cold as the day
Get six of me comrades to carry my coffin
Get six of me comrades to carry me on high
And let every one hold a bunch of white roses
So no-one will notice as we pass them by
So play the drums slowly and play the fifes lowly
Sound a dead march as you carry him along
And over his coffin throw a bunch of white laurels
For he's a young soldier cut down in his prime.
Gringo- Latino slang for ‘White Americans’ Comes from Irish Song
'Gringo' is the term used across Latin America to refer to white Anglo-Americans particularly those from the United States.
It is likely that the word originated during the American-Mexican War of 1846-1848 probably from Irish troops of the US Army or the San Patrico Brigade singing the popular traditional Irish song ‘Green Grow the Lilacs O’ as they marched along.
To the Spanish speaking natives, ‘Green Grow the Lilacs O’ sounded to their ears as if it was ‘Green Goes’ or ‘Gringoes’
O’Brien- Mexican Revolutionary General & President of Irish descent
Ciudad Obregon (meaning O’Brien’s City in English) in the northern state of Sonora is one of many places called after him.
Fox-Another Irish President of Mexico
Vicente Fox Quesada was President of Mexico from 2000 to 2006. His grandfather, Joseph Fox, was an Irish immigrant who migrated to Cincinnati and later to Guanajuato in the 1890s.
Fox was the first president to be elected from an opposition party since that other Mexican-Irish lad, Alvaro O’Brien in 1920.
Founder of Mexico's First TV station & popular Mexican Newspaper was Irish
Rómulo O'Farrill (Farrell) Senior founded the newspaper Novedades and Mexico's first commercial television station in 1949 which later became known as Telesistemas Mexicano and later Televisa. His grandfather was a Stephen O'Farrell from County Longford. His son Romulo O'Farrill Jnr (1917-2006) became an even more powerful and influential business person with strong links to the ruling party(PRI). He was Irish honourary consul to Mexico for circa 20 years.
Architect and painter Juan O'Gorman (1905—82) was the son of painter and mining engineer Cecil Crawford O'Gorman who arrived in Mexico from Ireland in 1895.
Juan’s greatest mural and easel paintings focused on historical, cultural and nationalistic themes and include the murals in the National Museum of History in Chapultepec Castle Mexico City and the huge murals (4,000 square meters) of historical scenes of the Central Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Interestingly, his fantastic mural at Mexico City airport (1937–38), was removed in 1939 by a conservative government who considered it too anti-religious and anti-fascist.
Edmundo O'Gorman (1906 -1995) was another son of Cecil who established himself as one of Mexico’s famous writers, historians and philosophers.
Sean Mallory- Fictitious Irish Republican Hero of the Mexican Revolution
The 1971 Hollywood film- A Fistful of Dynamite directed by Sergio Leone and music by Ennio Morricone- starred American actor James Coburn as Sean Mallory, an Irish republican explosives expert on the run from the British who came to Mexico to help the native revolutionaries during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.
The movie contains more radical and social commentary than any other Leone film whose works include 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'.
Hugo Oconór (Hugh O' Connor) was a military governor of Northern Mexico (including what is now the US State of Texas), was Spanish viceroy of New Spain from 1767 until 1777.
Irish Famine caused by Mexico!
After all that we Irish did for Mexico you would think that the country would be extremely grateful to the Emerald Isle. Not a bit of it! For the greatest famine in Irish history leading to the deaths of up to 1.5 millions and the forced departure of an estimated 2 million peoples was caused by Mexico!
For it was in the highlands of central Mexico that the pathogen 'Phytophthora infestans' originated that caused the disease which destroyed the potato crop in Ireland during 1845-1852.
It was the highly nutritious potato that provided the only food crop for most of the majority poverty stricken population of Ireland who cultivated it on their tiny strips of land. They were Irish farmers thrown off their ancestral lands by British colonists and forced to live as tenants on small holdings by their new landlords who used most of the Irish countryside to graze cattle for the export market. While a few of the landowning aristocracy were progressive property owners who established vibrant village enterprises and undertook extensive building programmes for local communities such as Lord Ashtown in Woodlawn Galway, many more were absentee landlords who enjoyed the 'high life' in Britain financed by charging exorbitant rents to their Irish poverty-stricken tenants.
References: Guinness Book of Irish Facts & Feats, Ciaran Deane. Irish on the Inside, Tom Hayden, Verso