It was a truly historic weekend as members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and their friends gathered in New York to celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Order. Although it wasn’t until 1853 that the name Ancient Order of Hibernians was officially adopted, the organization grew out of a fusion of fraternal societies from Pennsylvania and New York which met in 1836 near Old St. James Church on James Street, later renamed AOH Way for the 150th Anniversary of the Order. It is from that point that the AOH dates its origin.
The weekend began with the hospitality of Ireland’s Consul General to New York, Noel Kilkenny and his lovely wife, Honora, at their rooftop residence in mid-town Manhattan overlooking Robert Moses Park and the East River. As traditional musicians, Scott Mattey, Stephen Gara, Donie Carrol and Jimmy O’Neill provided lively Irish tunes, an endless parade of hors d’ouvres and canopes paraded through the assembled guests – a literal who’s who of Irish America – gathered to congratulate the AOH on its milestone. As the sun set over a breathtaking view of Manhattan’s lights emerging like an earthly constellation, AOH Div 7 invited all to a buffet dinner sponsored by the New York County Board at their nearby local ‘The Black Sheep Pub and Restaurant’ where the gaiety went on. Irish Counsel General in New York Noel Kilkenny It is a huge honor for me to join you in celebrating 175 years of service to Ireland, Irish America, and your communities. I have seen the work you do and read about your York history. And now you are celebrating 175 years of what you have done for the Irish. The Irish in the past when things weren’t easy – in fact when it as very dangerous to be Irish here in this city and right across this country. It is an occasion to celebrate that, to celebrate what you have achieved. And you have achieved so much. What about today? As I travel around I see the AOH in action today and yesterday, and please God tomorrow – not only in your Divisions but in almost every facet of Irish life in this city, Irish) I have found AOH members at the center of it: they have founding it they have funded it, they have supported it, they have volunteered in it. So as an organization you have a glorious past, but you also have a great presence… But what of tomorrow Hibernians? What of next year? What of 30 years from now? He added, Kilkenny called on Hibernians to plan for the next 175 years. You are the largest Irish organization in this country – you are coast to coast – you are in every city, in every community. future of the Hibernians is not the bloodline from Ireland but is the children and grandchildren of our members. He called on the AOH to hare with them your history engage them in your communities, encourage them to join divisions and to have to play their part in Irish America and to think to the future. The Irish government is here and we want you to re-engage in Ireland.
On Saturday morning, the gates of the city opened wide to receive hundreds of Hibernian men and women from as far away as Pittsburgh, Rhode Island and New Orleans and they formed up on Mulberry Street, just north of the infamous Mulberry Bend. The Bend was one of the worst parts of the old Five Points neighborhood in which arriving Irish immigrants were forced to live in the 1840s and 50s with many notorious back alleys like Bandit’s Roost, Bottle Alley and Ragpicker’s Row. The Bend is gone now, replaced by Mulberry Bend Park and so are the Irish who were forced to live there in more biased times. Just as the Irish marched out of the Five Points into American prosperity, the AOH paraded north on Mulberry Street to the church that has become the icon of the Irish experience in New York – the Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral – accompanied by four Hibernian Pipe Bands: Tara Pipes and Drums, Siol na hEireann, Glor na Gael and Orange County AOH Pipe Band.
Back in 1844, when Archbishop Hughes had called on the fledgling AOH to protect his church from a nativist threat, armed Hibernians lined the street in front of the Cathedral; on this day Hibernians again lined the street in front of the Cathedral, but this time it was Hibernian Pipe Bands and they were armed with pipes and drums; the massed band performance they provided would have made Archbishop Hughes proud. The Mass in honor of the AOH milestone con-celebrated by the Pastor Monsignor Sakano, AOH National and Deputy National Chaplains, O’Donnell and Reid, and several AOH Chaplains and sung by the Hibernian Festival Singers.
Father O’Donnell’s homily read like a history lesson drawing in this wonderful spiritualism into the hearts of those gathered. The 175 year history of the AOH is intimately connected to the history of Old St Patrick’s Basilica. If it were not for the Irish and the Ancient Order of Hibernians the other historic events of this church may not have been possible. In the 1830s there was a great deal of anti-catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment. The need to defend the Cathedral against mob violence was not uncommon. The “Know Nothing Party” organized Protestants to march against the Cathedral. Mobs and vigilante groups shouted anti-catholic epitaphs threatened the Cathedral and vowed to burn the Cathedral to the ground. At this point Archbishop Hughes enlisted the Irish and in particular the Ancient Order of Hibernians to surround the walls of the Cathedral and safeguard the church. Then Archbishop Hughes wrote to the New York Mayor and told him, “Should one Catholic come to harm, or should one business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow.” Although the AOH was able to save the Cathedral, they were not able to prevent the anti-papist mob who stoned the beautiful stained glass windows of both the church and the Bishops residence. For 175 years the Ancient Order of Hibernians has continued to defend the church and its priests during times of both peace and turbulence.
Just as all of us who make up the Body of Christ give life to the bricks, stone, wood and steel of a church, likewise, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is more than just the AOH logo on a division building or the AOH emblem on the top of stationary. Just as we are the living and breathing members of the Church so we must give live to our Hibernian virtues of Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity. As members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians when we perform the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in our everyday lives, we are Christ to others. We are Christ when we protect the dignity of Human life from the first moment of conception until the time when our heavenly Father summons us to the Eternal Kingdom. We are Christ to the world when we provide clothing for the homeless, provide meals for the hungry, and work at food banks so that poor families may have some nourishing meals. We are Chris when we support the various Hibernian Charities not only by our material donations but by the gift of ourselves. We are Christ when we fight for fair immigration laws not only for the Irish immigrants but for every immigrant who legally wishes to pursue freedom and the American dream. We are Christ when we support seminarians and novices through Project St. Patrick and enable these men and women to pursue their vocations. We are Christ when we provide scholarship funds for deserving students who wish to pursue their academic dreams. We are Christ when we continue to fight for a free and independent Ireland so that perhaps by the centennial of the Easter Rising in 2016 we will have a united, free and independent Ireland.
As Hibernians we are alive, we are grateful for the glorious years of our past, but we must continue to be active in the present and be dynamically committed to the future because years from now we need future Hibernians to look back on us with the same aw with which we have looked back at 175 years of faithful and committed people.
The Mass was sung by the Hibernian Festival Choir under the direction of Maura Allen. This choir has performed at the White House and at many venues in Ireland, Canada and the U.S. and has always added to the solemnity of the liturgy. Ancient Order of Hibernians members were ushers and deacons who along with the altar servers under the guidance of a committee headed by past national director Martin Kelly of Brooklyn. Gifts presented by member Hibernians during the Mass included bread and wine, and in addition, a stature of St. Patrick, flags of the United States and Ireland, turf and potatoes, a model ship, and a Celtic cross.
After Mass, Monsignor Sakano invited all in attendance to a feast in the activities yard of the adjacent St. Patrick’s School where traditional music, food and beverage were plentiful and awards were presented to those responsible for the celebration. Hundreds of Hibernians and guests packed the old schools courtyard for food and drink and craic. All were entertained by the band Celtic Justice and individual performers that included fiddler Scott Mettey and others. The reception will be chaired by Sir Patrick Allen, a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and a brother Hibernian. Awards that included special plaques with bricks from the original church wall built by the original Hibernians were presented to the committee members who prganized the celebration.
Sunday morning dawned with the men and ladies of the AOH making their way to the tip of Manhattan and the oldest parish church in New York – St. Peter’ Church where a Mass was celebrated in memory of those AOH members and other victims of the cowardly attack on the World Trade Center right next door to the church. After the Mass, a wreath was laid at the steel I-beam which remained standing amid the carnage in the shape of a cross and which has become an icon of faith and determination to recover. It stands adjacent to St. Peter’s Church which is where Father Mychal Judge was carried after he was killed administering to the victims.
The day concluded with a visit to the Great Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City as part of the AOH New York remembrance of the International Hunger Memorial Commemoration. As ceremonies took place all over the world in May to the memory of those victims of An Gorta Mor, the AOH National Board laid a wreath to the memory of the victims of that tragedy at the impressive memorial at New York Harbor.