Irish Americans in New York organize to support immigrants’ rights
The Irish American soldiers called the San Patricio's Battalion fought for Mexican independence in the 1840s.

“It cannot be just a parade,” said Irish Labour Member of Parliament Aodhan O’Riordan. “Given our people’s history of immigration, struggles for justice, St. Patrick’s Day this year must stand for much more – for an ‘Irish Stand’ with all immigrants, all fighting for decency, justice.”

O’Riordan is in New York helping to organize and promote a rally that is being called the “Irish Stand for Justice & Equality,” in solidarity with embattled immigrants in the U.S.  The Irish Stand rally is set for Friday, March 17, 7:30 pm at the Riverside Church in New York City.  Riverside Church has been home to many progressive events, including the historic speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., in which he announced his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Speaking of Irish-Americans who have supported Trump’s anti-immigrant positions, O’Riordan stated: “They’ve completely forgotten their history!  They’ve lost their Irish hearts.”

“Our story is one of struggle, of immigration, of seeking decency, refuge, of overcoming discrimination and sectarianism.  What Mexicans today are going through, or African Americans are facing, is exactly what we have gone through in the past.  The struggles of immigrants to the United States today are the struggles of all Irish men and women.  Their fight is ours!  To any Irishman that stands with Trump, all I can say to you is that you have completely lost your Irish heart!”

Others who have announced their participation in the Irish Stand rally include Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, comedian Maeve Higgins and writers Shawn King and Colum McCann.  African American entertainer I.S. Jones will also perform at the event.  A pre-St. Patrick’s Day event is being organized for Central Park on Thursday.

Numerous other Irish-themed events are being organized across the nation protesting Trump’s federal attack on immigrants.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced at a press conference last week that he would not support any “special deal” to let Irish immigrants off, while Muslim immigrants are attacked, targeted and deported.  Saying he is a “proud Irish-American, a son of Irish immigrants,” Walsh discussed a proposed “deal” that some had floated to use racism to separate Irish from other immigrants, deporting all Middle Eastern or Muslim immigrants.

“Boston is a city of immigrants and our nation is a nation of immigrants,” Walsh stated.  “I was elected mayor to represent all the people, not to divide people, support one nation over others.  I say no to any special deal! We stand with all those coming here seeking justice and a decent life.”

Walsh said that Boston would remain a sanctuary city, regardless of whatever threats were issued from the White House.

These events could signal a major blow to the Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to use racism and white nationalism to divide immigrants from native-born Americans in pursuit of his anti-immigrant policies.

Irish immigrants and Irish Americans have long been part of the ongoing American narrative, in which ruling powers promoted anti-immigrant and outright racist policies.  During the Civil War, it is well documented many Irish immigrants were part of vicious racist mobs that attacked formerly enslaved people and freed Blacks in anti-draft riots.  In doing so, they were being used by wealthy slaveholders who worked through pro-Confederate groups, pushing racism and division in hopes of destroying the Union war effort.

Less well known is that the heroic Irish Brigade, the 63rd, 69th & 88th infantry units, from The Bronx, were key to holding Cemetery Ridge at the battle of Gettysburg.  Led by Irish nationalist Thomas Meagher, the Irish Brigade were renowned for being at the center of major battles, suffering massive casualties.  The few left from that unit were also part of army units used to put down the racist riots in New York.  Over 150,000 Irish immigrants served in the Union army fighting against the slaveholding rebellion.

During the war against Mexico, in 1846-48, thousands of immigrants were swept up into the army invading Mexico.  It was an imperialist war, resulting in one-third of Mexican territory being lost to the U.S. Slavery, illegal in Mexico, was introduced into much of the territory seized from Mexico.

Many Irish soldiers became disgusted when they saw they were fighting another nation of poor, Catholic, working people. Led John Riley, hundreds deserted and joined the Mexican forces.  They became known as the San Patricio’s Battalion. This history was resurrected in 2015 when folksinger Dave Rovics wrote a song about that struggle.   The San Patricio’s are widely beloved and celebrated in Mexico today.

Irish Americans, overwhelmingly working class, have been on both sides of what Lincoln called “the best angels of our nature”.  O’Riordan and those organizing the Irish Stand rally this week are standing solidly with the fighters for justice.


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.