Historical Happenings for March 2019

Irish-American Heritage Month

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On 28 February, a team of Suffolk County Hibernians appeared before the Suffolk County Legislature to request that the month of March be declared Irish-American Heritage Month in perpetuity.  As one of the speakers, I was asked to share the words I said with other members of the New York State AOH/LAOH.  The Bill by Legislator Steven J. Flotteron, listed a dozen famous Irish and Irish Americans as evidence of our contributions to America.  The towns I mention are, of course, towns in Suffolk County and I was only allowed three minutes to make my presentation.  As most of my brothers know, I can’t even do opening remarks in three minutes.  However, when it was my turn to address the assembly, I said:

“The bill before you lists only a few of the Irish and Irish-American contributors, if we were to list them all, it would take all day to read their names and all year to describe their deeds.  Suffice to say that at our beginning there were nine Irish who signed the Declaration of Independence and three of them were Irish-born, as was Secretary Charles Thompson who edited it, John Dunlop who printed it and Col Nixon who first read it to a waiting public.

As for contributions to our State, that started with the first Governor of the Province, Irish-born Thomas Dongan whose patents became the model for today’s New York State government and established many Towns including Southampton and Brookhaven. In fact his Charter is on display in the Brookhaven Town Hall on Independence Hill to this day.

As for our County, it was in the shipyards of Mattituck that Irish-born John Holland built the first successful underwater boat which he demonstrated in the waters off New Suffolk to the U.S. Navy who bought it as the first boat in the greatest Submarine Fleet in the world.

From the large number of Irish in Washington’s Army that caused Lord Mountjoy to tell the House of Commons: ”We have lost America through the Irish”, all the way up to Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue, the Irish and their descendants have defended this nation.  In March, 1863, the first Medal of Honor was awarded to Irish-born Bernard Irwin, since then 254 have been received by native-born Irishmen more than twice the number given to any other foreign-born nationality and that’s not counting the number received by Irish-Americans like Audie Murphy and Dan Daly of Glen Cove who received two of them.

The Irish also served in counter intelligence. The Roe brothers were great-grandsons of John Roe the Irish-born shoemaker who settled in Drowned Meadow as Port Jeff was known in 1667.  They were part of the Culper Spy Ring that operated out of Suffolk linked with Irish-born Hercules Mulligan in NY City whose intelligence saved Washington on at least two occasions.  From the Roe brothers to Wild Bill Donovan who developed the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, which became the CIA of which he is considered the founding father, the Irish were there.

Many of these facts are unknown and designating March as Irish-American Heritage Month would give us the opportunity to publicize them and many more.  Each year, the President declares March: Irish Heritage Month. But before March first, when we try to convince the media to share these facts with the public, they say they can’t allocate resources to something that’s not officially designated.  Then when the President designates it as such, as he does every March 1st, we’re told its too late because such promotions must be scheduled a month in advance. Asian-American History month, Hispanic Heritage month, Black History month and others are permanently designated and recognized; we would like to see Irish-American Heritage Month permanently designated as well, so that we may invite others to recognize these contributions in time to prepare a respectful celebration.

Thank you for the gift of your time.”