Irish Heritage in Mexico

March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, in the Christian calendar, and it is celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day all around the world, including Mexico.   A year ago, I shared a post mentioning some notable people with Irish heritage throughout Mexico’s history,  and in this post, I continue with more stories along the same lines.

Hugo Oconór, was born Hugh O’Connor in Dublin, Ireland in 1732, and migrated to Spain in his youth, joining the regiment of Volunteers of Aragon.  During his military career, he was sent to the colonies in Cuba and Mexico, and in 1767, was appointed governor of Texas.  O’Connor is also considered a founder of the city of Tucson in Arizona, since he authorized the construction of a military fort there in 1775.  In 1777, his health declined, and he requested to be transferred to Southern Mexico, where he was promoted to brigadier general, and served as Governor of the Yucatan Peninsula until his death in 1779.

As I have mentioned before, shortly after Mexico became a new nation in 1821,  foreign investment and colonization were promoted, since the country was devastated after its long war for independence.  In 1828, two communities were founded by Irish businessmen, in the territory of Southern Texas and Coahuila: James Power and James Hewetson in “El Refugio” (“The Haven”) and John McMullen and James McGloin in “San Patricio” (“Saint Patrick”).  They organized the colonization of these two communities, encouraging fellow Irish families to migrate to Mexico.  During the war in Texas in the mid 1830s, many Irish immigrants in the United States sympathized with Mexico, as they felt ethnically and religiously discriminated by the Americans, and after Texas’s independence in 1836, and later annexation to the US, they were forced, or chose, to move, to the neighbouring Mexican states of Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sonora and Durango, where Irish family names such as Walsh, Foley, or O’Leary, to name a few, are not unusual.​  

In parallel, mining companies from Great Britain invested in the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas.  Many English and Irish miners and engineers arrived in these areas, often bringing their families or marrying locals.  This migration was increased by The Great Famine (1847-1852), caused primarily by a potato blight infestation, which destroyed potato crops throughout Europe; thousands of people died of starvation, and it is estimated that more than two million people had to leave Ireland alone.   In my post last year, someone kindly commented on their Irish-Mexican relative, painter Edgardo Coghlan (Born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, 1928- died in Tlalmanalco, Edo, de Mexico, 1995); the beginning of the timeline of Coghlan’s family tree in Mexico corresponds to this period, and it may be traced to his great-grandfather, David Coghlan.  Recently, I was able to find a booklet dedicated to Edgardo Coghlan’s work and biography entitled “Edgardo Coghlan, óleos y acuarelas” (© Primera edición: Secretaría de Educación del Gobierno del Estado de México, 2018) –  “Edgardo Coghlan, Oil and Watercolour” (© First edition: Education Secretariat,  Government of the State of Mexico, 2018), where I found the following information:

David Coghlan arrived to Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí, around the year of 1847 to work with the mining companies; he married Francisca Calvillo from neighbouring Villa de Ramos.  Their first child was born in 1853, and named Francisco J. Coghlan; he grew up to work in the mines, as well, and amongst other things, he modernized and saved the Santa Ana mine, and was an excellent administrator.  Francisco J. Coghlan fathered twelve children, being the youngest José Coghlan Palacios.  Young José was attracted to the port of Topolobampo, on the west coast, in the state of Sinaloa.  Albert Kimsey Owen, an American civil engineer, had built the first irrigation ditches in the region back in 1893, and organized a utopian socialist colony; the project survived for only 31 years, but many American families remained in the community, and the port continued to be relevant, along with the neighbouring town of Los Mochis, as the starting point connecting with the Chihuahua-Pacific train, the ferry to the Baja California Peninsula, and an international trade corridor that ends up north in Texas.  José married Catalina Verdugo Vidales, from El Fuerte, also in Sinaloa; they had four children, born in Los Mochis: Sergio, Elsa, Edgardo and Sonia Irene.  Edgardo was sent to Mexico City, and studied in El Colegio Americano, a private bilingual school, and later, the National University of Mexico (UNAM).  He trained with Spanish painter José Bardasano in his studio in Mexico City; Coghlan became a well recognized and appreciated artist, especially for his watercolour paintings of Mexican landscapes, and portraits of indigenous characters.  His permanent residence for many years was in Tlalmanalco, in Edo. de México, where he lived with María Luisa Morales, and their two sons, Juan Manuel and Norman Edgardo.

Edgardo Coghlan was a prolific artist who travelled extensively around Mexico, and internationally, including Israel, drawing and painting along the way; his work may be found in many galleries and museums, both in the state of Edo. de México and in his native state of Sinaloa, as well as in his family’s private collections.  Until his untimely death, caused by cancer, in 1995, Coghlan remained very active, as an artist, mentor, promoter of the Arts and charity endeavours, even touring his natal state of Sinaloa, and painting and drawing landscapes, scenes of indigenous women with cruses or selling native flowers, countryside children, farmers, etc., explicitly catering to the now permanent collection of his works at the Art Museum of Sinaloa (Museo de Arte de Sinaloa – MASIN, at the corner of Rafael Buelna and Ruperto L. Paliza streets, Culiacán, Sinaloa.)  The image at the top of this post is part of this collection, and the booklet I mentioned above (click here for link to PDF format) contains many amazing images of his work (several from the family’s private collection), and a tasteful blend of candid photos of the artist himself, with friends and family.

In Mexico City, Irish descendants and cheerful capitalinos (capital city dwellers) at large, gather around March 17 to celebrate Irish heritage, and commemorate the St. Patrick’s Battalion (“los San Patricios”), a group of soldiers in the American army, of Irish and German heritage, who were vilified for their Catholic beliefs during the Mexican-American war of 1846-48, prompting them to join the Mexican army.   The first organized “San Patricio Fest”, a parade and music festival, took place in Mexico City, in March of 2016, with more than two thousand people in attendance, featuring Mexican-Irish music and dance groups, food (and Irish beer), as well as a visit to the plaque on the front wall of a building in Plaza San Jacinto, San Angel (Mexico City) which honours the St. Patrick’s Battalion.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

7 thoughts on “Irish Heritage in Mexico

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