Moloney inspired by Irishman in Mexico

Fri, Sep 14, 2012, 01:00

MEXICAN MARIACHI music and Irish tin-whistle fused yesterday as Chieftains founder Paddy Moloney received a prestigious cultural award from the Latin American state.

The musician was presented with the “Ohtli” award at the Mexican embassy in Dublin to recognise his role in promoting and strengthening ties between the two nations.

Moloney’s interest in Mexico began in the late 1980s when he discovered the involvement of some 200 Irish immigrants and expatriates in the country’s war against the US.

“I came across this intriguing, fascinating untold piece of history called the St Patrick’s Battalion . . . the Irish soldiers who joined forces with the Mexican side during the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848,” Moloney said yesterday.

Clifden native John Riley formed the “San Patricio” battalion of soldiers who deserted the US army and “fought on the Mexican side until the bitter end”, Moloney said.

The almost-forgotten story inspired a 2010 collaborative album, San Patricio, between the Chieftains and musician Ry Cooder. The album also featured the voice of Irish Oscar- nominated actor Liam Neeson.

Neeson declared an interest in playing army commander Riley in a movie of the story, Moloney said. “I’ve known Liam for years, it goes back a long way. I thought his voice was just spot-on for this. I called him up and told him the story and he was fascinated by it,” the musician said.

“The comment from him was, ‘If you make a movie of this, I want to be John Riley, the commander’,” Moloney said.

Mexican ambassador Carlos Garcia de Alba said Moloney had “discovered a very important and interesting episode in Mexican history”.

The ambassador spoke of the similarities between the nations, both of which were cultural “superpowers” full of “music, traditions, folk and dancing”.

Moloney said strains of “European sounds” such as “mazourkas and jigs” could be heard in Mexican music from European influence in the mid-19th century.

“They are wonderful people, they are so Irish,” he said of the Mexican people. “Sitting down to dinner and drinking tequila with them sometimes and [hearing] the stories, it’s like being back in my grandparents’ day.”

The award coincides with Mexican independence day this weekend. The links were also marked in Clifden last week during a five-day Irish-Mexican festival to celebrate town native John Riley. – Additional reporting PA