By Michael McCormack and Ned McGinley
More than 2,000 AOH and LAOH delegates, selected by their peers from all over the United States, assembled at Turning Stone Resort and Casino, on land that was once home to the six nations of the Iroquois Federation near Syracuse, New York, to hold the 96th Biennial Convention of their 176-year old Order.
On Monday an Opening Mass began the proceedings, as always, with our Irish Catholic Heritage prominently on display celebrated by the Bishop Robert Cunningham. Immediately following the Mass the Icebreaker “Taste of New York” was the opening Reception. At the Icebreaker the CEO of the Oneida Nation, once one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, Ray Halbritter greeted his guests, which is noteworthy in that this is not his common practice to bring a personal welcome. The State Senator Joe Griffo and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi were also there to welcome our delegates.
Tuesday began with an early morning joint session, which saw future convention site presentations as well as the two National Presidents speaking to those assembled. There was also a talk by Irish born, naturalized American Tom McGrath an Ultra Marathon, Solo Runner, who will be running 250 miles from his Pub, “The Black Sheep” in Manhattan, starting on July 20, through the Commodore John Barry Gate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland, finishing on July 28.
Following the joint session the AOH and LAOH moved to their general meetings and breaking down into committees to discuss the business of the respective organizations. There are so many things that interest our members Immigration, Charities, Political Education, Freedom for All Ireland, Irish History, Catholic Action, etc.
Tuesday ended with a night of Irish Musical entertainment by the Makem and Spain Brothers who were magnificent.
On Wednesday the reports back from the committees were followed by the nomination of officers in both A.O.H. and L.A.O.H. and contests for both boards proved once again that our Orders are alive and well by having contested offices in both Orders.
On Wednesday the Degree Teams of both Orders educated the non-degree members of the history, culture, and traditions of their respective Orders. The degrees were conferred on the acolytes with degreed members looking on. As expected the AOH Tara Court Degree Team from Long Island and the LAOH Trinity Major Degree Team of the Capitol District performed admirably.
Wednesday night was Irish Night and the Ladies Awards, which were greeted with standing ovations. The President’s Leadership Award went to Sister Phyllis O’Dowd of Suffolk County NY and the Columban Fathers and Sisters received their biennial generous gift with another donation given to the Precious Life Home for battered women.
Thursday started early with elections for the AOH and LAOH Officers and more important meetings on Constitution changes and Resolutions in an effort to finish up while the voting continued. The afternoon was a bit tense as the results of the ballot count for the National Offices were awaited.
Thursday afternoon was the superb closing Mass celebrated by AOH National Chaplain Thomas O’Donnell of Pittsburgh. Immediately after the Mass, in the same room, the new AOH/LAOH National Boards were installed in front of the delegates to the convention. It is a beautiful ceremony that pledges the officers to the memberships and the members to their officers in all things constitutional and lawful.
The closing dinner was graced by the First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness, who spoke of the great help that the Irish America and especially the A.O.H. along with the L.A.O.H. had been in bringing the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement to the Six Counties. Fresh from shaking hands with the Queen of England, in a moment of reconciliation, he pledged to continue progress toward a United Ireland by all political and lawful means as stated in the Constitution of our Order.
The second award was the John F. Kennedy Medal voted by the AOH/LAOH to Labor Priest and College Professor as well as Past National Chaplain Father Patrick Sullivan who most recently led the Boston Diocese Labor Guild. Father is a member of the Holy Cross community and has taught at the University of Notre Dame as well as King’s College in Pennsylvania. The night finished with short talks by newly elected A.O.H. President Brendan Moore of NY and L.A.O.H. President Maureen Sheldon of Michigan.
The Turning Stone setting was idyllic with beautiful mountains and green everywhere. The facility is superb with a phenomenal major golf course and a pitch and putt within easy walking distance as well as tennis courts and a walking/running path around the whole resort. The gardens, grounds, ponds, and lawns truly add to the peaceful ambience. On top of all this there is a first class casino and entertainment.
The staff was courteous, generous, unfailingly polite, and industrious making our visit a true pleasure. The delicious meals and beverages were excellent, well served, and handled beautifully by a well trained and prepared staff. The CEO Ray Halbritter should be proud of his employees, the Oneida Nation, and the Turning Stone Resort.
Congratulations to Liam McNabb and Mary Leathem for a superb effort on the 96th Biennial Convention of the AOH/LAOH in America.
– Mike McCormack is the National Historian and Ned McGinley is a past National President