St. Patrick’s Day in Latin America

Saint Patrick’s Day is an annual feast day that celebrates the most commonly recognized of the patron saints of Ireland, and is generally celebrated on 17 of March.

Legend has it that St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland for, among other things, raising the dead and driving snakes out of Ireland. In the United States, drinking has been the way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day since it originally began. The excuse for drinking came from a rumor that Saint Patrick brought the art of distillery to Ireland.

The shamrock became a symbol of the celebration because it is said that the Saint used it to explain the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Spirit) as he converted the Irish to Christianity.

Saint Partick’s day is celebrated in many places in Latin America including Costa Rica. There is a usually some type of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at any of the local bars where Americans hang out.

You will be surprised to know that there have been many prominent Latin Americans of Irish descent. Probably the most famous was Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme (August 20, 1778 – October 24, 1842). O’Higgins was a South American independence leader who, together with José de San Martín, freed Chile from Spanish rule in the Chilean War of Independence. O’Higgins was granted dictatorial powers as Supreme Director of the country on February 16, 1817 and on February 12, 1818, Chile was proclaimed its independent republic through the Chilean Declaration of Independence. For six years, O’Higgins was a largely successful leader, and his government initially functioned well. In time, however, he began to alienate important political factions. Eventually he was deposed in 1823 due to a growing opposition. O’Higgins lived in exile for the rest of his life.

O’Higgins is widely commemorated today, both in Chile and beyond. The Chilean village of Villa O’Higgins was named in his honor. The main thoroughfare of the Chilean capital, Santiago, is Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins. There is even a plaque in his honor in Merrion Square in Dublin.

Anther famous Latino of Irish ancestry, some of you will remember, was Antonio Rodolfo Quinn. Most people know this late actor by the name of Anthony Quinn. One of his most famous roles was that of Eufemio, Emiliano Zapata’s brother, in the movie classic “Viva Zapata!” starring Marlon Brando. The screenplay was written by John Steinbeck.

A notable arm of the Mexican Army during the Mexican-American War was the The Saint Patrick’s Battalion (Batallón de San Patricio). It was a group of around several hundred immigrants of European descent (made up primarily of ethnic Irish and German Catholic immigrants), who fought as part of the Mexican Army against the United States U.S. in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. Most of the battalion’s members were deserters from the U.S. Army. The majority of these men were immigrants who had arrived at northeastern U.S. ports, as part of the Irish diaspora to escape the Irish Potato Famine and extremely poor economic conditions in Ireland. Therefore, many chose military service because other jobs were not available to them.

Considered traitors at home there are several theories as to why the immigrants fought for Mexico. First, the Mexican government offered incentives to foreigners who would enlist in its army: it granted them citizenship, paid higher wages than the US Army and gave generous land grants. Others say it was due to the mistreatment of immigrants by their Anglo-protestant officers and prejudice in the military. Some historians believed a primary motivation was the Catholic religion they shared with the Mexicans and sympathy for the Mexican cause, likely based on similarities between the situations in Mexico and Ireland. For many Mexicans The Saint Patrick’s Batallion is still fondly remembered and its members considered heroes.

Mexicans hold the Irish in very high regard. Did you know that St. Patrick is the patron saint of many towns in Mexico? The three joined towns of Melaque, Villa Obregon, and San Patricio celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Fiesta del Torros. The festivities include rodeo events, bullfights, parades, folk dancing, and fireworks.

Here is Saint Patrick’s Day vocabulary in Spanish:

Bagpipes (Irish uilleann pipes bag) – La gaita irlandesa
Clover -el trébol
Corn beef and cabbage – Carne acecinada y repollo (cabbage). Please don’t confuse acecinada with asesinada which means assassinated. Acecinar means to salt meat, dry it and then smoke it.
Emerald green – verde esmeralda
Emerald Isle – Irlanda
Gold –oro (metal), dorado (color)
Green – verde
Ireland – Irlanda
Irishman – irlndés
Irish woman – irlandesa
Legend – la leyenda
Leprechaun – duende or gnono
Lucky – afortunado, suertudo
March – marzo
Parade – el desfile
Patrick – Patricio
Pot of gold – La olla or perol de oro
Rainbow – el arco iris
Saint – el santo
St. Paddy’s Day – el día de San Patricio
St. Patrick – San Patricio
Snake – la serpiente
shamrock – el trébol
walking stick -bastón
Wish – el deseo. Pedir un deseo is to make a wish