The Draft Riots

As National Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, I am concerned that the 150th Anniversary of the 1863 Draft Riots in New York from July 13 to 15 will be commemorated using some of the bigoted information that appeared in the press at the time.  We all know that the anti-Irish Nativist mentality did not die with the demise of the Know Nothing movement in 1856 and many were quick to blame Irish Catholics as the rioters.  To make it seem even worse, the casualties were grossly exaggerated citing 1,155 killed when, in fact, later studies revealed 119 killed and 181 injured.

The bigotry of the time must be considered.  Many Americans, whose immigrant ancestors had climbed out of the poverty in which they  arrived, considered the poverty of the newly-arriving Irish immigrants to be a ‘function of their lazy character’.  To the contrary, the ambition and determination of the Irish insured the success of subsequent generations, but in the first generation, they suffered from outrageous prejudice.  America’s Irish population grew after 1845 as a result of the Great Hunger in Ireland and didn’t slow down until  after 1855.  This sudden influx of poverty-stricken, often diseased Irish Catholics alarmed the Protestant community, among whom were many so-called ‘nativist’ Americans.  They forced and held the new arrivals in social and economic limbo, denouncing them and their church in biased media, leaflets and forums.

Despite the unfair treatment, the Irish flocked to the defense of the Union when the Civil War broke out.  On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln issued a call for volunteers amid rumors that a force of Confederates was moving up from South Carolina.  Lincoln’s problem was that new volunteers would take weeks to train and arm.  What he needed were well-trained units, already armed and led; and he needed them immediately.  One unit that fit the bill was the Irish 69th Regiment of the NY State Militia.  The regiment asked for 1,000 volunteers from the Irish community to support Lincoln’s call and before they realized their quota had been filled, 1800 had enlisted; the excess 800 were released to New York’s 37th Regiment which became known as the Irish Rifles.  They all rushed to defend Washington D.C. where they were visited by Abraham Lincoln, who thanked them for coming to his government’s rescue.  Just three weeks after the war broke out he sent them to the first battle of Bull Run!  Recognized for their courage, ferocity and resilience in that battle, the 69th was expanded into an entire Irish Brigade under the Irish patriot Thomas Francis Meagher.  Meagher added New York’s Irish 63rd and 88th regiments and in the fall of 1862, the 28th Massachusetts and 116th Pennsylvania were added – all Irish and all volunteers!

The Brigade was fearless and in many battles was used as cannon fodder by unscrupulous and inexperienced commanding officers.  Casualties were horrendous.  In all, more than 150,000 Irishmen, most of whom were recent immigrants and not yet U.S. citizens, voluntarily joined the Union Army.  Between 1861 and 1863, Irish casualties mounted and Meagher returned to New York several times to recruit replacements.  Out of a total enlistment of 7,000 men during the war, the Brigade returned to New York in 1865 with 1,000; one company was actually down to seven men.  In 1863, as Irish units were running out of manpower, so too was the Union.  That’s when Congress passed the first Conscription Act to draft men into service.

The draft was inherently unfair since it gave the wealthy a way to avoid service by buying their way out of serving by paying $300.  Unscrupulous politicians, trying to build their political base, told the working class, You will be drafted and sent to fight while freed blacks will take your jobs and the rich will buy their way out.   It should be noted that the Emancipation Proclamation has just been passed, at the time $300. was more than a year’s wages for a laborer.  Further, if a man was drafted there was no municipal social safety net for his family and a soldier’s pay was small and often delayed.  Impoverished workers felt that they would be leaving their families to starve.  It put the whole sacrifice of life, limb, health and home upon the poor and laboring classes who have the least at stake in the preservation of the Union, wrote Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune and a personal friend of the President on 5 March 1863. He added, there is no possible defense, justification or apology that can be made for this outrage.  Opposition to the law poured in from around the Union and the poor rebelled against the law in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Detroit and other cities, but New York was the worst.

Many historians place Confederate secret service operatives behind the Draft Riots. In Civil War St.Louis, for example, D.H. Rule wrote, For now, bear in mind that a St. Louis Confederate courier enroute from Richmond to Canada made a stop in New York shortly before the Draft Riots began. This same agent’s stop in Philadelphia immediately preceded the most violent draft resistance in that city, too.  Coupled with this is the participation of Missouri agents (documented by a number of noted historians) in the attempted burning of New York.  The ethnic makeup of the St Louis mob was apparently different than the New York mob for several Germans were identified as participants.

By 1863, the ethnic makeup of New York’s Five Points, where the opposition originated, had changed and now included Germans, Jews, and Italians as well as native-born Americans; it was  home to the city’s impoverished though the Irish were still the most numerous among them.  Angered at the fact that the rich could buy their way out of the draft, the poor and laboring class of New York started a protest march headed for the offices of the Draft Board to destroy the ballots.  According to News in, Italian, German and Irish immigrants banded together to march in a protest that turned violentThe Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP.ORG) also recorded, German-speaking artisans, Native-born Protestant journeymen, and working-class Irish laborers attacked and burned the Provost Marshal’s office on 46th Street and 3rd Avenue.   It should be noted that many of the Irish also served in the Metropolitan Police force that was sent to stop the protest march.

When the confrontation became violent, the biased media of the day used it as another opportunity to defame the Irish, claiming that they were the disloyal rioters in spite of the fact that at the time, many  of the Five Points Irish were dying on the battlefield of Gettysburg as they had done at Fredericksberg, Antietam and other fields of conflict defending the Union.  The media also ignored the Irish makeup of the police and that Supervisor of Police John Kennedy was one of those killed by the mob or that the commander of the 11th Regiment State Guard who were called in to assist was Col. H.T. O’Brien.

Fueled by the fear that freed blacks would take their jobs, blacks became a target of the protesters and the media invented an Irish vs black prejudice in spite of the fact that they not only peacefully lived together in the Points, but in earlier times together they had invented tap dancing.  However, in August, 1863, even Harper’s Weekly uncharacteristically had to admit,  It must be remembered that in many of the wards of the City during the late riot, the Irish were the primary, and often only, friends of law and order. That it was the Irish that risked their lives at 43rd street and 5th avenue at the Colored Orphan Asylum to save the little children from certain death at the hands of the mob. That many of the police officers injured during riot were Irish.   And it must also be noted that Police Officer Paddy McCafferty put his body between the mob and 20 colored children and brought them to the safety of the 35th precinct at great peril to his own life.  Further, that to a man, the Catholic Priesthood which is almost entirely Irish in our city used their influence on the side of law and order.

One of the saddest incidents in modern history is the constant accusation in current published media that the Irish were responsible for the Draft Riots in July 1863.  They have used the biased media of the day as source data.  To those of us who know the true story, the authors of such tripe are only embarrassing themselves as Amadons (ignorant people) at best and Gombeen Men (those who seek the favor of the establishment) at worst.  Yet, if we would not be called Lackeys (those who mindlessly go along with the majority), it is up to us to educate the masses.  July 13, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the tragic event and you can be sure you will see anniversary articles by some ignorant authors.  Start now and send a letter, e-mail, or tweet to your local news media, radio or TV station, politician and/or school with the truth.  Remember, it’s your heritage, DEFEND IT!


Maj. Gen. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, aimed at capturing the rebel capitol at Richmond, was beaten back after the Seven Days Battles 150 years ago in June, 1862.  Union forces, including the partial Irish Brigade, made it back to relative safety, but suffered almost 16,000 casualties during a strategic retreat.  Lee’s army had taken the offensive, but lost close to 20,000.  Convinced that McClellan no longer posed a threat to Richmond, Lee moved his army into northern Virginia and headed for Washington via Maryland.

Many Irish immigrants had signed on to build America’s railroads, so it was no surprise to find names like Cunningham, Hammil, Maher, and Doyle among those who had built the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in northern Virginia which now stood right in the path of Lee’s advancing army.  These and other Irish workers had built a small town around one of the railroad’s stations and the community became known as Fairfax Station.  One of the first projects of the Fairfax Station Irish was the erection of a Catholic church.  They labored in their off-hours to put up a small frame building in Sept, 1858 and pooled their money to buy a bell.  The new St. Mary of the Sorrows Church at Fairfax Station had barely opened its doors when the Civil War began.  Many of the Fairfax Station Irish joined the totally Irish Regiments that had been formed in the Confederate Army such as the First Virginia Regiment which became The Emmet Guard and the 27th Virginia Infantry which was called The Virginia Hibernians.

The little town of Fairfax Station was strategically located between the important railroad station and a main road to Washington, DC.  The Union Army had taken the railroad depot at Alexandria in order to protect the Capitol and southern forces occupied the station at Manassas Junction on the other side of Fairfax Station making the area the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.  In July, 1862, General Lee sent his best commanders, Generals Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart and James Longstreet up through Virginia to intercept the Union Army of General Pope who was en route to join forces with the army of General McClellan that was then moving back toward Washington after the Seven Days Battles.  Lee and his forces met the Union Army on August 30 and fought what came to be known as the Second Battle of Manassas or, as the Union referred to it – Second Bull Run.  Three days of fierce fighting left 1,744 Union dead and another 8,452 wounded.  Unlike the calamitous retreat at the First Bull Run a year earlier, the Union withdrawal was orderly and the Confederates, weary from battle and low on ammunition, broke off and did not pursue them.  Although Lee had won the battle, he had not achieved his objective of destroying the Union army and the Union forces had successfully stopped an invasion of the north.

During the battle, two gallant Union officers were lost, Major Generals Kearney and Stephens.  Major General Philip Kearney had been a hero of the Mexican War where he fought at the side of General Robert E. Lee.  When Lee heard that his former comrade had fallen, he ordered both bodies returned to the Union camp.  Under a flag of truce, amid the roar of artillery and the thunder of an approaching storm, the bodies of Kearney and Stephens were carried by Confederate Honor Guard to a tent at a makeshift field hospital which had been set up beside the little Irish church of St. Mary of the Sorrows.

Hundreds of wounded were treated on the high ground around St. Mary’s.  A terrible storm made the scene one of confusion as wounded men lay dying in the mud waiting for a doctor to reach them.  It was to this scene that a woman from Washington, DC came to offer her help.  She had spent the first year of the war tending wounded in Washington, and hearing of the heavy fighting, made her way to Fairfax Station.  With two assistants, she set up an operating room inside the little Church and assisted the surgeons in their tedious tasks.  She moved tirelessly among the wounded, cleansing wounds, writing letters, and praying with them until a doctor was available.  While serving the many wounded in these deplorable conditions, she conceived a plan for a civilian organization that could act quickly with proper medical supplies and trained staff in any emergency – in peacetime or in war.

A final Confederate raid forced the evacuation of the wounded amid terribly unsanitary conditions, and the brave little lady from Washington was among the last to leave.  The advancing Confederate troops found the station and most of the town destroyed by fire, but as if by a miracle, the little Church was barely touched.  Only a few of its pews had been used by the Union Army for firewood.  Years later, when President Grant heard of this, he ordered $765. in war damages to have them replaced, for the Church of St. Mary’s had earned a special significance in American history.  It was there that the heroic little lady from Washington, DC had conceived the idea for a noble organization.  The lady was the angel of the battlefield, Clara Barton, and the organization was the American Red Cross. . . and the little Irish Church of St. Mary’s where it all started is still in use to this day, but as a national shrine.


AOH Statement for Immigration meeting at Irish Consulate of New York

With hundreds of Hibernian Divisions, that are de facto Irish Cultural centers,  in most major cities, as well as towns and parishes across the US, the AOH has been in the unique position of offering aid to Irish immigrants and immigration efforts  from informed, connected and established members of the  community since our inception 175 years ago. The past 25 years have witnessed both the Irish Immigration Reform Movement and Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform turning to our leadership and members for the vital connectivity that we have to our legislators on local, state and national levels. For it is the Divisions, County, State and National AOH that these legislators seek to associate with to reach Irish American support. Indeed, legislators and their aides are at times members of the AOH/LAOH.

The AOH is grateful for the efforts of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, through its Embassy and Consulates and the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers for enabling the conferences for the AOH, Coalition, Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform, Boston Irish and ILIR that acted as clearinghouses of ideas that lead to the great collaborative and nonpartisan effort towards attaining the Irish E3 Visa Bills.

We also thank Bruce Morrison and ILIR for arranging vital meetings with the White House and were happy to reciprocate by introducing our states’ legislators to Morrison and the Irish Lobby. This bill will remedy many of the future flow immigration issues between Ireland and the US, but our work on the undocumented remains ahead of us. The AOH is working everyday with the Centers and DFA on Irish immigrants facing incarceration, detention, extradition and deportation, as well as our own work with Thar Saile in their long struggle. The AOH efficiently fields inquiries on status adjustment, dual citizenship, retiring to Ireland , pension, legal  and  a variety of matters and connect people with the help they need.

With a network of AOH members across the US, we will continue to work with our legislators, DFA, the Centers, ILIR, the Celts and Boston Irish and others to continue this good work. AOH members are becoming more familiar every day with the Centers and will help them when the really hard work begins for them,  the job of helping the next wave of legal Irish immigrants live, work and become vital members of the rich cultural exchange that has always existed between our two great nations.

Seamus Boyle                                                                                                                                     Dan Dennehy

President, National Board                                                                                                              National Immigration Chairman

Statement on the Irish E3 Bill

Since our inception the AOH has been active in working to improve the lives of Irish immigrants. Now celebrating our 175th year, we continue to live up to the preamble of the AOH Constitution which requires that we encourage an equitable U.S. Immigration law for Ireland, and to cooperate with all groups for a fair American Immigration Policy.

In the 1960‘s, AOH members participated in an effort to prevent removal of the quota of Irish visas by the Immigration Act of 1965. Those concerns were proven as successive economic downturns have left many of the Irish without the option to emigrate legally to the US. In the last 25 years, AOH has worked with the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, Irish Lobby For Immigration Reform, as well as many other organizations and  government officials from the two nations, and elsewhere, to rectify the quota and restore the important cultural exchange between Ireland and the US.

Current events and developments prove our understanding of the need to work with others to meet this goal. One of the great developments of the recent weeks was a video conference  and one week later a teleconference facilitated by the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers and the Irish Embassy. In cities across the US, Irish immigration advocates, in many cases seeing and speaking live to each other for the first time, shared ideas on the recent moves by Congress. AOH, ILIR and Rep. Bruce Morrison, Boston Irish and Chicago Celts and several other advocacy groups outlined recent work towards an Irish E3 and concerns for the undocumented. We look forward to working with all of the groups towards a successful outcome.

The second and more immediate development is the introduction of two bills that propose an Irish E3. The first bill was proposed by Senators Schumer, Leahy and Durbin and it was quickly followed by the Irish Immigration and Encouragement Act sponsored by Republican Senators Brown (MA) and Kirk (IL). While neither bill solves the undocumented issue, they do address future flow from Ireland. The bills would modify the E3 visa, currently available to only Australia and a few select countries. The modifications would recognize Irelands excellent education system and allows Irish Nationals with a “leaving cert” or two years experience in a trade to apply for 10,500 two year renewable visas. We are grateful to the sponsors of both of these bills for their recognition of the longstanding inequities relating to immigration from Ireland.

Right now, AOH members across the US are meeting and reaching out to their US Representatives and Senators as part of the initiative to secure “The Irish E3 Visa.” The AOH maintains that Ireland has been extremely supportive to US Homeland Security and Defense with the Shannon Stopover of US Troops coming and going from the War On Terror and the innovations of US Customs and Immigration at Ireland’s Shannon and Dublin Airports. We are asking Congress to thank Ireland with an E3 as it had Australia in 2005. In this way, with 10,500 annual renewable visas, a secure and legal path to immigration will be restored, preventing the need for Irish people to seek less desirable methods to escape the current economic hardships in Ireland and strengthen the bond between our two nations.

Seamus Boyle AOH National President & Dan Dennehy AOH Immigration Chairman

Diplomatic Meeting

Members of the AOH National Board and guests pose for picture with the Irish Ambassador after a luncheon he hosted in Washington at his residence. Pictured (L – R) Dan O’Connell Sr., Sean Pender, Jere Cole, Tom Brady, Brendan Moore, Seamus Boyle, Ambassador Michael Collins, Jim McKay, Ned McGinley, Dan Dennehy, Danny O’Connell, Joe Roach, Keith Carney.

Members of the National Board recently attended a luncheon at the invitation of the Irish Ambassador to the United States, Michael Collins. The luncheon was held at his residence not far from the Irish Embassy in Washington, DC.  The residence of the Ambassador of Ireland was built in 1924 and is historically named the Frederic Delano House after its original owner. Frederic Delano was a member of the Federal Reserve Board and uncle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The Irish Government purchased the house in 1965.

The AOH was represented by 10 members of the Board including Executive Board Members Seamus Boyle, Brendan Moore and Jim McKay. Jim McKay also serves as Honorary Consul in New Orleans for the Irish Government. In additional two other AOH members attended as guests.  The Ambassador was joined by his Diplomatic staff members Mr. Myles Geiran, First Secretary and Press and Information Officer and Mr. Adrian McDaid, Political Counselor.

Making note that the AOH is the largest Irish Catholic organization in the United States and that our membership reaches every community around the country, the Ambassador was intent on furthering the relationship with our organization and finding ways in which we can help each other further common goals. The luncheon fostered significant discussion on such important topics as immigration policy, the undocumented and community support for Irish immigrants.  In addition we discussed how the AOH and its members can help Ireland in the current economic climate through tourism, business opportunities for American companies, and enticing higher education opportunities now being promoted to the Irish Diaspora in the U.S.

Also a topic of conversation was the Ambassador’s suggestion that the AOH play leading roles in future historic commemorations such as the upcoming 1916 Anniversary. The Ambassador was measuring our strength and demographics in age and other areas. Upon learning of our focus on youthful recruitment he suggested that we associate with the Irish Networks starting up in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. and sponsored in part by the Irish Government.

The luncheon provided an open and candid dialog and showed that a fine relationship continues to develop between the AOH and the Irish Foreign Affairs Department. This is true not only at the Irish Embassy in Washington, DC but at Irish Consulates throughout the U.S.


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.



Siobhan Dennehy to be Awarded John F. Kennedy Medal

The AOH and LAOH will award Siobhan Dennehy the prestigious John F. Kennedy Memorial Medal at the upcoming convention in Cincinnati being held in July.  Dennehy is a nationally-recognized leader on all issues related to Irish immigration. A native of Dalkey, County Dublin, she first visited New York in the late 1980s on a J1 student visa. She joined the Irish grassroots effort called the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM) and volunteered for the Woodlawn Chapter. They were successful in their contribution to the establishment of the Donnelly-Morrison Visas and the DV Lottery.

“Members of both the AOH and LAOH National Boards, as well as State Presidents of both organizations, selected her based on nominations received from throughout the U.S.”, said Brendan Moore, JFK Chairman/AOH National Vice President. “It’s a joint AOH-LAOH award given to a Roman Catholic of Irish birth or descent, outstanding in their field of endeavor.” Margaret Hennessy, JFK Vice Chair/LAOH National Vice President, said the Medal is the highest honor the AOH and LAOH bestow and only thirty have been awarded since its inception in 1966. “Past recipients have been Colonel James McDivitt, U.S.A.F. Astronaut of Gemini IV and Apollo IX, Actor Pat O’Brien, Mayors Richard J. Daley of Chicago and  Raymond L. Flynn of Boston, His Eminence John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, Nobel Prize winner John Hume among many other prominent Irish and other Irish-American dignitaries”, she said.

Dennehy currently serves as Executive Director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC), a non-profit, community-based organization serving thousands of New York City Irish immigrants, as well as immigrants of all nationalities. She has provided invaluable assistance to the AOH towards their constitutional mandate “to encourage an equitable U.S. immigration law for Ireland, and cooperate with groups for a fair American immigration policy.” She has provided the AOH National Immigration Committee with assistance daily by sharing her contacts, initiatives and knowledge of the immigration rules and regulations. At a time when Irish immigration demands AOH attention, honoring Siobhan serves to magnify the AOH/LAOH commitment to the goals of the Order.

Dennehy resides in Cortlandt Manor, New York with her husband Dan and daughters Ashling, age 9 and Cara, age 8. Her husband Dan is the New York State AOH Immigration Chair.


Canada Invests To Protect Grosse IIe

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced an investment by his government in Grosse Ile and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada to restore and improve the site’s surrounding buildings and thus preserve an important chapter in Canadian history. As part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Government of Canada is making investments to protect and preserve national parks and historic sites across the country.

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the dedication of a Celtic cross built by the AOH, which was erected on the island in 1909 to commemorate the Irish immigrants who are buried at the former quarantine island in the St. Lawrence Seaway near Quebec. A number of members of the Canadian Parliament had joined the AOH for the centenary commemoration on Grosse Ile this past summer.

“This investment is a great tribute to our long-lasting relationship with Ireland,” said Prime Minister Harper.  “Many Canadian hopefuls lost their lives on this island, but those who survived contributed greatly to the foundation of our great country.  By investing in projects to improve our historic sites, our government is fulfilling its duty to educate the public about events that have marked our history.”

While no official figure was mentioned, it has been estimated that several million dollars will be dedicated to the site.  Victor Boyle, president of the AOH in Canada, noted that the united commitment by the AOH in Canada, the US and Ireland to our Irish heritage made a huge impact on the Parliament’s decision.


Shanty Town, New York

It’s only a shanty in old shanty town; It’s roof is so slanty, it touches the ground.
Just a tumbled down shack by an old railroad track, but like a millionaire’s mansion it’s calling me back.
I’d give up my palace if I were a king; it’s more than a palace – it’s my everything.
There’s a queen waiting there, in a silvery crown; in a shanty in old shanty town
Lyrics – Joe Young (1932)

Central Park in New York City was the first landscaped public park in the United States. Today it’s 843-acre expanse is the most expensive piece of not-for-sale real estate in the entire world. Yet, it has a dark side. Original advocates of creating the park were primarily wealthy New Yorkers, who wanted an attractive area for their carriage rides on a Sunday afternoon. However, there was just one thing in the way of its construction. The land proposed was dotted with the homes of thousands of underprivileged working-class families.

The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 had made New York the financial and commercial capital of the nation, attracting many new businesses and residents. The new rich of the city, who admired the public parks of London and Paris, urged that New York needed a comparable facility to enhance its international reputation. In an effort to put a charitable tone on their argument, they claimed that a public park would provide working-class New Yorkers with a healthy alternative to saloons. However, while faced with the expense of a rapidly growing population, the city was also besieged with a flood of Irish immigrants fleeing the 1845 – 50 failure of the potato crop in Ireland as well as German immigrants fleeing 1848 revolutions in Germany. The population of the city grew faster than housing allowed, leading to the overcrowding of old houses as owners subdivided property and crammed as many tenants as possible into space far too confining for healthy living.

A recently filled-in pond below Canal Street became an area known as The Five Points – the worst overcrowded slum in the United States, if not the world, with inadequate services for sanitation, health and welfare. Those unwilling to commit their families to the misery of the Points or unable to afford the tenement rents, settled on vacant land north of the city. That land, between today’s Fifth and Eighth avenues north of 59th street, was a muddy tract of broken, irregular, rocky acreage, undesirable for private development. It had been a settler’s colony since 1825 with residents erecting cabins or shacks as best they could. The dwellings housed Irish and German immigrants, runaway slaves, freed blacks and others who were not welcome in the heart of the city due to their poverty, health, religion, or race. These communities, nicknamed Dutch Hill, Dublin Corners, the Piggery and Seneca Village, were estimated by one New York newspaper to contain between 12 and 16,000 souls. If municipal services were painfully inadequate in the slums, they were virtually non-existent in those collective communities which came to be known as Shanty Town, named from the Irish sean (old) and tigh (house) to describe the rough, makeshift dwellings of those unable to afford anything more substantial. In addition to the settler’s dwellings, were the ‘nuisance industries’ banned from operating within city limits such as glue, soap and candle factories which emitted bad odors and bone-boiling plants that made oil used to refine sugar. There were also stone quarries, farms, taverns, and even a Sisters of Charity convent in Shanty Town.

The largest ethnic population of Shanty Town were Irish families who had fled the Great Hunger to seek a better life in America. Unable to find accommodations in the city, they wandered onto the unused land above 60th Street and erected small, one-room cabins on small plots of land. The homes they built were, in many cases, no better or worse than those they’d left in Ireland, but at least there were no bill, tithe and tax collectors, and no threat of eviction. This was the freedom they had come to America to find and they settled in to plant a crop and raise a few livestock. However, to the growing nouveau riche of New York, these people were dirty, unkempt and lived with animals further alienating them from polite society.

There was also a community of German Catholic farmers who began to farm and sell their produce from push carts in the city.

There was a community known as Seneca Village which was an African-American settlement of freed blacks, who were not above lending a helping hand to runaway slaves. These largely Irish-German-African shanty towns began to grow larger after 1880. With no plan for the layout of streets and pathways, dwellings were erected wherever the rocky ground would permit. Even though the settlements included schools, churches, cemeteries, shops, and public hospitals, a newspaper of the time described the look of the structures as if it they were constructed by crazy poets and distributed by a whirlwind.

By the end of the Civil War, the city began marching north. Fifth Avenue, up to 59th Street, boasted more than 340 private residences, among which were many of the city’s largest and most extravagant homes. By the late 1800s, Fifth Avenue had become synonymous with wealth, high fashion, and architectural elegance. As the gentry began to build their new mansions north of 59th street, they looked out from their Victorian drawing rooms on shantys settled by immigrants who operated truck farms and kept goats, chickens, and pigs. When millionaire Andrew Carnegie erected his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street, his nearest neighbors were living in a shack described as an Irish architectural prototype. This was definitely not acceptable.

After years of debate over the site and cost of a park, in 1853 the City suddenly used the power of eminent domain to confiscate more than 700 acres of land in the center of Manhattan. The land chosen was Shanty Town whose inhabitants were suddenly described as disease-ridden tramps, squatters and thieves living in dilapidated shacks surrounded by pigs, sheep, and cows. The settlers had no chance in the face of the press-inspired prejudice generated in a politically charged environment amid rising prices of the residential land all around them. The city notified the squatters, as they were now called, that they would have to go.

By the summer of 1856, about 1,600 working-class families were offered an insultingly low stipend for their land and their homes and told to clear out. These families had no political or economic power with which to argue against those who wanted a park playground. The residents were evicted through 1857, and their homes were torn down. The civil servant in charge of carrying out the sad task of evictions was the great-great grandfather of future New York Yankee great, Joe Pepitone. No provisions were made for the relocation of those who were displaced. To the Irish, they had been evicted again; this time in a land where they believed it would never happen. Little investigation has ever been done regarding this shameful event in New York history. Once done, it was forgotten. But where did the evicted go? What became of their families?

After blasting out rocky ridges with more gunpowder than was used at the Battle of Gettysburg, workers moved 3 million cubic yards of soil and planted more than 270,000 trees and shrubs. In the end, it cost more to build Central Park than it did to purchase Alaska, so why wasn’t there enough money to relocate the displaced families? We shall never know. After the destruction of Shanty Town, the inhabitants vanished without a trace. The next time you read of someone losing their wallet or purse to a pickpocket or purse snatcher in Central Park, think about those families who lost so much more in that same park.

After all, many of today’s New Yorkers could be their descendants.

The First Coffin Ships in America

Wallabout Bay is small body of water along the northwest shore of Brooklyn, between the present Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges. In 1801, a settlement called Vinegar Hill was built on that bay to attract Irish immigrants to settle there and provide the labor to build the Brooklyn Navy Yard which opened in 1806. Vinegar Hill was a charming neighborhood, but it was built on an area which, 20 years earlier, had been a scene of incredible horror!

During the American Revolution, the British had captured thousands of soldiers, sailors, and even private citizens who would not swear allegiance to the Crown. When the British ran out of jail space to house their prisoners they began to use decommissioned or damaged ships anchored in Wallabout Bay as floating prisons. Conditions were so terrible that more Americans died on these prison ships than in all the battles of the Revolution! According to the U.S. Dept of Defense, there were 4,435 battle deaths during the War yet more than 11,500 died on these rotting hulks from neglect, cruelty and disease. William Burke, a prisoner aboard the prison ship Jersey for 14 months, wrote, I well recollect, that it was the custom on board the ship for but one prisoner at a time to be admitted on deck, besides the guards. At night, when the prisoners were assembled at the hatchway, for the purpose of obtaining fresh air, one of the sentinels would thrust his bayonet down among them, and in the morning twenty-five of them were found wounded, and stuck in the head, and dead of the wounds they had thus received. I further recollect that this was the case several mornings, when sometimes eight or ten, were found dead by the same means. The dead would be carried ashore and buried in the sand in shallow graves, or simply thrown overboard.
Among the patriots imprisoned were a great many Irish. In 1888, the Society of Old Brooklynites published a pamphlet which gave the names of persons who had been confined on the ship Jersey. From that source, John D Crimmins in Irish American Miscellany (1905) lists at least 363 Irish names and reports that many other Irish names could be added, but these were sufficient to make his point that a large number of the sons of Erin were among those who suffered on the prison ships. Capt. Thomas Dring, who was imprisoned aboard the Jersey, added, There were continual noises during the night. The groans of the sick and dying; the curses poured out by the exhausted upon our inhuman keepers; the restlessness caused by the suffocating heat and the confined and poisonous air, mingled with the wild and incoherent ravings of delirium, were the sounds which, every night, were raised around us in all directions. Another writer stated, Dysentery, smallpox, and yellow fever broke out, and while so many were sick with raging fever, there was a loud cry for water; but none could be had, except on the upper deck. One incident is recorded regarding a prisoner, who died on the Jersey: Two young men, brothers, were prisoners on board the ship. The elder took the fever, and, in a few days became delirious. One night (his end was fast approaching) he became calm and sensible, and lamenting his hard fate, and the absence of his mother, begged for a little water. His brother, with tears, entreated the guard to give him some, but in vain. The sick youth was soon in his last struggles, when his brother offered the guard a guinea for an inch of candle, only that he might see his brother die. Even this was denied. ‘ Now,’ said he, drying up his tears, ‘ if it please God that I ever regain my liberty, I’ll be a most bitter enemy!’ He regained his liberty, rejoined the army, and when the war ended, he had eight large, and one hundred and twenty-seven small notches on his rifle stock. After the surrender at Yorktown in 1781, the fighting ended, but the cruelty on the prison ships continued until the Treaty of Paris was signed and the Brits left New York, two years later, in 1783!

In the History of the City of Brooklyn, author Henry Stiles narrates a scene that took place on July 4, 1782, after the war was over, as prisoners attempted to celebrate the anniversary of Independence Day. He wrote: A very serious conflict with the guard occurred in consequence of the prisoners attempting to celebrate the day with such observances as their condition permitted. Upon going on deck in the morning, they displayed thirteen little national flags in a row upon the booms which were immediately torn down and trampled under the feet of the guard. Deigning no notice of this, the prisoners proceeded to amuse themselves with patriotic songs, speeches, and cheers, all the while avoiding whatever could be construed as an intentional insult of the guards who, at an unusually early hour in the afternoon, drove them below at the point of the bayonet, and closed the hatches. Between decks, the prisoners now continued their singing, until about nine o’clock in the evening. An order to desist not having been promptly complied with, the hatches were suddenly removed, and the guards descended among them with cutlasses in their hands. Then ensued a scene of terror. The helpless prisoners, retreating from the hatchways as far as crowded condition would permit, were followed by the guards, who mercilessly hacked, cut, and wounded everyone within their reach; and then ascending again to the upper deck, fastened down the hatches upon the poor victims of their cruel rage, leaving them to languish through the long, sultry, summer night, without water to cool their parched throats, and without lights by which they might have dressed their wounds. And to add to their torment, it was not until the middle of the next forenoon, that the prisoners were allowed to go on deck and slake their thirst, or to receive their rations of food, which, that day, they were obliged to eat uncooked. Ten corpses were found below on the morning following that memorable 4th of July and many others were badly wounded. And the war had been over for 10 months!

In a letter to Naval Magazine, General Jeremiah Johnson wrote, It was no uncommon thing to see five or six dead bodies brought on shore in a single morning, when a small excavation would be dug at the foot of the hill, the bodies be thrown in, and a man with a shovel would cover them. The whole shore was a place of graves; as were also the slope of the hill, the shore and the sandy island. The atmosphere seemed to be charged with foul air from the prison-ships, and with the effluvia of the dead bodies washed out of their graves by the tides. We believe that more than half of the dead buried on the outer side were washed out by the waves at high tide. The bones of the dead lay exposed along the beach, drying and bleaching in the sun, till reached by the power of a succeeding storm; as the agitated waters receded, the bones receded with them into the deep. For years after, the bones of these martyrs to American freedom were visible along the shore.

Stiles noted, There was however, one condition upon which these hapless sufferers might have escaped the torture of this slow but certain death, and that was enlistment in the British service. This chance was daily offered them by the recruiting officers who visited the ship, but their offers were almost invariably treated with contempt by men who fully expected to die. In spite of untold physical sufferings, which might well have shaken the resolution of the strongest; in spite of the insinuations of the British that they were neglected by their government; in defiance of threats of even harsher treatment, and regardless of promises of food and clothing, but few sought relief from their woes by the betrayal of their honor. And these few went forth into liberty followed by the undisguised contempt of the suffering heroes whom they left behind. It was this calm, unfaltering, unconquerable spirit of patriotism, defying torture, starvation, loathsome disease, and the prospect of a neglected and forgotten grave, which sanctifies to every American heart the scene of their suffering in the Wallabout, and which will render the sad story of the ‘prison-ships ‘ one of ever increasing interest to all future generations. As a footnote to the tragedy, the Brit Commander of the prison ships was charged with war crimes and subsequently hanged.

Eighteen years later, when the community of Vinegar Hill was established, residents were shocked by the skeletal remains of the prison ship victims exposed along the shoreline. During the summer of 1805, local Irish women began collecting the remains when they became exposed or washed ashore. The bones were saved and finally interred in a vault patriotically erected by the Tammany Society. The corner stone of the vault for the bones of the martyred dead, was laid in April, 1808 and marked with a great demonstration, military and civic parade, and artillery salutes. When completed, the bones were re- interred in 13 thirteen coffins, with veterans of the Revolution acting as pall bearers. Stiles records that, The procession, after passing through various streets, reached the East River, where, at different places, boats had been provided for crossing to Brooklyn. Thirteen large open boats transported the thirteen tribes of the Tammany Society, each containing one tribe, one coffin, and the pall-bearers. The scene was most inspiring. At Brooklyn, the procession formed again and arrived at the tomb of the martyrs amidst a vast and mighty assemblage. There was an invocation by Rev. Ralph Williston. The coffins were huge in size and each bore the name of one of the thirteen original states. The first grand sachem of Tammany was William Mooney. He was of Irish extraction, and a leader of the Sons of Liberty, a patriot organization formed in New York before the Revolution. After the Revolution he took an active part in politics for a great many years. By the 1840s, the monument was in a state of disrepair. In 1873 a large stone crypt was constructed in the heart of what is now Fort Greene Park, and the bones were re-interred in the crypt. A small monument was erected on the hill above the crypt. By the close of the 19th century, funds were finally raised for a grander more fitting monument for the Prison Ship Martyrs – a 148 ft. tower which stands today in Fort Greene Park ( and was unveiled in 1908 by President Taft. Today, the Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial marks the site of a crypt for more than 11,500 men, women and children, known as the prison ship martyrs.