Historical Happenings for January 2017


by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

World War II brought change to Northern Ireland as Loyalists and Nationalists who shared the same bomb shelters broke down the barriers of prejudice erected by the Unionist Ascendancy to keep them divided. The war also created jobs and the small measure of prosperity experienced by the nationalists satisfied many grievances. After the war, England rebuilt the barriers to maintain control of the north. Churchill publicly blasted the Irish Free State for neutrality during the war despite the cooperation extended to the allies by the Irish and the tens of thousands of Irish volunteers in the British military – all of which was well known to the government though not to the general public.

Anger grew in Ireland in an era of post-war high taxes, and unemployment.  In 1948, the Irish Free State abolished its Commonwealth status and passed the Republic of Ireland Act.  The date for it to go into effect was not announced, but it was signed on December 21. On January 20, 1949, northern P.M. Basil Brooke, called a general election for February 10. Southern Prime Minister John Costello urged support for anti-partition candidates in the upcoming northern election and pamphlets describing the discrimination and gerrymandering in the north were published. Unionists retaliated with a torrent of anti-Republic and anti-Catholic propaganda that worked on sectarian fears declaring that if the border went, loyalists would be victims of IRA gunmen urged on by Catholic clergy in an effort to establish the Pope as the ruler of Ireland. The propaganda, as well as years of conditioning by the Orange Order, had the desired effect as record numbers went to the polls to return the Unionists to power!

New Year's Eve

In the south; Dail Eireann brought the Republic of Ireland Act into effect on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949 – 33 years after Pearse’s declaration at the GPO. On May 3, British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee declared, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of Her Majesty’s Dominions without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.  The new Republic of Ireland protested Britain’s continuation of partition, and mass meetings  urged action, but the new Republic was not prepared for anything stronger than a protest. With tempers at a fever pitch, a call for action was heard, and the rebirth of the IRA was underway.

Depleted in assets after the war, the IRA began reorganizing. They gathered support by standing against the mistreatment of Republican prisoners and emerged in their traditional role of spokesmen for the Irish people with the rallying cry: The Border Must Go!  On June 5, 1951, the Derry unit of the new IRA raided Ebrington Barracks and captured a quantity of guns and ammunition. As raids continued, the situation in the north became more tense and nervous B-Special patrols became more violent. The Irish Times urged the northern government to curb its patrols noting that, para-military forces are an anachronism in a democratic society, but to no avail. On August 15, 1955, four men attacked a Royal Artillery Training Camp, but fled as a sentry gave the alarm. Citing the attack, the Minister of War made a special report to the Cabinet, and P.M. Anthony Eden ordered mobilization to deal with the new IRA campaign. It was later abandoned when four British Officers confessed to the raid to make things hotter for the IRA.  An embarrassed War Office sent a communique to the police apologizing for the trouble caused and the matter was dropped. 

Then, on the night of December 12, 1956, IRA volunteers assembled in 10 different areas along the border in an arc from Antrim to Derry. On a signal from the campaign center in Monaghan, the morning quiet of December 13 was broken by numerous explosions. Operation Harvest – the border campaign to retake the six counties – had begun. Reaction was swift! By December 15, the Special Powers Act was revived allowing arrest and internment without warrant or trial, a curfew was imposed and police forces strengthened.  On December 22, the RUC spiked or blew up every border crossing road and bridge that had no customs post. By the end of the year 3,000 RUC and 12,000 B-Specials were called into action, and the north was an armed camp.

On the morning of January 1, 1957, an IRA raiding party set out for the RUC barracks in Brookborough, Co. Fermanagh. They parked their truck in front of the barracks in the town center and opened fire with rifles and a Bren gun while an assault group attempted to set off a land mine against the building. The mine did not explode and the assault group returned through a hail of bullets, for another one. This also misfired. As the raiders began to run out of ammunition, guns from the barracks returned a deadly rain of fire. Misfortune continued to plague the raiders as one threw a grenade toward a barrack window to cover their retreat. The grenade bounced off the building, and rolled under the truck where it exploded, blowing the tires, and damaging the gears. Somehow the raiders made it back to the crippled truck and limped away.

Near the town of Roslea, the truck gave out, and the badly shot up raiding party sought refuge in an abandoned barn. Six of the party were wounded, two were unable to travel – 19-year old Fergal O’Hanlon of Monaghan and 27-year old Sean South of Limerick. Both were unconscious. One of the party, volunteered to stay behind and hold off the pursuing RUC so the others might escape, but it was felt that such an action would endanger the lives of their unconscious comrades. It was decided to leave South and O’Hanlon to be captured so they would at least get the medical attention they needed. The rest of the raiding party retreated toward the border.

 The RUC arrived just after the IRA had left and the retreating IRA men heard a burst of gunfire.  They prayed it was just the warning shots associated with an assault on a military target, but they later learned it was the murder of their two unconscious comrades. This was a source of unforgiving bitterness for years to come. Author Tim Pat Coogan wrote, In a sense the Brookborough ambush explains everything about the IRA, and its hold on Irish tradition. It shows the courage, the self-sacrifice, the blundering, and the emotional appeal that have characterized and kept alive the IRA spirit for centuries. The two young men who lost their lives in the Brookborough affair were given two of the biggest funerals in living memory – but during their lives there was never sufficient public support for their aims for them to receive proper military training or even or even to be correctly briefed on the target that claimed their lives.

The two men killed in the raid, who had resolved to free their countrymen behind the artificial border, now took their place among the martyrs to Ireland’s cause and their memories were kept alive by a monument erected in 1982 at Moane’s Cross between Roslea and Brookborough. It is the site of an annual Republican ceremony.  The memorial has continually been vandalized by suspected hardline unionists.  The shed where South and O’Hanlon were murdered was also pulled down years ago to the distress of locals who used the stone to build this Memorial.  Though the memorial may be defaced or even obliterated regularly, there is yet another memorial that cannot be defaced and that is the strongest memorial of all; the two patriots have entered the world of Republican ballad in the songs Sean South of Garryowen and The Patriot’s Game.

National Convention a Huge Success

By Michael McCormack and Ned McGinley

More than 2,000 AOH and LAOH delegates, selected by their peers from all over the United States, assembled at Turning Stone Resort and Casino, on land that was once home to the six nations of the Iroquois Federation near Syracuse, New York, to hold the 96th Biennial Convention of their 176-year old Order.

On Monday an Opening Mass began the proceedings, as always, with our Irish Catholic Heritage prominently on display celebrated by the Bishop Robert Cunningham. Immediately following the Mass the Icebreaker “Taste of New York” was the opening Reception. At the Icebreaker the CEO of the Oneida Nation, once one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, Ray Halbritter greeted his guests, which is noteworthy in that this is not his common practice to bring a personal welcome. The State Senator Joe Griffo and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi were also there to welcome our delegates.

Tuesday began with an early morning joint session, which saw future convention site presentations as well as the two National Presidents speaking to those assembled. There was also a talk by Irish born, naturalized American Tom McGrath an Ultra Marathon, Solo Runner, who will be running 250 miles from his Pub, “The Black Sheep” in Manhattan, starting on July 20, through the Commodore John Barry Gate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland, finishing on July 28.

Following the joint session the AOH and LAOH moved to their general meetings and breaking down into committees to discuss the business of the respective organizations. There are so many things that interest our members Immigration, Charities, Political Education, Freedom for All Ireland, Irish History, Catholic Action, etc.

Tuesday ended with a night of Irish Musical entertainment by the Makem and Spain Brothers who were magnificent.
On Wednesday the reports back from the committees were followed by the nomination of officers in both A.O.H. and L.A.O.H. and contests for both boards proved once again that our Orders are alive and well by having contested offices in both Orders.

On Wednesday the Degree Teams of both Orders educated the non-degree members of the history, culture, and traditions of their respective Orders. The degrees were conferred on the acolytes with degreed members looking on. As expected the AOH Tara Court Degree Team from Long Island and the LAOH Trinity Major Degree Team of the Capitol District performed admirably.

Wednesday night was Irish Night and the Ladies Awards, which were greeted with standing ovations. The President’s Leadership Award went to Sister Phyllis O’Dowd of Suffolk County NY and the Columban Fathers and Sisters received their biennial generous gift with another donation given to the Precious Life Home for battered women.

Thursday started early with elections for the AOH and LAOH Officers and more important meetings on Constitution changes and Resolutions in an effort to finish up while the voting continued. The afternoon was a bit tense as the results of the ballot count for the National Offices were awaited.

Thursday afternoon was the superb closing Mass celebrated by AOH National Chaplain Thomas O’Donnell of Pittsburgh. Immediately after the Mass, in the same room, the new AOH/LAOH National Boards were installed in front of the delegates to the convention. It is a beautiful ceremony that pledges the officers to the memberships and the members to their officers in all things constitutional and lawful.

The closing dinner was graced by the First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness, who spoke of the great help that the Irish America and especially the A.O.H. along with the L.A.O.H. had been in bringing the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement to the Six Counties. Fresh from shaking hands with the Queen of England, in a moment of reconciliation, he pledged to continue progress toward a United Ireland by all political and lawful means as stated in the Constitution of our Order.

The second award was the John F. Kennedy Medal voted by the AOH/LAOH to Labor Priest and College Professor as well as Past National Chaplain Father Patrick Sullivan who most recently led the Boston Diocese Labor Guild. Father is a member of the Holy Cross community and has taught at the University of Notre Dame as well as King’s College in Pennsylvania. The night finished with short talks by newly elected A.O.H. President Brendan Moore of NY and L.A.O.H. President Maureen Sheldon of Michigan.

The Turning Stone setting was idyllic with beautiful mountains and green everywhere. The facility is superb with a phenomenal major golf course and a pitch and putt within easy walking distance as well as tennis courts and a walking/running path around the whole resort. The gardens, grounds, ponds, and lawns truly add to the peaceful ambience. On top of all this there is a first class casino and entertainment.

The staff was courteous, generous, unfailingly polite, and industrious making our visit a true pleasure. The delicious meals and beverages were excellent, well served, and handled beautifully by a well trained and prepared staff. The CEO Ray Halbritter should be proud of his employees, the Oneida Nation, and the Turning Stone Resort.

Congratulations to Liam McNabb and Mary Leathem for a superb effort on the 96th Biennial Convention of the AOH/LAOH in America.

– Mike McCormack is the National Historian and Ned McGinley is a past National President


30th Anniversary of the Irish Hunger Strike for Freedom

The Ancient Order of Hibernians’ New York State board held a solemn ceremony in East Durham on April 30, 2011, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Irish Hunger Strike for Freedom, which in 1981 resulted in the agonizing death of 10 political prisoners, who chose to starve in the H-Block of Long Kesh rather than allow the British government to classify them as criminals.

The commemoration was performed at the AOH state board’s annual spring meeting in the Catskills Mountains, NY, at the direction of AOH NYS President Charles “Chip” McLean.

With all Hibernians standing, National AOH Historian Michael McCormack presented a moving tribute to the Irish heroes, and named each man whose death had the consequence of thwarting British plans to criminalize the acts of the Irish Republican prisoners: Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Tom McElwee, Kieran Doherty and Mickey Devine.

Tim Myles, the AOH NYS Freedom For All Ireland chairman, announced an ongoing fund-raising raffle of a signed poster commemorating Bloody Sunday.