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 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.

New York News

John F. Kennedy, Division #1, Schenectady New York, to Host Celebration

The Schenectady Ancient Order of Hibernians will be hosting the 3rd Annual Celtic Faire – A Celebration of the Seven Nations, from Noon until 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 12, 2010. The Faire is designed to acquaint the attendees with Celtic food, music, culture, and heritage. The Faire will be located on the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall from State Street to City Hall in Downtown Schenectady. Music stages at each end of the Mall will feature local Celtic bands Flynn 529, St. James’ Gate, Who’s Your Paddy?, Emerald Dawn and more. Performances by the Schenectady and Albany Pipe Bands and the step dancers from Farrell’s School of Dance will round out the entertainment.  There will be food and craft vendors; a local farmers’ market; and children’s activities. A Bonnie Knees contest will be held in front of Lennon’s Irish Shop over the course of the day. The highlight of the event will be the drawing for the grand prize in the Faire raffle, a trip for two to Ireland, on June 25th. Tickets are $15 or 2 for $25, and are available by email request. The Faire is sponsored by The Gazette, Guinness and Coors Light. For more information, contact at celticfaireaoh@yahoo.com or www.aohjfk.org.

Pearl River Celebrates Irish American Heritage Month

In recognition of March being Irish American Heritage Month, Dermot Moore, the president of Division III of Pearl River, NY presented the trustees of the Pearl River Library with a check for $300.00.  The money was used to purchase books and CDs related to Irish Heritage to add to the library’s holdings. The Division worked with the staff to select appropriate materials covering topics as diverse as Newgrange, the role of the Cumann na mBan and a biography of Fr. Duffy and music from O’Carolan to Clannad.  The Library showed its appreciation by the display of a large poster throughout March, drawing attention to the AOH’s gift and recognizing March as Irish American Heritage Month.  The Division hopes that these books and CDs will help convey the message of the important role played by the Irish and Irish Americans not only in March, but throughout the year.

Check Presentation

Check Presentation

Albany AOH Honors Division Chaplain

Fr. Capistran Hanlon, O.F.M., long time Chaplain of The Father Henry Tansey Division #5 in Albany, NY, was honored at a reception sponsored by Siena College and AOH Division #5.  Fr. Capistran retired from active duty as Division Chaplain as well as recently retiring from Siena College as a Sociology Professor.  Fr. Capistran faithfully served as AOH Division #5 Chaplain since 1982, shortly after the tragic and sudden death of his close friend and AOH Division #5

Chaplain Father Henry Tansey. Fr. Capistran, a native of Rutherford, NJ, entered the Franciscan Order in 1953 and was ordained to the priesthood on March 12, 1960. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado and is a retired Professor of Sociology at Siena. He has published widely in his field and is well known for his work with the native peoples in Arizona. Along with his teaching ministry, Capistran helps in parishes in the Albany Diocese by celebrating liturgy and preaching; he has been Vicar in the Siena Friary for eight years, and served as Chaplain to the Colonie Police Department. Fr. Capistran is well-known in the Capital District for his continued support and dedication to the Irish American community as a Hibernian but he was also active with the Albany Police Pipe & Drum Band and was supportive of the Albany LAOH Division and Capital District Irish American Center.  Fr. Capistran has close ties to many Hibernian families and always made himself available to celebrate significant events that included weddings, Christenings and anniversary parties.  Fr. Capistran was also helpful in offering his services and guidance at wakes and funerals of friends and Hibernians.  The reception to honor Fr. Capistran was well attended and attracted a broad representation of AOH members, community leaders and families of the Irish American Community.  AOH Division #5 presented Fr. Capistran with a Waterford crystal Celtic Cross in appreciation for his many years as a committed Hibernian and Division Chaplain.  Fr. Capistran was also presented with gifts from friends but was most notably recognized by Fr. Kevin Mullen, O.F.M., Ph.d, Siena College President and Albany Hibernian.  Fr. Kevin spoke of Fr. Capistran’s Irish nature, academic achievements and his impact on the Siena College student community as a teacher and mentor. At Fr. Capistran’s request, proceeds and gifts from the reception were donated to the Albany AOH and LAOH Scholarship Fund at Siena College in the name of Fr. Henry Tansey and Bill Dooley, deceased New York State Trooper and member of the Albany Police & Drum Band.

(L to R) Back Row: Michael McNabb, NYS AOH Vice President, Tim McSweeney, NYS AOH Treasurer and Patrick Hale, President of the Capital District Irish American Association. Front Row: Kevin O'Reilly, Albany Div. 5 President, Fr. Capistran Hanlon, OFM, Honoree and Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, President of Siena College.

New York FFAI Success

Albany NY AOH Div. 5 Chairman for the Freedom for All Ireland, Ciaran Geraghty, had the Albany City Common Council pass the resolution that Rita O’Hare and Sean Pender talked about at this year’s Fr. Murphy Award Banquet, with regard to the value of a free and united Ireland.  It was passed unanimously, on March 15th. Division member Cliff Nolan, traveling to Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers to hear Martin McGuinness speak on the 17th, was asked to bring a copy along in the hope of seeing and presenting it on his behalf.  It worked out well as the picture shows, and was greatly appreciated.

(L to R) Maryann Tucker, Martin McGuinness, Patty Nolan and Cliff Nolan

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