National President Seamus Boyle unveils Commodore John Barry Wayside Marker

National President Seamus Boyle was a featured speaker at the unveiling of a new wayside marker at the statue of Commodore John Barry in Franklin Park, Washington, DC, on May 4. Although the statue has been standing since its dedication by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, there has been no interpretive marker to explain to the public who Commodore John Barry was and why he is important today. The Naval Order of the United States embarked on an effort to have a ceramic information marker placed to the side of the statue. Leading the effort for the Naval Order was AOH Brother Captain John Rodgaard, USN, and a member of the Commodore John Barry Division in the District of Columbia.

President Boyle noted in his remarks that “Ninety Eight years ago, my predecessor, AOH President James Regan, stood here for the unveiling of this monument.”  The Ancient Order of Hibernians was the leading force in having the statue placed in Franklin Park. The statue was created by sculptor John J. Boyle on a commission from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other patriotic American groups of Irish descent.

The AOH president pointed out that “both Houses of Congress had a special adjournment for the occasion and gathered at this park were no less than 50,000 spectators. These included President Wilson, members of Congress, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels – who presided over the ceremony – along with hundreds of leading officials of the government and the diplomatic corps.” The AOH National newspaper, in June of 1914, described the dedication ceremony as follows: “Standing majestically on its beautiful site in Franklin Park, surrounded with trees, flowers, shrubs, and directly facing one of the most frequented thoroughfares of the national Capital, the monument to Commodore John Barry, Father of the American Navy, now forms one of the most attractive memorials of the many which adorn the public parks of the Capital City.” President Boyle closed with a quote from President Wilson’s speech during the dedication: “This man is not an Irish-American; he was an Irishman that became an American.”

Boyle acknowledged the presence of other Hibernians at the ceremony, including National Director Keith Carney, Brother Ralph Day (President of the DC State Board and the Commodore John Barry Division), Brothers Jack O’Brien and John McInerney (leaders of our efforts to erect the Barry memorial at the Naval Academy) and Brother Brian Curran (President of the John Carroll of Carrollton Division).  Following the ceremony there was a reception onboard the display ship (Former U.S. Destroyer) Barry (DD933) berthed at the Washington Navy Yard. During that reception the Gilbert Stewart painting of Commodore John Barry was on display. It is a truly remarkable painting.


International Hunger Remembrance

Where did it all begin?  Remembering the victims of Ireland’s artificial famine has been an ongoing event since it occurred; although at first, it was mostly in quiet, private and prayerful recollection.  Then, in 1859, workers constructing Montreal’s Victoria Bridge across the St. Lawrence River discovered a mass grave.  It was the final resting place of Irish immigrants who had been released from the Grosse Ile Quarantine Station in 1847 and sailed on to Montreal, carrying early stages of Typhus.  Some 75,000 had been released and Montreal erected fever sheds at the water’s edge to house them.  By year’s end, 6,000 were buried in mass graves near the sheds.  The bridge workers, many of Irish descent, created a make-shift memorial with a 30-ton granite boulder over the spot to ensure the grave would not be forgotten.  Erected on Dec 1, 1859, that Black Stone Memorial was the first international monument to the victims of Ireland’s Great Hunger.  The City of Montreal installed an interpretive plaque, which states that 6,000 Irish immigrants were buried on the site in 1847.  A Mass and wreath-laying ceremony has been held at that memorial each May since 1904 and the AOH in Canada is the leading participant.

Then in 1909, another international memorial was added as the AOH erected a great Celtic Cross on Grosse Ile in memory of all the victims of An Gorta Mór, especially the more than 5,000 who never left the island and died there in 1847 alone.

The American and Canadian AOH made pilgrimages to Grosse Ile in 1997 on the 150th anniversary of the tragedy and in 2009 on the 100th anniversary of the Great Cross.

In 1995, the American AOH and the AOH Board of Erin collaborated and erected yet another memorial to the victims of the Great Hunger – this time in Ireland.  Located in County Clare, it was the first ever memorial of its kind to be located in Ireland.

In March of 2008, the AOH in America introduced the An Gorta Mór Awards to encourage individual jurisdictions to contribute to those less fortunate in memory of those Irish who suffered during Ireland’s greatest tragedy.   At the same time, Dublin resident, Michael Blanch, who had been pushing for a national commemoration in Ireland since 2003, led his annual procession from Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance to the sculptures of famished Irish along the Liffey.  The Irish Government finally established an annual memorial day in Dublin in May 2008.  Apparently May was selected since it had been the month of the oldest international commemoration at the Black Stone Hunger Memorial in Montreal.

An Ad Hoc International Committee was founded with 3 members of the AOH, two members of the Irish American Unity Conference and two others including Michael Blanch in Dublin.  The Committee works to raise awareness and coordinate international commemorations with the Irish Government and get the word out to the Irish Diaspora.  The Committee waits for the Irish Government to announce their dates and coordinates from there.

In May 2009, the Irish National commemoration took place in Skibbereen, Co. Cork with parallel events held in Canada and Australia. International participants were encouraged to hold their own local events to commemorate the Great Hunger.  The AOH National and NY State Boards produced a one-hour, four-part DVD on the tragedy, especially for teachers, entitled The Reasons For Learning as the AOH part in the international commemoration.

In May 2010, the Irish National commemoration site was in Murrisk, Co. Mayo and even more members of the Irish Diaspora around the world celebrated masses and/or sponsored events as world-wide interest grew.  Masses were also celebrated and services held at Great Hunger Memorials across America.  The DVD Reasons for Learning was put on the AOH.Com national website for free download with a number of lesson plans and exercises in support of the DVD.  A number of divisions held public showings of the DVD on that weekend.  The Committee also got the Irish Consulates in NY, Boston and San Francisco involved and coordinated activities with them.

This year, a delay in establishing the date from Ireland was caused by the change of Government and the redistribution of Departments and the Committee couldn’t wait to establish dates.  Based on years past, the month of May was chosen and participants were asked to choose their dates within the month.  The main thing is that something be done in as many places around the world as possible.

In Dublin, Michael Branch has been in contact with Glasnevin Cemetery on establishing an appropriate marker near the mass grave of 40 to 60,000 victims lying beside babes of innocence in the Angel’s Plot.  There is also a mass grave with 30,000 victims approximately 50 yards from O’Connell’s grave to be marked as well.

In 2011, the 8th annual Dublin Famine Victims and Emigrants Memorial Day took place on May15th with a procession of people dressed in rags leaving the Garden of Remembrance led by a lone piper down O’Connell Street and up to the Famished Sculptures at Custom House Quay where the Lord Mayor of Dublin laid a wreath to their memory.  Bouquets of flowers were laid at the individual famine sculptures, a bouquet of flowers in the shape of a ship was lowered into the River Liffey to remember the Emigrants past and present and the Victims who died on the Coffin Ships at sea.  In the final part of the ceremony, singer/songwriter Pete St. John and Friends sang his composition, The Fields of Athenry, from on board the Jeanie Johnson Emigrant Ship in memory of the survivors of An Gorta Mór.

Among the American commemorations , The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Hudson County dedicated an 18-foot tall Celtic cross with various images and symbols representing Ireland and An Gorta Mór at Lincoln Park on May 7; on May 14th a commemoration in tribute to those who lost their lives during the Great Hunger took place on the steps of the Hackensack, NJ Court House; on May 21-22 in San Francisco, the California Irish Cultural Society and the Irish American Unity Conference coordinated with Consul General of Ireland Gerry Staunton to hold the Second Annual An Gorta Mór Commemoration to support Saint Anthony’s Dining Hall which feeds the homeless in honor of the victims of An Gorta Mór.  In Michigan’s Irish Hills, the AOH led a Mass and commemoration ceremony at the Great Hunger memorial that they erected to the memory of the victims of the tragedy and on May 22nd, a Mass and wreath-laying ceremony was conducted by the Massachusetts AOH at the Great Hunger Memorial in Boston.  In New York on May 22, the National Board of the AOH, assembled in lower Manhattan to remember the 175th anniversary of their Order, took time out to celebrate a Mass and lay a wreath at Ground Zero for those AOH members who lost their lives the World Trade Center and then went to the Great Hunger Memorial to hold a ceremony and wreath-laying at the Great Hunger Memorial at Battery Park City as part of the International Commemoration of the Great Hunger.



Presidential Proclamation–Irish-American Heritage Month, 2011




Our diverse Nation has been shaped by the sacrifices and successes of those who crossed both land and sea in pursuit of a common dream.  For millions of Americans, this journey began in Ireland.  In the wake of the Great Hunger, many sons and daughters of Erin came to our shores seeking a brighter day, with only courage and the enduring values of faith and family to sustain them.  Alongside many others who sought a better life in a new Nation, these intrepid immigrants built strong communities and helped forge our country’s future.  During Irish-American Heritage Month, we honor the contributions Irish Americans have made, and celebrate the nearly 40 million among us who proudly trace their roots back to Ireland.

From the earliest days of our Republic, the Irish have overcome discrimination and carved out a place for themselves in the American story.  Through hard work, perseverance, and patriotism, women and men of Irish descent have given their brawn, brains, and blood to make and remake this Nation — pulling it westward, pushing it skyward, and moving it forward.  Half a century ago, John F. Kennedy became our first Irish-American Catholic President and summoned an expectant citizenry to greatness.  This year, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s inauguration, we recognize our 35th President and the countless other Irish Americans whose leadership and service have steered the course of our Nation.

Seldom in this world has a country so small had so large an impact on another.  Today, the rich culture of Ireland touches all aspects of American society, and the friendship that binds Ireland and the United States is marked by a shared past and a common future.  As communities across our country celebrate Irish-American Heritage Month and St. Patrick’s Day, our Nation pays tribute to the proud lineage passed down to so many Americans from the Emerald Isle.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2011 as Irish-American Heritage Month.  I call upon all Americans to observe this month by celebrating the contributions of Irish Americans to our Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.



Ireland’s Joan of Arc

Maud Gonne

One of the least known today, yet the most influential Irish Revolutionaries of her time, was a lady named Maud Gonne. She was born on Dec. 20, 1865, in Aldershot, England, to a British army colonel of Irish descent and a partly Irish mother. Her mother died when Maud was only six and she and her sister were sent to France to be educated. In 1882, her father was posted to Dublin Castle and he brought his two daughters with him and Maud assumed the role of hostess of the household. She grew into a stunningly beautiful woman – six feet tall, pretty face, hour-glass figure and long, wavy, red hair; she was widely praised as one of the beauties of the age.

Maud’s father died in 1886 leaving her financially independent. She moved back to France for health reasons after a tubercular hemorrhage, and she met and fell in love with French journalist Lucien Millevoye, editor of a radical newspaper, ‘La Patrie.’ The pair worked together for both Irish and French nationalist causes. Maud ended her relationship with Millevoye in the late 1890s, but not before she had two children by him: a daughter, Iseult and one that died in infancy.

Maud had been introduced to Fenianism by John O’Leary, a veteran of the 1848 Young Irelander uprising and, in a short time, nationalist leader Tim Harrington recognized that this beautiful, intelligent young woman could be an asset to the nationalist cause. He sent her to Donegal, where mass evictions were taking place. A local newspaper documented her coming as “a Celtic Goddess arriving on a white charger to free the oppressed people of Donegal.” A powerful and emotional speaker, She was successful in organizing the locals in protest against the evictions. The fact that she fled to France to avoid arrest is a good measure her success there.

In 1889, John O’Leary introduced Maud to a man whose infatuation with her would last most of his life: poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats proposed to Maud in 1891, and was refused, but largely through her influence, he became involved with Irish nationalism, later joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). At that time, the IRB was a secret organization but Maud brought it into public prominence with her many protests against slum landlords and the cruel eviction laws of her day. She also managed to attract police and political attention when she vehemently protested the celebration of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

Maud helped Yeats found the National Literary Society of London in 1891, the same year she refused his first marriage proposal; undaunted, Yeats proposed again and even proposed to Maud’s daughter by Millevoye – also unsuccessfully. Returning to Paris, and to Millevoye, Maud published a nationalist newsletter called ‘L’Irelande Libre (Free Ireland).’ She worked tirelessly raising funds for the movement, traveling to the US, Scotland, and England. By now the name of Maud Gonne was well known among Irish nationalists and she was called Ireland’s Joan of Arc.

Returning to Ireland, she co-founded the Transvaal Committee, which supported the Afrikaners in the Boer War, and on Easter Sunday 1900 she co-founded Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Erin), a revolutionary women’s society for whose monthly journal she wrote many political and feminist articles. Somehow, while doing all this, she found time to star on stage in Yeats play, ‘Cathleen ní Houlihan,’ which Yeats had written specifically for her.

In 1900, in Paris, Irish politician Arthur Griffith introduced Maud to Major John MacBride, who had been second in command of the Irish Brigade that fought on the Afrikaner side in the Boer War. In 1903 Maud married MacBride. Although the marriage produced a son, Seán, it was short-lived and the couple separated. Maud continued to write political articles and in 1910 she joined Constance Markievicz, James Connolly and Jim Larkin in a campaign to feed the poor children of Dublin. When it was arranged that King Edward visit Dublin, Maude helped form a Citizen’s Watch Committee and spoke before a rally of the Irish Parliamentary Party damning their support of the visit. After her speech, an hour-long fight broke out which led to the ruin of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Sinn Fein rose from its ashes.

During World War One, she worked with the Red Cross in France and returned to Ireland in 1917. She found Ireland in turmoil after the Easter Rising of 1916 and the execution of the rising leaders, including her estranged husband, John MacBride. Within a year she was jailed by the British for her part in the anti-conscription movement. This was part of the trumped up “German Plot” that the British used to discredit anti-conscription activity. Maud was interned at Holloway Jail for six months along with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Kathleen Clarke, Countess Markievicz and others. After she was released, she worked for the White Cross for relief of Irish victims during the War of Independence.

When Ireland’s Civil War came, Maud supported the anti-treaty side. She helped to found the Women’s Prisoners Defense League to help Republican prisoners and their families. In 1923, she once again found herself imprisoned, this time by the Irish Free State government, without charge. Along with 91 other women, Maud went on hunger strike. The Free State government released her after 20 days. In 1927, after government leader Kevin O’Higgins was assassinated and several IRA men were indiscriminately arrested, she organized a public demonstration which filled Dublin’s streets and the men were later released. For the rest of her life Maud would continue to support the Republican cause and work for the Women’s Prisoners Defense League, which mobilized again in defense of Republican prisoners in 1935.

Maud Gonne MacBride died on April 27, 1953, but her influence on Ireland and the world continued after her death through her son, Seán MacBride. As a young man, Seán fought on the Republican side in the Civil War and later carried on his mother’s crusade for the fair treatment of political prisoners, not just in Ireland, but all over the world. Seán was one of the founders of Amnesty International and, in 1974, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Maud Gonne MacBride is buried in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, a fitting final tribute to the woman who was referred to as Ireland’s Joan of Arc.