By Maria R Perez, MSSW
Many are unaware that Mexico and Ireland share an extensive history. There is a current rise of interest in genealogy and personal ethnic story. Thus, after submitting their DNA for testing many individuals of Mexican decent are bewildered to discover that they have Irish DNA, and potentially searchable Irish ancestors. I am by no means an expert on history nor on DNA, yet I can connect some historical dots that can explain this occurrence.
Of course, I must support my “dots”, so I ensued in a rudimentary internet search. For example, as Hispanic as El Paso is, have you ever wondered why El Paso’s Catholic Cathedral is named after such a classic Irish saint as is St. Patrick and not a more popular Mexican saint? In part it was due to money from donors, and in part it was due to money from affluent Irish donors. Indeed, the Irish have a rich history in El Paso and in Mexico as well.
A starting point can be that one of oldest civilizations were the Celts. The Celts reigned from about 700 BC to about 100 BC. Their territories spanned from what we now know as Ireland, Great Britain, some of Germany, to Slovakia, the very top of Italy, France, plus, Spain, and Portugal.  All of Europe was Celtic territory until the Roman Empire took over. Some even believe the DNA ought to be identified as Celt, rather than Irish.
The conquest and colonization of Mexico by Spain (1519–21) created a pathway for many seeking their fame and fortune to link themselves with Spain, including many Irish. Whether involved by way of their Catholic Church affiliation, or by sworn alliance to the King of Spain they were granted titles and authority. And I must mention that these individuals traveled by large, crowded vessels, and in the company of a large entourage of countrymen. As I did my research for this article, I came upon the name of a well-educated, yet very colorful Irish individual that came to Mexico by serving Spain, William Lamport.
In 1634 William Lamport fought for Spain in the Battle Noerdlinger during the Thirty Years War.  As a staunch Catholic, he fought along Spanish and Italian soldiers with the Roman Catholic Imperial army. His achievements as a soldier led him to the service of the King Spain. He arrived in Mexico in 1640 as a spy for the King. For a while he was able to lead a double life. Being a fair man, he was disappointed to see the unfairness of Spain upon the indigenous, the slaves and the poor. He was also disappointed by the Church and its Inquisition. William Lamport eventually spent many years imprisoned for crimes against the Church and against Spain. While in captivity, he wrote abundantly against the state and the Church. By the end of 1659 he was sentence to burn at the stake. Yet, not wanting to give the Inquisition the satisfaction of carrying out their punishment, he managed to choke himself with the ropes of his binding to the stake and end his own life. His reputation proceeded him as his writings inspired many dis-empowered to uprise against Spain and the Church. And in fact, he was instrumental in changing, if not abolishing the practices of the Inquisition in Mexico. Yet, his more renown legacy is becoming the inspiration for our modern-day Zorro – a hero for the downtrodden! William Lamport is memorialized in Mexico City, D.F. with a statue inside the Torre de La Independencia!
Indeed, the prevalence of Irish DNA in Mexico is due to migration. And as I mentioned earlier, travel and migration usually occurred in groups. And anywhere people may gather, men and women will find each other, and offspring will result. Robert McNamara wrote in his 2019 article The Great Irish Famine Was a Turning Point for Ireland and America,“In 1841, Ireland’s population was more than eight million. It has been estimated that at least one million died of starvation and disease in the late 1840’s, and at least another one million immigrated during the famine.”  There were many Irish who left the discrimination and confines of the eastern cities. They experienced discrimination because they were Catholic, foreign, and poor. Even those that enlisted into U. S. military service with the promise of citizenship were victimized and mistreated by fellow soldiers, as well as by the superiors. Thus, by the mid-1800’s many Irishmen found solace in Mexico. They found their Catholic expression welcomed, and since many were familiar with farming, they saw an opportunity for a comfortable way of life. By 1846 the Mexican American War began, and the Irishmen became aware of the same subjugation of the lower classes, and the indigenous by Spain that they had suffered from England. And with a mix of Irish immigrants the Brigada de San Patricio fought shoulder to shoulder with their new compatriots.
As I conducted a considerably basic internet search from my desk, I have realized just how unknown many of these facts might be. I marvel at finding the topic of the Mexican American War in Irish sources. Indeed, the Irish had a major influence in the North America, Mexico and even South America. And as folks influence through their works and deeds, their DNA is scattered about! I also ran across this statement – Celtic refers to a race. Irish refers to a nationality. But more than that, being Irish is a state of mind. Now I must watch “One Man’s Hero” (1999) starring Tom Berenger. A film about the San Patricio Brigade, free on YouTube. https://youtu.be/EhsUrHK9t78 .
1 Taylor-Lehman, Dylan. From the Emerald Isle to the Borderland: How the Irish contributed to El Paso history. 18 Mar. 2018: https://theyawningchasm.com/2018/03/18/from-the-emerald-isle-to-the-borderland-how-the-irish-contributed-to-el-paso-history/
2 Hewitt, Christopher. Celtic Dreamlands and Burial Rites. SevenPonds Blog, 5 Dec. 2013: Celtic Dreamlands and Burial Rites – SevenPonds BlogSevenPonds Blog
3 N. Geoffrey Parker. Battle of Noerdlinger. 29 Aug. 2020: www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Nordlingen-European-history-1634
4 Bitto, Robert February. William Lamport, Mexico’s Irish Would-Be King. 19 Feb. 2017: http://mexicounexplained.com/william-lamport-mexicos-irish-king/
5 El irlandés escondido dentro de la columna del Ángel de la Independencia en la CDMX. 23 Sept. 2019: www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx.
6 McNamara, Robert. The Great Irish Famine Was a Turning Point for Ireland and America. 28 Aug. 2020: The Great Irish Famine Was a Turning Point in History (thoughtco.com).
7 Wertz, Fredrick. St. Patrick’s Battalion: What caused them to turn on the U.S. and fight for Mexico? 29 Feb. 2020: What caused Saint Patrick’s Battalion to fight for Mexico? (irishcentral.com).
– Maria R. Perez, MSSW, Somos Familia Genealogy Services, El Paso, Texas
Maria R. Perez is an artist, a writer, and a retired social worker who also enjoys genealogy. She is a strong advocate for the dis-empowered and a founding member of The Tornillo Collective – Individuals calling attention to the plight of migrant families and children in US detention facilities through the arts. She is highly creative and imaginative. Maria grew up with a disability. Maybe her physical limitations made her mind nurture possibilities!