Special Historical Happenings for August 15, 2018

A Day to Remember

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

August 15 is a special day for Catholics around the world because it is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It is also special for our AOH cousins in Ireland who march that day to show pride in their heritage on ‘Lady’s Day’ as it’s called. However, on that day in 1995 an historic event also took place in Derry as the American AOH and LAOH joined with the AOH Board of Erin (BOE) to march in that parade.  Our National Presidents, Ed Wallace and Kathy Linton led the line of march behind the American and Irish flags alongside Hibernian leaders from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. It was an incredible show of unity, but only part of the reason for the American visit.

It all began at the Louisville, KY National Convention the year before when Ed Wallace was elected.  He authorized a joint project between the two Boards and BOE; BOE Treasurer Frank Kiernan was in attendance to carry the word home to Ireland.  The project was to be the first ever memorial in Ireland to the victims of the Great Hunger of 1845 – 52.  Significantly, it was to be dedicated on August 20th the 150th anniversary of the appearance of the blight that killed countless millions and forced into exile millions more. A committee led by immediate Past President George Clough and Massachusetts AOH leader, Dave Burke liaised with BOE representatives and members of the Clare County Council as it was decided that the memorial should stand across from a deserted workhouse and mass grave on the Road between Ennistymon and Lahinch. The memorial was funded and erected by a combined effort of all three after a Mass in Ennistymon and a parade to the site. After moving speeches by Presidents Wallace and Linton, they unveiled the monument. Minister of State, Donal Carey, representing Dail Eireann, noted that this was the first national monument in all of Ireland to the victims of the Great Hunger and it took the AOH to do it.  It was a proud moment for the AOH, and a visible indication of what can be done when the Irish at home unite with the Irish Diaspora.

The journey to that memorial was long and costly, but the AOH felt that it was worth the effort to erect a meaningful remembrance to those who suffered just as the Jews remember the victims of the Holocaust.  Every Irish person, at home or abroad, lost a relation in that tragedy, whether they knew of them or not, and the story of how their descendants remember their ordeal and commemorate their memory is a moving one, indeed. The monument was created by Alan Ryan Hall from Valencia Island, Co. Kerry, and depicts an account found in Book 4 of the Workhouse papers preserved in the Ennistymon Library. The account centers on a note pinned to the torn shirt of a barefoot orphan boy left at the workhouse door on the freezing morning of February 25, 1848. The note read:

Gentlemen, There is a little boy named Michael Rice of Lahinch aged about 4 years. He is an orphan, his father having died last year and his mother has expired on last Wednesday night, who is now about being buried without a coffin!! Unless ye make some provision for such. The child in question is now at the Workhouse Gate expecting to be admitted, if not it will starve” signed by Constable Robs.S.

One side of the memorial depicts a child standing before the workhouse door, while across from that is the head of an anguished mother and two hands clenched in frustration or anger above the sorrowful text of the pleading note. If you are fortunate enough to visit the memorial, breathe a prayer for the unnamed souls it commemorates and if you are a Hibernian, stand a bit taller!

Historical Happenings for August 2018

Sidney – Another Gifford Girl

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Support for Irish nationalism often ran in families. The Gifford sisters – Sidney, Nellie, Grace, Kate, Muriel, and Ada – were six of the 12 children of Frederick and Isabella Burton Gifford. As was customary in a mixed marriage, the boys were baptized Catholics and the girls were baptized Protestant. However, their mother, Isabella, a domineering woman, raised all of her children as Protestant. The boys retained that Protestantism while the girls, except for Kate, all converted to Catholicism. In a further conversion, while the parents and brothers remained loyal to Britain, the girls became Irish Republicans!

The best known of the girls were: Grace, who married 1916 leader Joseph Plunkett hours before his execution at Kilmainham Jail and remained an active Republican; Nellie, who was active during the Rising and was imprisoned in Mountjoy and Kilmainham jails afterward and Muriel, who married Proclamation signer, Thomas MacDonagh. Muriel, an active member of Maude Gonne’s Inghinidhe na hÉireann (daughters of Ireland) and supporter of women’s suffrage, accidentally drowned in 1917. Ada emigrated to the U.S. and was active in Republican groups there. Sidney, who wrote under the pen name John Brennan, was the youngest born August 3, 1889 and was as notable as any of them. All were members of Cumann na mBan – the Ladies Auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers.

Sidney wrote for the Sinn Fein, Irish Citizen, Irish Freedom and Cumann na mBan newspapers before emigrating to New York in June 1914 where she became involved in working for the Republican cause; the New York Sun even published some of her articles. At the outbreak of WWI, Britain ran a campaign to enlist American support in the war, so Sidney joined a campaign to downplay the Britain campaign and focus on Irish independence instead. During one meeting of Irish Americans, Sidney made an impromptu speech, explaining the situation in Ireland and particularly the need of arms for the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. As a result, Dr. Gertrude Kelly, a dynamic feminist writer and activist and a prominent member of the Irish Women’s Council, asked Sidney to speak at a meeting she was organizing.

At that meeting, Sidney criticized the AOH. Afterward, the Chairman explained to the audience that Sidney was not referring to the American AOH, but the Board of Erin with whom she had bitter experience since they had broken up Republican rallies for Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party. Sidney saw the error of her remark and learned that the activist audience she was addressing consisted largely of members of the American AOH Ladies Auxiliary and that in America women had a greater influence in public life holding important positions in the professions and commerce. Impressed by the fact that the AOH had an active Ladies Auxiliary and the Clann na Gael did not, it was at this meeting that Sidney Gifford decided to form a branch of Cumann na mBan in America. She later wrote that, ‘the Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH proved to be some of our most valuable workers and the foundation of the first Branch of Cumann na mBan was followed by a second one, also in New York.’ Their chief activity was propaganda and fund-raising and Sidney became Secretary of the first American branch of Cumann na mBan.

In November 1915, James Connolly’s daughter, Nora, arrived in America with a letter from Countess Markievicz asking for Sidney’s aid in contacting the German Ambassador in Washington, which she did. Ever since England had declared war on Germany, Sidney received daily Irish and weekly Sinn Féin papers with news of arrests of prominent Republicans. She brought the papers to Patrick Ford of the Irish World newspaper. He was delighted to get them and published them with headlines and editorial comment. The result was that letters of support for Ireland flooded in from organizations and individuals all over the country. Ford asked Sidney to write on the leaders and organizations in Ireland and the articles that she wrote moved the paper’s aim to complete support for the Volunteer movement. Sidney married a Hungarian lawyer, Arpad Czira, a former POW who had fled to America. Their son, Finian, was born in 1917, but she and Arpad soon parted. When America entered WW1, anti-British propaganda ceased, but not support for the Republican militants right up to the Easter Rising.

After the Rising, the Irish tricolor had yet to be seen in America and at a big demonstration, likely in Carnegie Hall, to support Ireland, her sister Ada, who had spent the night sewing a tricolor, suddenly stood up in the balcony and swung it out over the audience. It received such an ovation that newspapers commented on it the following day. Bernard Shaw, asked to comment on the event, sent a cable which contained the words, ‘It was mad, glorious and republican.’ This also made headlines. The Gifford girls also introduced the tricolor to New York by flying it at the top of a Fifth Avenue bus and reported that it was quite encouraging to see NY Police recognize it and, at every intersection, stand to attention in salute.

In 1922, Sidney returned to Ireland with her son. As a member of Kathleen Clarke’s Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League she fought against the ill-treatment of Republican prisoners during the Civil War and continued to work as a journalist for the anti-Free State side in that conflict. In the 1950s her memoirs were published in The Irish Times and she worked as a broadcaster producing a series of historical programs. She died in Dublin on 15 September 1974 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery – one of the many Republican Women of Ireland who deserve to be remembered.

Historical Happenings for July 2018 – “America’s Irish”

AMERICA’S IRISH

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

Signing of the Declaration of Independence – 1776

Independence Day, July 4, is America’s biggest holiday. It’s her birthday; but it doesn’t mark the day she won her independence, it marks the day when it was declared. And the Irish were there! We’ve often heard of the Irish in America’s Patriot Army, but there were also those who were unable to suffer the hardship of a colonial soldier yet contributed in other ways. The military won the war, but who supported the march to the battlefield? It was the settlers, merchants and community leaders who were the real shapers of our destiny, for they dreamed the dream, organized its creation, and financed its success.

In the late 1700s, England’s American colonies suffered increased Crown exploitation driving them to protest; among the loudest were the Irish who had no great love for the Crown to begin with. And there were many Irish in the American colonies; they had been coming since the 1650s. The first major influx came to New England in 1652 with the arrival of 400 Irish children sent by Cromwell to be sold as servants. From then on, the shipment of men, women and children as indentured servants was common practice. Among the first to come of their own volition were those who fought the English theft of their lands and ended up hunted men. They were followed by Catholics and Presbyterians who fled discrimination by the Church of England and lastly, by businessmen escaping the economic oppression fostered on them by the Crown to benefit their British competitors. The destruction of the Irish wool trade ruined countless families all over Ireland, while destruction of the Irish linen trade reduced the population of Ulster by tens of thousands. They came to America with their looms and spinning wheels, before the start of the American Revolution, bringing an industry that would be important to the nation awaiting birth.

In the beginning, they came in such large numbers that one Massachusetts Court, fearing the “malignant spirit that has from time to time been manifest by the Irish against the English,” prohibited the Irish from its jurisdiction and fined anyone who should buy an Irishman and bring him in. But they came anyway. Some altered their names and settled in outlying areas like the ancestor of John Hancock who came from Co Down. They also settled in New Hampshire, where they founded the town of Concord and where Capt. Maginnis commanded the militia; in Vermont, where their sons would lend strength to the Green Mountain Boys led by Irish-American John Stark and Wicklow-born Matthew Lyon; in Maine, home of the O’Briens, who would capture the first British ship in the war that was yet to come; and in Pennsylvania, founded by Wm Penn who grew up in Co. Cork and where Thompson’s Rifle Battalion became the First Regiment of the new Continental Army as Wexford-born William Thompson was appointed its first Brigadier-General on 1 March 1776.

They became the majority in many communities in Pennsylvania where a 1729 table of immigrants shows: 267 English, 43 Scots, 243 Germans, and 5,655 Irish. In 1728, it was reported that most of the 4,500 who landed at New Castle, Delaware were Irish. Philadelphia likewise reported that 3,500 people from Ireland had arrived in the first two weeks of August, 1772. The city had a Hibernian Club as early as 1729; it later became the Friendly Sons of St Patrick, whose first President was Stephen Moylan of Co Cork ─ soon to be one of Washington’s top Generals. In 1772 and 1773, Irish immigration to the American colonies was more than 18,500 and most were anxious to be rid of British colonialism.

There was no shortage of leaders either and men like Patrick Henry, Thomas McKean and other Irish-American orators used their eloquence to urge separation from England. When confrontations became frequent, it seemed that the Irish were always in the middle of it. Among those killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770 was Irish-born Patrick Carr; Boston Tea Party participants met at an inn owned by man named Duggan; and the tea was dumped at Griffin’s Wharf by a group dressed as Indians, some of whom had a notably Irish accents. While young Irishmen rushed to arms in support of Washington, Irish civilians, businessmen, and merchants participated in the deliberations of Councils and in Congress, raised money to feed and clothe the army and advance the credit of the new government. Tyrone-born Oliver Pollack personally donated more than $300,000. (close to 4.5 million today), only France and Holland gave more.

On July 1, 1776 after a year of hostilities, the leaders met to discuss their options. Some wanted to settle grievances and resume amicable relations with the Crown; others opposed them, including four Irish-born members of the Constitutional Convention and six members of Irish descent. A resolution was presented which read, “Be it resolved, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” After much heated debate, the vote was indecisive. They met again on July 2 to continue the debate and finally the ayes carried the question. On July 3, John Adams wrote to his wife that: July second was the most memorable day in the history of America and would be celebrated forever. However, approval of the final draft of the document did not occur until two days later. On 4 July, the Philadelphia State House was packed, despite a sweltering heat, as Secretary Charles Thomson of Co, Derry read the formal document that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Livingston had composed, and that he (Thomson) had drafted. It was a declaration explaining why their action was justified. After a full day of debate, modifying copy and amendments, Secretary Thomson recorded the changes, and America’s Declaration of Independence was complete.

The formal copy would not be ready for signature until August, but the public first heard that document read on 8 July 1776 by Col. John Nixon, son of a Co. Wexford immigrant. Philadelphia printer Charles Dunlap of Co. Tyrone rolled out copies that were snatched up before the ink was dry. And that is the event marked by the 4th of July ─ not the winning, but the declaring of our independence on a document. There would be many more years of struggle and sacrifice before the last battle was fought on 10 March 1783, but America had made her stand. That last battle, by the way, saw Wexford-born Commodore John Barry defeat the British ship Sybil. He had been carrying a cargo of gold with which Congress would establish the new Bank of North America with the help of Wicklow-born Thomas Fitzsimmons.

Yes the Irish were there, and the fact that that they made loyal Americans was evidenced by François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux, a Major General in the French expeditionary force led by general Comte de Rochambeau. After the Revolution, Marquis de Chastellux wrote: An Irishman, the instant he sets foot on American soil, becomes an American. During the whole of the war, English and Scots were treated with distrust even with the best of attachment for the cause, but the native of Ireland stood in need of no other certificate than his accent. While the Irish emigrant was fighting for America on land and sea, Irish merchant’s purses were always open and their persons devoted to the country’s cause, and on more than one imminent occasion Congress itself, and the very existence of America, owed its preservation to the fidelity and firmness of the Irish.

It was perhaps best said by George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of the beloved first President and Martha Washington at a St Patrick’s Day dinner in 1828. He said: Ireland’s generous sons, alike in the day of our gloom, and of our glory, shared in our misfortunes and joined in our successes; With undaunted courage (they) breasted the storm which once threatened to overwhelm us; and with aspirations deep and fervent for our cause, whether in the shock of liberty’s battles, or in the feeble expiring accents of famine and misery, cried from their hearts ‘God Save America’. Then honored be the good old service of the sons of Erin in the war of Independence. Let the shamrock be entwined with the laurels of the Revolution, and truth and justice, guiding the pen of history, inscribe on the tablets of American remembrance ‘Eternal Gratitude to Irishmen.’ GWP Custis also asked the favor that when St Patrick’s Day is annually celebrated, that some generous Irishman would place a shamrock on his grave and say, God Bless Him. Up to a few years ago, a sprig of shamrock was planted on his grave by the Washington DC AOH as they said in chorus, God Bless Him!

Historical Happenings for June 2018

From Dublin Drunk to Servant of God

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

In June the world celebrates Bloomsday, a day in the life of James Joyce’s fictional character, Leopold Bloom, as he walked the back streets of Dublin – an exercise in self indulgence which most do for the craic (merriment). Incredible as it may seem, in 1856, a man was born into those very same dirty Dublin streets who deserves more to be honored and revered than all the characters in Joyce’s book; more than even Joyce himself. His name was Matthew Talbot. One of 12 children he was reared in absolute poverty in north central Dublin at a time when there were no social services, and even water was fetched from public horse troughs. Semi-educated by the Christian Brothers who put him in a class for poor boys not likely to attend school for long; they were right for his schooling ended as soon as he found a job. A 12-year-old illiterate is lucky to find work at all, but young Matt took a job as a messenger for a wine and beer bottling company. He soon learned it was easy to help himself to a drink whenever he wanted, and by age 13, Matt Talbot was a confirmed alcoholic!

He earned a reputation as a hard worker, and for the next 15 years went from dock worker to brick layer and through it all he never stopped drinking. Alcohol claimed most of his wages, and he resorted to stealing and pawning to support his addiction. Then in 1884, Matt stayed away from work for an entire week, drinking heavily. Penniless and in debt to the local Pubs, he waited for his friends after work; surely they would buy him a drink as he had bought them many times before. But they didn’t want to know him. He found himself physically, mentally and spiritually bankrupt. He went home sober for the first time in years. He reflected on his life and concluded that it was out of control because of drink. He remembered his early religious teaching and a Pledge of Sobriety offered by the Temperance preacher, Father Theobold Matthew, a few years earlier; he decided to attempt it for three months to regain control of his life. It was a battle he was not ready for. The terrifying withdrawal symptoms of Alcoholism were not understood in those days, and Matt battled nausea, hallucination, and depression. Lost for a place to spend his non-working hours, he turned to the Church. It was the beginning of an intimacy that would last his entire life. He attended daily Mass and communion before work. When his parish changed its first Mass from 5 A.M. to 6:30, he quit his job and got a new one so that he could still start his day with a Mass. With great effort, he completed three months of sobriety. He immediately renewed the pledge for six more months, and then renewed it for life.

His willingness to work hard, assured him of work when there wasn’t much around. His spare time was spent in church or religious reading. The heavy drinking of his father and brothers showed him a side of drink he had never seen, and he left home to live alone in a one-room flat. When work and church were done for the day, Matt would retire to his room to read and pray. His sister Susan recalled that in his free time he was never off his knees. Though privately he was a very serious and penitent person, at work he was pleasant and outgoing. Co-workers remember him as a conscientious, strong, yet gentle man who smiled at everything except an off-color joke.

His work habits earned him above-average wages, which he gave away to his poor neighbors and to charities as far away as Father Drumgoole’s Catholic Orphanage in New York. He kept only 50 pence a week for his needs were few. As history was being recorded around him, Matt Talbot prayed for his fellow man. During the violent Tramworkers Strike of 1913, he shared his wages with the families of the men on strike, and during the Easter Rising of 1916, he made his way through the bombs, bullets and barricades to attend daily Mass.

In 1920, at age 67, he was hospitalized with a heart condition. Placed on light work through the intercession of friends, he continued sharing his wages until June 7, 1925. On his way to Mass, Matt Talbot suffered a massive heart attack and died on a Dublin street. While undressing his body, hospital attendants found a heavy chain around his waist, another around his arm, and yet another around his leg; he had worn them beneath his clothes as a reminder that he was a slave to Jesus. This remarkable discovery prompted an inquiry which disclosed a secret life of devotion and penance. His room had no more than the bare necessities of a monastic cell: an iron bed, a slab of wood for a mattress, covered with a half-blanket, a chair, table and crucifix. His meals consisted of dry bread and cold tea or cocoa taken three times a day, with some cold fish added for dinner; he spent his leisure time in prayer and study. Had he died at home, he may have remained unknown; instead, he became an inspiration to those who feel too weak to turn their backs on earthly pleasures. As his story spread, he became an icon for Ireland’s Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and soon became known to Irish communities and addiction clinics, youth hostels and more, from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney, have been named after him.

Today, there is a Matt Talbot Movement, under the direction of the Redemptorists, which consists of more than 144,000 people in Ireland, America, and Canada. And the source of that inspiration is Matt Talbot, a drunk who grew up in Leopold Bloom’s Dublin. A leader of Ireland’s Transport and General Workers Union, Stephen McGonagle, describes him as a beacon of light to Irish workers. A statue of Matt Talbot now stands at the south end of the Liffey by the bridge named after him. In 1931, a sworn inquiry was opened into claims of holiness; in 1947 the Apostolic Process at the Vatican began; in 1952 his remains were reinterred in a vault beneath the O’Connell monument at Glasnevin cemetery; and on October 3, 1975 Pope Paul VI declared him Venerable Matt Talbot, the first step on the road to sainthood – not bad for a one-time drunken Dublin dock walloper who finally found God.

Historical Happenings for May 2018

It Happened in May

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On 16 May 1997, Brit Prime Minister, Tony Blair, visited Northern Ireland and gave the go ahead for exploratory contacts between government officials and Sinn Féin.  Working alongside US Special Envoy George Mitchell, Martin McGuinness was one of the main architects of an agreement that would bring peace to Northern Ireland.  A year later, in May 1998, on a visit to Dublin, members of our National Board, including Ed Wallace, George Clough, Dave Burke, Bob Collins and myself were invited to the State House for a discussion on that new agreement, which had just been reached the month earlier on Good Friday, 10 April.  They requested the AOH to organize Irish-American support for the agreement that would come to be known as The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) for it called for an honorable end to 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. The month of May was also significant for it was ratified in a referendum on 10 May 1998, as members of Sinn Féin voted to accept that peace agreement, effectively acknowledging the north-south border. The agreement set up a power-sharing assembly to govern Northern Ireland by cross-community consent.  It also called for a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The agreement was made between the British and Irish governments and eight political parties or groupings from Northern Ireland; the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the GFA.

The agreement recognized that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and would remain so until a majority of the people both of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under “a binding obligation” to implement that choice.  The agreement also confirmed a commitment to “the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community”. The multi-party agreement specifically recognized “the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity”, especially in relation to the Irish language, Ulster Scots, and the languages of other ethnic minorities, “all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland”.

On 19 May 1998, SDLP leader John Hume and his Unionist counterpart, David Trimble, joined U2 on stage at a concert in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall to drum up support for a massive Yes vote in an upcoming referendum on the agreement.  On 22 May, the Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed in two referendums: North (71%) and South (94%).  On 24 May, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams signaled that the war was over and that the gun could finally be removed from Irish politics.

A date of May 2000 was set for total disarming of all paramilitary groups. This was not achieved leading the assembly to be suspended on a number of occasions as a consequence of unionist objections. A series of rounds of decommissioning by the IRA took place in October 2001, April 2002, October 2003 and in July 2005 the IRA finally announced the formal end of its campaign. Loyalist decommissioning did not immediately follow.

The deal proved difficult to implement and was amended by the St Andrew’s Agreement in 2006.  Key elements of that agreement included the full acceptance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) by Sinn Féin, restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a commitment by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to power-sharing with Irish republicans in the Northern Ireland Executive.

On 8 May 2007 the Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness marked the end of almost four decades of conflict as they were formally appointed First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, British prime minister Tony Blair and other dignitaries, including former US president Bill Clinton and US Senator Ted Kennedy, witnessed the creation of a power-sharing government led by political polar opposites of the DUP and Sinn Féin. This was the first time that Northern Ireland was run by a government in which the main nationalist and unionist parties agreed to operate together.

In June 2009, the UVF announced it had completed decommissioning and the UDA said it had started to decommission its arsenal.  However after the death of Ian Paisley a number of scandals regarding DUP leaders led to Party resignations and on 17 December 2015, Arlene Foster became leader of the DUP and served as First Minister with Martin McGuinness.  Another round of DUP scandals led to McGuinness resigning as Deputy First Minister on 9 January 2017 in a protest over a DUP debacle in which businesses were given a financial incentive to burn resources needlessly and power-sharing collapsed.  It has been 20 years since AOH leaders sat with Dublin politicians and promised to support the GFA.  God knows, we are still trying.

Historical Happenings for April 2018

Paddy

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

By Nheyob - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39732088The name Patrick is one of the most popular names in Ireland, and that is quite understandable that parents would name their offspring after our patron saint.  In the Irish language, the name is spelled Padraic, which accounts for the nickname Paddy, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as Paddy Noonan and Paddy Moloney will tell you.  However, when an otherwise innocent word is used as a derogatory term to denigrate an entire race or nationality, it becomes a racial slur.

There is nothing wrong with `negro‘, the French word for black; and not all of our black brethren came from Nigeria, but the collective term, derived from either or both of those words, which was used to denote an entire race is an example of prejudice at its worst and insults our God-given intelligence.  Even sadder is when some members of the insulted nationality use that term themselves in ignorance of its meaning, or to impress those who employ them or for their own economic benefit.

Thankfully, anti-defamation groups within many nationalities have eliminated most of those terms from our national vocabulary by voicing objections to their use, whenever and wherever they appear, even when it’s not intended as an insult.  It was simply a process of education.

There was a time when all Irish were collectively referred to as Paddies, and it wasn’t always a nickname for Patrick used by a friend.  Just ask any Irishman who emigrated to England.  Mick is another term that was used.  It originated because so many Irish carried Mc (a Gaelic term meaning `son of ) as a preface to their names.  Even though the words, Paddy and Mick, are not unusual, the use of those terms in a derogatory manner made them a racial slur that carried the connotation that those whom it described were inferior.  It was associated with a stereo-typical character, unskilled, unlettered, and alcoholic.  As in most cases it was not the word that offended, but the stereotype that it represented.

Here in America, we are many years and many miles from the source of those terms, but that stereotypical `stage Irishman’ crossed the seas and almost became a part of our American culture.  In the early 1800s Irishmen were regularly portrayed with monkey-like features in Harper’s Magazine.  Fortunately, that has changed, and I dare say that no one intends an insult when they refer to March 17 as Paddy’s Day, nor do they know that it originally meant a day celebrated by the Paddies.  Otherwise who would advertise a Paddy’s Day Dance and expect a good attendance by the Irish.  Like other races that have fought the use of such terms, the Irish defeated the derogatory meaning by proving their worth in the lands where they settled, as well as in Ireland after Independence.  As for the unskilled, unlettered, alcoholic stage Irish image: museums around the world, hosting exhibitions of creative Celtic and Irish art, have helped to defeat the notion of unskilled; the fact that one Irish city has produced more Nobel Prizewinners in literature than most other countries, has defeated the impression of illiteracy; and recent EEC surveys show Ireland to have not only the highest percentage non-drinking population in Europe, but the second lowest nation for alcohol consumption with only 2.2 gallons per year.  Maybe we can document that we never deserved to be known as Paddies, but the stereotypical Stage Irishman unfortunately can still be found from time to time, often on St. Patrick’s Day cards.

While we have altered the meaning of Paddy as it is applied to Irishmen, there are still two issues we should oppose — and oppose vehemently.  One is the use of that stereotypical stage Irish image on signs, posters, and greeting cards; the other is the application of the term Paddy to our Patron Saint.  Even if no malicious meaning is intended, our patron saint should not be referred to by a nickname.  Our Italian brethren never call St. Anthony, St. Tony, nor do our Scottish cousins refer to St. Andy or St. Maggie.

To avoid sounding paranoid, I hasten to add that this practice is done more through ignorance than malice, so it calls for education.  If we hold St. Patrick in the reverent honor to which he is entitled, then let us protect his name, and let those who designate him as St. Paddy hear from us by mail or phone or in person.  Educate them to our feelings, and they will avoid that mistake in the future.  If we are effective, we shall never again see the insulting image of a bumbling drunk to represent us and our families, and we shall never hear the term St. Paddy’s Day again. . . As for the term Paddies itself, it should be a source of pride that we were able to change its meaning simply by exhibiting our true character.  It’s like the term Narrowback: originally a derogatory term to signify American-born Irish who were not as strong and as broad-shouldered as their immigrant fathers.  Today, it signifies the proud combination of American by birth and Irish by the Grace of God.

Historical Happenings for March 2018

MARCH’S SIBLINGS FOR FREEDOM

By Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Terence James MacSwiney (McSweeney) was born on 28 March 1879.  Playwright, author and politician, in 1901 he helped found the Celtic Literary Society and in 1908 the Cork Dramatic Society and wrote several plays. He also wrote pamphlets on Irish history. His writings in Irish Freedom brought him to the attention of the IRB and he became a founder of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founded a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it was suppressed after 11 issues. In 1916, he was to be second in command of the Easter Rising locally, but stood down on the order of Eoin MacNeill. In the internment sweep following the rising, he was imprisoned in Wakefield, moved to Frongoch, called ‘The University of Revolution’ and finally to Reading Jail, where he remained until December 1916. On his release, he resumed activity with the Volunteers and was again lifted in February 1917.  He was in internment camps until in June 1917. He returned to Cork and in November 1917, was arrested for wearing an Irish Republican Army uniform. Inspired by Thomas Ashe, he went on a hunger strike and was released four days later. In the December, 1918 general election at the end of WWI, he was elected unopposed as TD for Mid-Cork and took an active part in the formation of the first Dáil Eireann serving on the Foreign Affairs committee organizing the Dáil loan to finance the Republican government. His friend Tomás MacCurtain was elected Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, but was murdered in his home by disguised members of the Royal Irish Constabulary. MacSwiney was then elected Lord Mayor of Cork to succeed him.

On 12 August 1920, he was arrested for possessing seditious documents, court martialed and sentenced to two years’ in Brixton Prison. He immediately started a hunger strike to protest being tried by a military court. Eleven Republican prisoners in Cork Jail went on hunger strike with him. On the 39th day of his hunger strike, he wrote in a letter to Cathal Brugha, If I die I know the fruit will exceed the cost a thousand fold. The thought of it makes me happy. I thank God for it. Ah, Cathal, the pain of Easter week is properly dead at last. The pain he referred to was his anguish at not having played a part in the 1916 Easter Rising. He also wrote, It is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can suffer the most who will conquer. On 26 August, as Thomas starved, the British felt that the release of the Lord Mayor would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in Ireland. MacSwiney’s hunger strike gained world-wide attention. The British government was threatened with a boycott of British goods by America, while four countries in South America appealed to the Pope to intervene; protests were also held in Germany and France. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, was expelled from the Australian parliament after condemning the actions of the British.

MacSwiney died on 25 October 1920 after 74 days on hunger strike. His death brought him and the Irish struggle to international attention. India’s Jawaharlal Nehru took inspiration from MacSwiney’s example and Mahatma Gandhi counted him among his influences. Even future North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, who was working in London at the time of MacSwiney’s death, said of him, A nation that has such citizens will never surrender.

Nine years his senior, Terence’s sister Mary had also been born in March; on the 21st in 1872.  After the death of their mother, she became the maternal caretaker of her baby brothers and sister and was as much a patriot as they were in later life sharing MacSwiney values and courage. Educated in the Ursuline Convent, she trained as a teacher at Cambridge University. She taught in Cork where she became a founding member of the suffragist Munster Women’s Franchise League and a member of the Gaelic League. In 1914, she helped found Cumann na mBan and became President of the Cork branch and National Vice-President of the organization for which she was also interned after the 1916 Rising. As a result of her imprisonment, Mary lost her teaching job and in 1917 she and her sister Annie founded St. Ita’s School for girls in Cork City, a sister-school to Padraic Pearse’s St. Enda’s in Dublin, where all subjects were taught in Irish. In 1917, she joined Sinn Féin and in 1918 was elected to the First Dáil for Cork. She was Vice-President of Cumann na mBan when they voted against supporting the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. She was also appointed to the Cabinet of the Second Dáil in 1922 and was twice imprisoned during the Civil War fighting on the side of a full independent 32-county Ireland. Like her brother, she underwent a 21-day hunger-strike in Mountjoy Jail. On 21 November 1922, her younger sister, Annie, was refused permission to see Mary so she  encamped at the prison gates and went on hunger strike as well!  Mary was released, but retaken again and held in Kilmainham Jail where this time she went on a 24-day hunger-strike. After her release she continued to maintain a republican position until her death on 8 March 1942; by then she was vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan.

Their brother Seán, also born in March, on the 19th in 1878, was an officer in the IRA and Sinn Féin politician. During the Irish War of Independence, he served as an officer in Cork No 1 Brigade. Captured in 1921, he was sentenced to death, later commuted to 15 years’ penal servitude, but in April 1921, he escaped. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and during the Irish Civil War, was quartermaster for the 1st Southern Division of the anti-Treaty IRA and served on the IRA executive. He evaded capture until after the IRA called a cease fire. In 1933, standing on a Republican ticket, he was elected to the Cork Corporation and died at Glenvera hospital, Cork on 22 January, 1942.  The month of March was a big month for birthdays in the MacSwiney household and they all had a part in Ireland’s birthday.

Historical Happenings for February 2018

A PROMISE FULFILLED

By Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Stagg Grave

Republican Plot Memorial, Leigue Cemetery, Ballina, Co. Mayo

On 12 February, 1976, Ireland lost a patriot son.  His name was Frank Stagg of County Mayo.  He was from a long line of Irish patriots as his father had fought in both the War of Independence and the Civil War.  In the 1970s, Frank emigrated to London, where he worked as a bus conductor.  He joined Sinn Féin in 1972 and shortly thereafter joined the IRA.  In April 1973, he was arrested in Coventry and, under archaic Conspiracy Laws used to convict IRA members when there was a lack of hard evidence, Frank Stagg, Father Patrick Fell, and five others were convicted of conspiracy to commit arson and given 10-year sentences.  Taken to Albany Prison, Frank was frequently punished with solitary confinement for claiming political prisoner status and refusing to don the uniform or do the work assigned to criminals.

In March 1974, he was moved to Parkhurst Prison, with fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan.  Together, they joined a hunger strike in support of the fight begun by Marion and Dolores Price in Brixton prison demanding political prisoner status and repatriation to Ireland to be near family.  All were force fed by authorities, despite the fact that such methods had been condemned by Amnesty International and the Court of Human Rights.  Eventually, the strikers were repatriated to Northern Ireland except for a few that included Stagg and Gaughan.  Both men continued to suffer forced feeding.  According to the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee, six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the (back of the) prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between his or her teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.  After 64 days of this torture, Michael Gaughan died on June 3 at age 24 weighing just 84 pounds.  The Brits said he died of pneumonia, but it was found that he died from infection by food lodged in a lung punctured by a feeding tube.

His coffin, draped in the same Tricolor that was used for hunger-strike Mayor Terence McSwiney’s funeral 54 years earlier, was carried in solemn procession across Ireland to Leigue Cemetery in Ballina where he was given a full military burial and laid to rest in the Republican plot.  Thousands turned out to pay their respects in Dublin and along the route to his final resting place in Mayo.

Following Gaughan’s death, negotiations began and the hunger strike was called off.  But the talks were a ruse just to halt the strike and prevent more deaths which were being highly publicized.  Instead of meeting the prisoner’s demands, the authorities moved Frank Stagg to a solitary confinement punishment cell in Wakefield Prison, where he remained under 23-hour lockdown with no furniture, radio, newspapers nor cigarettes, and was prevented from sleeping by a bright light in his cell day and night.  On 14 December 1975, a worn Frank Stagg began his final hunger strike for repatriation.  He battled starvation for 62 days before he died on 12 February 1976 – again from forced feeding.  His last request was to be buried next to my republican colleagues and comrade, Michael Gaughan. Embarrassed by the public demonstration at Gaughan’s funeral, the Fine Gael/Labour Government moved to avoid the prospect of another high-profile funeral of an IRA Volunteer.

As Stagg’s widow and friends waited at Dublin airport to receive his remains as instructed, the plane carrying Frank’s body home flew right over them.  It had been diverted to Shannon where Gardaí Special Branch seized the coffin.  It was removed by helicopter to a small cemetery near Ballina and buried far from the Republican Plot under massive state security, on Feb 21, 1976.  1,600 police and soldiers couldn’t stop the IRA from firing a volley of shots over the grave in Frank’s honor as 6 to 7 thousand people threw rocks at the police and soldiers at the funeral.  As far away as America, 3,000 people marched through New York City and over 1,000 attended a special mass in Boston for the martyred patriot.

In Ballina, the grave was filled with six feet of concrete and a 24-hour guard was posted to prevent the removal of the coffin and the fulfillment of Stagg’s last wish.   A Requiem Mass was allowed to the family, but they boycotted it in protest.  The following Sunday, the Republican Movement held its own ceremony at the republican Plot, despite a massive police presence.  A volley was fired following an oration by the late Joe Cahill who made an emotional promise to the fallen patriot.  He said: I pledge that we will assemble here again in the near future when we have taken your body from where it lies.  Let there be no mistake about it, we will take it, Frank, and we will leave it resting side by side with your great comrade, Michael Gaughan.

For six months, all was quiet and the government, finding it hard to justify the expense of a 24-hour guard on a dead IRA volunteer, removed the guard.  Then, on the night of November 6th, 1976, a group came to dig a grave in the plot next to the Stagg grave, presumably preparing for a new burial.  The plot had actually been purchased months earlier by Frank’s brother, George.  When the grave was deep enough, they tunneled horizontally, beneath the concrete covering Frank Stagg’s coffin, and quietly removed it.  Frank Stagg was re-buried as he had wished, next to Michael Gaughan in the Republican plot, where a Catholic Priest led a litany of prayers and his comrades fired a volley of shots over him.  In his honor, Seamus Robinson of Belfast, who had written the song TAKE ME HOME TO MAYO for Michael Gaughan, composed a song BRAVE FRANK STAGG. Today there are 3 graves with the Stagg name on them: The empty concreted grave with the original tombstone, an empty grave bought by his brother, and a Republican grave next to that of Michael Gaughan where Frank now rests and where Sinn Fein annually makes pilgrimages.  Joe Cahill had kept his promise.

Historical Happenings for January 2018

JOHN O’NEILL

by Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

On 8 January, 1878 – 140 years ago – General John O’Neill breathed his last in Omaha, Nebraska.  Today, his memorial is greater than a tombstone and even greater than a monument – it’s an entire City!  O’Neill, Nebraska is the county seat of Holt County and Nebraska’s Irish Capital; it also has the world’s largest permanent shamrock, made of green-tinted concrete, covering the entire main intersection of the city. Who was this man that he be remembered so proudly?

John O’Neill was born in Drumgallon, Co. Monaghan, on 9 March 1834 to John and Mary O’Neill. His father died six weeks before he was born. His mother, unable to make a living in Ireland, emigrated to the United States in 1835 with two children, settling in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  John stayed with his grandfather, a staunch supporter of Irish Nationalism with a deep hatred of Englands presence in Ireland.  The grandfather saw to it that his grandson received a good education and made sure that he knew Irish history.  In December 1848, at 14, filled with his grandfather’s views on England, John left to join his mother.  After arriving in New Jersey he completed his education and took a job with a Catholic publishing company as a salesman.  He traveled throughout New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. 

In 1855, he settled in Richmond, Virginia and opened a bookstore.  To meet other Irish exiles who shared his antipathy toward England, he joined the local branch of the Emmet Monument Association founded to train men who would free Ireland.  In 1857, he enlisted in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons and served in the Utah War (May 1857 – July 1858), afterward moving to California where he met his future wife Mary Crow, an Australian of Irish parentage.  He later joined the 1st Cavalry and from March to July of 1862 served as a sergeant in the American Civil War’s Peninsular Campaign.  On 27 June, O’Neill was promoted from sergeant to second lieutenant for gallantry.  In 1863 he was promoted to first lieutenant in the Fifth Indiana Cavalry for his courageous leadership.  In December, he received a citation for bravery at Walker’s Ford, where he was wounded in the leg.  In the summer of 1864 he was appointed Captain in the 17th United States Colored Infantry, but was forced to resign due to the wound received the previous year.  Later that year he married Mary and settled in Nashville where they had three children over a span of ten years.

While in Tennessee, O’Neill reconnected with the Emmet Monument Association which had now become the Fenian Brotherhood.  When the Fenians split over the best way to free Ireland, he aligned himself with the group who wanted to invade Canada and hold it hostage for Ireland’s freedom.  He said, I have always believed in striking at England wherever we could reach her, and wherever the English flag floats and the English government is recognized and there are English soldiers in arms to defend the flag and maintain the government.  I hold that the Irish people, particularly the Irish Exiles whom her oppressive laws have driven from their native land, have a right to go there and make war on England.

General Tom Sweeny, a native of County Cork, was in charge of a plan which included a series of co-coordinated raids from Chicago, Buffalo and Maine.  Command of the Buffalo expedition was entrusted to O’Neill who crossed the Niagara River at the head of 800 men on the night of 31 May 1866 and captured Fort Erie.  He moved to Ridgeway where he defeated a British and Canadian force.  In the end the invasion was stopped by U.S. authorities who blocked supplies and reinforcements at the border.  The other crossings were also stopped.  Ridgeway made O’Neill a Fenian hero as it was the only success in the many Fenian campaigns against Canada.  The Brotherhood appointed him ‘General of the Irish Republican Army.’ and he became president at the end of 1867.  After two more failed attempts in May 1870 and October 1871, he turned his attention to his other great passion – the resettlement of Irish families from the slums of eastern cities.

He traveled throughout the west in search of the best place to settle and decided on Nebraska as it possessed an abundance of pure water, fertile land and millions of acres of free government land.  In 1874, O’Neill embarked on a lecture tour along the east coast, offering his impoverished countrymen a better standard of living if they would resettle with him in Nebraska.  He was convinced they could succeed in rural America better than in the poverty of the miserable slums in which they then resided.  In his lectures, he quoted from the writing of the Reverend Stephen Byrne, OSD, Let the crowded tenement houses of eastern cities, where the very atmosphere is poisoned by the occupancy in one house of 20 to 40 families and where morality itself is greatly endangered on account of association that cannot be avoided, answer.  Let the unnamed and unnumbered graves along the canals and railroads of the United States, answer.  Let the forlorn and forgotten creatures who, having neither homes nor friends, lie down and die in the common hospitals of the country, answer.  The response comes home to us in a hundred forms that as a people, while doing more than any other to build up this great Republic, we have been negligent, not to say reckless, in regard to our individual interests.

O’Neill set up the first Irish colony in Nebraska in Holt County in the city that today bears his name – O’Neill, Nebraska. His second colony in Greenley County was seen by him as just the start of many that would cover America’s plains with Irish families.  His legacy still exists in those successful farming communities especially in the spirit of Irish generosity that is part of their culture today.  In 1877 while on a speaking tour, John O’Neill the consummate Irish and American patriot, became ill and returned home to Nebraska.  His condition continued to deteriorate and after being admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Omaha in November, he suffered a stroke and died on 8 January 1878.

Historical Happenings for December 2017

SANTA CLAUS SLEEPS IN IRELAND

by Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

St. Nicholas was a fourth century native of Patara which, at the time was Greek and is now on the south coast of Turkey. He was very generous and devoted his significant inheritance to works of charity B especially to orphaned children. He became a monk, an abbot, then an Archbishop. In December, 342, he went home to God and was later canonized by the Church. His unselfish life was so inspiring that in his memory people continued his generosity each year on the anniversary of his passing. Thus was kept alive his spirit of giving and the legend of Santa Claus (sant niclaus) was born. As long as his spirit of generosity lives on, so too does Santa Claus as his story spread across Europe and eventually the world. Centuries after his passing, the bones of St. Nicholas were re-interred in Bari, Italy where they are honored to this day. However that is not the end of the story.

Centuries after St. Nicholas passing, the Normans invaded and settled in Ireland. When Pope Urban II called for volunteers to join a crusade to free the Holy Land, Norman knights who had settled in Kilkenny were among those who answered the call, joining Normans from many other lands, including Italy. Upon their return to Ireland in the 1300’s, two of the Normans brought with them all or part of the earthly remains of St. Nicholas and had them re-interred in the Church of St Nicholas in the village of Newtown, according to stories in the 1997 issue of the Co. Kilkenny Review; the December, 2002 issue of the Cork Holly Bough; and website www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/ireland.

Church of St Nicholas

Church of St Nicholas

The church of St. Nicholas fell to ruin by the 17th century. However, it is known that the Normans were keen collectors of religious relics supporting the story that Irish Normans could have bartered all or part of the relics for their own Church of St Nicholas. Further, Newtown was the home of Jerpoint Abbey, a launching point for Irish-Norman crusaders and the ruined church, just west of the Abbey, contains an unusual grave slab dating to the 1300’s. It is carved with an image of a Bishop and two heads. The Bishop is said to be St. Nicholas and the two heads are the two Crusaders who brought his remains to Ireland. We may never know the names of the Crusaders, but this famous poem by Bill Watkins commemorates the story:

Tomb of St. Nicholas

Tomb of St. Nicholas

Where lie the bones of Santa Claus?
To what holy spot each pilgrim draws?
Which crypt conceals his pious remains
safe from the wild wind, snows and rains?
It’s not in Rome his body lies
nor under Egypt’s azure skies;
not in Constantinople nor Madrid
his reliquary and bones are hid.
That saint protector of the child
whose relics pure lie undefiled;
his casket safe within it’s shrine
where shamrocks grow and rose entwine.
Devout wayfarer, cease your search
for in Kilkenny’s ancient church
Saint Nicholas’ sepulcher is found
enshrined in Ireland’s holy ground.
So traveler rest and pray a while
to the patron saint of orphaned child
whose bones were brought to Ireland’s shore
safe from the Vandal, Hun and Moor.
Here lie the bones of Santa Claus
secure beneath these marble floors.
So gentle pilgrim, hear the call
and may Saint Nicholas bless you all.