It’s a long way from Tip­per­ary

Pasatiempo - - in Other Words - Steve Ter­rell

If you get an emo­tional surge of pa­tri­o­tism in your soul when you hear the phrase “Re­mem­ber the Alamo,” chances are you might not care for the new al­bum by The Chief­tains and Ry Cooder.

Or at least the sub­ject mat­ter. While some might not like the idea of cel­e­brat­ing those who fought hard against this coun­try, it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that any­one could be un­moved by at least some of the won­drous col­lab­o­ra­tion that is San Pa­tri­cio. Once you get swept into chief Chief­tain Paddy Moloney’s magic, you might come dan­ger­ously close to for­get­ting the Alamo.

The in­spi­ra­tion be­hind this al­bum is the story of the San Pa­tri­cio Bri­gade, a band of pre­dom­i­nantly Ir­ish (al­though there also were a good num­ber of Ger­man) im­mi­grants, many of whom de­serted the U.S. Army and joined the Mex­i­can army to fight dur­ing the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can War.

Moloney and Cooder re­cruited their own bri­gade of mu­si­cians in­clud­ing Mex­i­can band Los Ti­gres del Norte and Mex­i­can Amer­i­can song­birds Lila Downs and Linda Ron­stadt, as well as Ir­ish ac­tor Liam Nee­son to record this tale. And there are lesser-known groups in­clud­ing Los Folk­loris­tas and Los Cen­zon­tles.

“If the Mex­i­cans were there, there must have been mu­sic. I know for my­self, if the Ir­ish were there, there most cer­tainly would have been mu­sic.” That’s what Moloney writes in the liner note of San Pa­tri­cio. And he and his col­lab­o­ra­tors show what a sweet mix tra­di­tional Ir­ish and Mex­i­can mu­sic can be. Uil­leann pipes and tin whis­tles play Mex­i­can melodies. Mari­achi mixes with Celtic themes. At one point, the Mex­i­can Hat Dance be­comes a jig.

Not all of the tunes deal di­rectly with the San Pa­tri­cios. In fact, “Per­se­cu­ción de Villa,” in which The Chief­tains are joined by Mari­achi Santa Fe de Je­sus (Chuy) Guz­man, is about Pan­cho Villa and the Mex­i­can Revo­lu­tion, which occurred more than 60 years af­ter the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can War.

His­tory les­son: In this coun­try, the San Pa­tri­cios were known as traitors. In Mex­ico, they are con­sid­ered he­roes who fought an in­vad­ing Army. The war, de­ri­sively called “Mr. Polk’s War” (af­ter Pres­i­dent James K.), was con­tro­ver­sial. Even Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who served as an Army lieu­tenant dur­ing the con­flict, sounded al­most like Den­nis Kucinich when he wrote in his mem­oirs, “To this day [I] re­gard the war, which re­sulted, as one of the most un­just ever waged by a stronger against a weaker na­tion.” The Amer­i­can Army suf­fered a de­ser­tion rate of more than 8 per­cent — more than for any other Amer­i­can war.

Ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Martin Pare­des, “Al­though the Amer­i­can Army was com­posed of re­cent im­mi­grants, dis­crim­i­na­tion per­me­ated through the ranks. Catholic prej­u­dice and harsh treat­ment by An­glo-Amer­i­can su­pe­ri­ors and the use of ex­treme dis­ci­plinary mea­sures such as flog­ging added to the rea­sons for the de­ser­tions from Tay­lor’s ranks. ‘ Po­tato heads,’ as the Ir­ish were com­monly called, were par­tic­u­larly sin­gled out for harsh treat­ment.”

In a song called “Sands of Mex­ico,” Cooder sings, “ Now the Army used us harshly, we were but trash to them/ Con­scripted Ir­ish farm­ers / Not first class sol­dier men/ They beat us and they banged us / Mis­treated us, you know.”

Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle pre­sented on­line by the Texas State His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, “The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment, aware of prej­u­dice against im­mi­grants to the United States, started a cam­paign af­ter the Mex­i­can War broke out to win the for­eign­ers and Catholics to its cause. ... Mex­i­can pro­pa­ganda in­sin­u­ated that the United States in­tended to de­stroy Catholi­cism in Mex­ico, and if Catholic sol­diers fought on the side of the Amer­i­cans, they would be war­ring against their own re­li­gion.”

Nar­rat­ing “March to Bat­tle (Across the Río Grande)” on San Pa­tri­cio, Nee­son re­cites, “We are the San Pa­tri­cios, a brave and gal­lant band/ There’ll be no white flag fly­ing within this green com­mand/ We are the San Pa­tri­cios, we have but one de­mand/ To see the Yan­kees safely home across the Río Grande.”

The San Pa­tri­cios were led by Sgt. John Ri­ley, an Ir­ish im­mi­grant who had de­serted the U.S. Army and fought hard for Mex­ico. But they made their last stand at the Bat­tle of Chu­rubusco (a name that came from the Aztec word mean­ing “Place of the War God”) in Au­gust 1847. Out of 260, only 75 sur­vived. They killed at least 137 Amer­i­can sol­diers and wounded nearly 900. “We went down to Chu­rubusco, but the devil got there first,” Cooder sings in “Sands of Mex­ico.” Many of the de­sert­ers were hung. “As I stand upon the gal­lows, it cheers the soul to know/ His­tory will ab­solve us on the sands of Mex­ico,” Cooder sings.

But Ri­ley was in for a fate some might think worse than death. He was forced to dig the graves of some of his com­pa­tri­ots. He also re­ceived 50 lashes and was branded with the let­ter D on his face— twice, ac­tu­ally. Ac­cord­ing to www.Amer­i­canHer­itage.com, “Since the let­ter was seared on up­side down the first time, it was righted in a sec­ond brand­ing.” Two years later, Ri­ley would sue over this pu­n­ish­ment, but a jury in Cincin­nati ruled in fa­vor of the gov­ern­ment.

Again from Nee­son in “March to Bat­tle”: “We’ve dis­ap­peared from his­tory like foot­prints in the sand/ But our song is in the tum­ble­weeds and our love is in this land / But if in the desert moon­light you see a ghostly band/ We are the men who died for free­dom across the Río Grande.”

On a lighter note: My fa­vorite Ir­ish tune in re­cent weeks can be found on Black 47’s new al­bum Bankers & Gang­sters. It’s a funny, up­beat song called “The Long Lost Tapes of Hen­drix.” And yes, it’s about Jimi.

Leader Larry Kir­win sings, “One evening while out strollin’ a friend I chanced to see / He was beg­ging be­hind a bot­tle on Spring and Bow­ery/ He said ‘I got some news for you, only cost a cou­ple of bob/ About a buried trea­sure back home in Bal­ly­de­hob.’ ”

But the trea­sure is as elu­sive as the wee folks’ pot of gold. To find the tapes, Kir­win has to con­front a BBW bank teller—“200 pounds of sweet Mag­gie McGuire”— as well as an omi­nous “ap­pari­tion in tie-dye.”

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