Historical Happenings for February 2017

 THE BOB AND MOLLIE MONTEITH STORY (Part II)

For Part I of this story, go to AOH.COM and link to Historical Happenings

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On the run in the hills of Kerry since the ill-fated AUD debacle, Volunteer Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Monteith reflected on the failure of the arms shipment. He blamed Devoy for the coolness of the German Staff to Casement since Devoy told the German ambassador in New York that Clan na Gael was to be the only contact. The militants in Dublin also kept Casement uninformed since they felt that he was opposed to an insurrection without significant German assistance and the German Admiralty’s plans differed from theirs. The Admiralty planned that AUD would arrive on one of four nights from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, allowing for storm, flood or  English patrols. They requested a pilot boat to be in position each of those nights and that two green lights be shone periodically to guide AUD into Fenit. The plan was sent to Dublin, but the militants insisted that the ship should come on schedule on Sunday night. Casement felt that was foolish and when AUD arrived off the Kerry coast on the night of Holy Thursday, 1916, there were no lights and no pilot boat!  Kerry Volunteer leader Austin Stack had also been ordered that there was to be no shooting before Easter Sunday night.

Stack knew nothing of the ship’s winches and unloading gear nor how to operate them. This was the information Casement wanted to bring in advance. Every stevedore needs such data before he starts to work cargo; men unused to ships cannot be turned into dock workers at a moment’s notice. Stack would need 300 men for the job: a 150-man working party and a 150-man armed covering party since the police would arrive in short order. On AUD were 4,000 cases of rifles, 2,000 cases of ammunition and other material. Stack would need every Volunteer in Kerry and a supervisory staff capable of directing them. Casement’s request to come ahead was denied. The Military Council knew that the landing of arms would have touched off the Rising and they insisted that the Proclamation of the Republic must be read first in Dublin to make the landing of arms a legitimate act of a nation at war rather than a rebel act.  Monteith felt that the Military Council’s ignorance of the logistics of dock work led to their decision that the Proclamation be read first. Although it wouldn’t have frightened the British as much as 20,000 rifles in Irish hands, it made ‘great theater’ and most of the rebel leaders were poets and playwrights!

After eight months in the hills, Monteith was given a false name and fireman’s papers to work on the ship, ADRIATIC, bound for New York.  However, he was so weak that he was unable to endure the work of stoking boilers and carrying coal; he suffered a burst blood vessel in his stomach and severely blistered hands; carrying false papers, he was unable to seek a doctor and so suffered until they docked in New York in mid-December, 1916. The freezing cold after the heat of the boiler room brought on chills and fever. He jumped ship as it docked at 14th Street, walked across town to catch the Third Avenue elevated train to the 116th Street address he learned from Clan members. He barely made it to the third floor.  The children opened the door and Mollie ran to catch him as he fell forward. The wandering patriot was home!  She put him to bed and contacted John Devoy who sent a Clan na Gael doctor to attend the returned patriot. That night, Devoy came to see him and they talked for hours to reconcile their differences.

When Bob was well enough to travel, Mollie rented a house on 120th Street off Lexington Ave with no stairs to climb.  When the word got out that Monteith was in New York, a mass of newsmen wanted the story of the survivors of the submarine landing. One man called it Three men in a boat, the smallest invasion in history. Monteith gave no interviews as it might endanger men in Ireland. They rented a three-storey house with tenants at 157 East 119th Street to provide an income but the block was condemned by the city for garages and they relocated again, this time to 117th Street.

Meanwhile Republican Sinn Fein won a majority of seats in the December 1918 election and established their own dissident parliament called Dáil Eireann and set up a Bond Drive to support the new government. Eamon deValera, as President of the Dail, asked Bob to campaign for the Drive in America.  Bob agreed and took off on a nation-wide fund drive. When Bob was out west raising funds, the children suffered several  bouts with whooping cough and had their tonsils removed.  The doctor told Mollie that if young Patricia were to survive, she needed fresh air. Mollie relocated once more, this time to Schooleys Mountain, New Jersey where she rented a 5-room house on a 3-acre farm. Bob returned on weekends whenever he could but by 1922, his health was failing and he spent a month recuperating in the mountains with the family. Anxious to get some work, Bob moved to Detroit – a boom town at the time.  He found a nearly finished bungalow and sent for the family. They joined the Gaelic League and were popular among the many Irish in Detroit.  Bob worked at the Ford Motor Company. The financial crisis of 1929 hit and the WPA assigned him to a road gang.  Mollie worked at a cleaning plant and then as a teacher.  When the economy recovered, Bob was rehired by Ford and joined the Gaelic League’s Irish Rifle Association as an instructor. With retirement on their mind, Mollie found a small 2-1/2 room house in Goodells, Michigan and sold the house in Detroit. Bob retired in 1943 and in May 1947, they returned to Ireland settling in a house in, Donneycarney, Dublin.

Mollie attended the opening of Roger Casement Stadium in Belfast in June 1953 as Bob was too ill to attend.  He published a book, Casement’s Last Adventure in 1953 and they both agreed to return to Detroit in December 1953 to be with their children. As Bob and Millie grew older, they became progressively ill. One night in February 1956, as Bob tended to Mollie, he tripped on a rug beside their bed. Mollie jumped out of bed but couldn’t lift him. He asked to be left there and Mollie covered him with blanket and pillowed his head. The following day daughter Patricia helped lift him into bed. He refused to let them call a doctor saying he’d be fine after a rest. On February 18 he turned his head and asked, Where are you, Mollie?  She replied, I’m right here, by your side.  He muttered, You would be, and turned his head back toward the wall and fell into eternal sleep. General MacArthur said that Old soldiers never die, they just fade away and Captain Monteith did just that after a life spent in service to the Ireland he was converted to love. He was buried in Holy Sepulchre cemetery in Southfield Michigan after a massive procession of Gaelic League and other Irish societies.

Later in Nov 15, 1956, the Long Island Advance newspaper carried the notice that Mrs. Mollie Florence Burke Monteith, the widow of Captain Robert Monteith, flew here recently from Detroit and is spending several weeks visiting her daughter, Mrs. Florence Lynch of Blue Point Avenue in Blue Point, New York. She returned to Detroit and joined Captain Bob on May 7, 1966, three weeks before her 95th birthday.

No mention was made of Captain Bob and Mollie during the official ceremonies commemorating the recent Easter Rising, except by the Gaelic League and AOH in Detroit, Michigan, but they belong right up there in Republican memory with Tom and Kathleen Daly Clarke for few couples gave more to Ireland than they!

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 History.com, 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!

AOH Celebrating Quartoseptcentennial

Quartoseptcentennial is a mighty big word!  Taken from the Latin, it literally means one-quarter (quarto-) times seven (sept-) times 100 years (centennial); it is also a mighty big accomplishment.  A Quartoseptcentennial celebration is, in essence, a 175th anniversary and the Ancient Order of Hibernians will celebrate that in the year 2011.  We will be celebrating 175 years of service to our heritage which includes our Catholic faith, our ancestral homeland and the United States of America.

Our National Board is considering a special 175th anniversary commemoration weekend in New York City, where it all started, so many years ago.  The celebration may be combined with the National President’s Dinner, will take place October 7 – 9, 2011.  Special events are being considered such as celebratory Mass at old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was key to early Hibernian activities and will, by that time, be designated a Basilica.  A gala Banquet and Ball is also being investigated.  Details of all the events will be revealed in subsequent issues of the Digest.

In conjunction with the celebration, a special commemorative souvenir publication is in preparation.  It will be a colorfully illustrated keepsake that will contain the roots of the AOH and notable accomplishments in the 25 years since the last major anniversary.  It is presently being prepared by the National Historian’s office with the assistance of other past AOH Historians.  The history will be printed on the upper 80% of each page with the lower 20% of the page allocated to the sponsor of that page for future generations to note.  A tag line across the bottom of the page will note: This page is sponsored by: and beneath that will be the name of the sponsoring individual, Division, County or State Board with officer’s names or any other message limited to four lines.  Your sponsorship will allow future researchers into the history of the AOH to determine the names of your officers and their commitment to its history.  Sponsoring a page of our history will only cost $100.  However, if you or your organization would like to include a history of your Division or Board with such data as a list of past presidents and/or notable accomplishments for future researchers, you can do so on 25 lines for only $150. or 50 lines at $200.  Copy for larger ads should be in digital form in WORD or WordPerfect and sent to AOHBard@Optonline.Net.  Since the number of history page sponsorships at $100. is limited to the number of pages containing the history and those pages are still being created sponsorship will be honored on a first come, first served basis.  Ads with checks made payable to AOH National Board (with journal on the memo line) must be submitted to Tom O’Donnell, 9512 Northeast Avenue, Philadelphia, PA  19115 before May 1, 2011.   More details will be given in future editions of the Digest.

Also in honor of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, the National Board has authorized the minting of a limited edition of numbered commemorative medallions to be sold among the membership of the Order.  The medallion was struck by the Highland Mint in 3D and is one and one-half inch, ten gauge, antiqued bronze and comes in a protective case with a certificate of authenticity describing the historic icons on the medallion.

Born in Liberty is the theme of the anniversary, and of the medallion, since the Order was born in the search for religious and cultural liberty in America as well as liberty for a united 32-county Ireland.  Further, the Order was founded simultaneously in New York and Pennsylvania and the symbols associated with those two sites are the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell.  These two icons are engraved on the face of the medallion while the theme, in both American and Irish, and the dates 1836 – 2011 encircle the images.  Also engraved is the notation 175 YEARS and the legend HERITAGE AND HOMELAND – the two strongest motivations of the Irish people.

The reverse side of the medallion contains one of the earliest known representations of our organizational logo dating from before the turn of the 19th century.  It was the design originally adopted by the Ohio State Board.  In addition to the early logo, there is engraved a Celtic Cross, as was uppermost on the Sesquicentennial (150th) Commemorative Medallion, to illustrate the Order’s commitment to the faith of our fathers.  The motto of the Order, Friendship, Unity and Christian charity, and the founding date of 4 May, 1836 complete the inscription.  The medallion was proposed by Mike Byrne, designed by Mike McCormack and approved by National Chairman, PNP Ed Wallace, National President Seamus Boyle and New York State President Chip McLean.  A pre-sale of the medallions has been authorized in order to make them available for Christmas giving.  They are available for only $30 each (includes postage and handling) to members for gifts, as awards and as collectors items, only by using the order form in this Digest.

Buy your 175th coin by downloading this form.

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NHD Winners Win Awards

Pat Maguire, Clara Cullen and Sean Murphy

Clara Cullen of Ada Michigan won critical acclaim and the top award at National History Day at the University of Maryland for her website on the Gaelic Athletic Association’s impact on preserving the Irish nation.  National Historian, Mike McCormack asked past Michigan State President Pat Maguire and St Patrick’s Division President Sean Murphy to make the presentation to Ms Cullen.  The presentation was made front of the Michigan State Capital at Lansing.  Clara’s Mother, Susan Cullen, and Grandmother Clara, attended the event where Pat Maguire presented the winning check of $1500 to Clara.

At the New York State Finals for NHD held at Cooperstown, NY, four young ladies from Connetquot High School captured top honors with a presentation of how Irish step dancing led to the development of Jazz Tap dancing.  They were Nina Franza, Dara Copolone, Brittany Holloway and Jacqueline Schrage.  National Historian Mike McCormack joined with Suffolk County AOH Historian Dr. Dave Ring to make the Award presentation.

You can see the winning website by clicking here.

Dr. Dave Ring, Mike McCormack, winning students, Principal Moran and Dr. Hillary Garland

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Building the Irish American Museum

In life it is said that the best ideas are the most obvious.  In the case of a small group of Irish Americans from Connecticut, their vision of building a national Irish American museum in our Nation’s Capital has been staring them in the face for years and now they are taking steps to make it a reality.  The Irish American Museum of Washington, DC will be a major cultural institution that will bring Irish-American history to life for visitors of all ages and for all American’s to see.       According to Carl Shanahan, a founding director of the Museum, The history of the United States is the history of Irish America and that history deserves its rightful place in our nation’s capital. He continued to explain that, The museum belongs in Washington to reflect the national character of our story; the Irish legacy is evident all across this country.

The museum will be one of ethnic identity and join the likes of similar museums in DC honoring African Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans and most recently German Americans.  The goal, according to Shanahan, is to explore the experience of the Irish people from immigrations through the evolution of their communities as well as to acknowledge their struggles and triumphs.  James Dougherty, another founding director, explained that The story of Irish America must be preserved and the story must be told. Every day a little bit of our history fades away. We must record and preserve that history before it is gone.

AOH National Historian Mike McCormack noted, How many times have we said I wish I could have been there to help during the Great Hunger, to fight with Pearse in the 1916 rising, to work with Michael Collins, or to lend a hand at any other crucial time in Irish history – but I was born too late.  Revise that thought!  We were born at just the right time to do all those things and more for to keep their memory alive for posterity is to aid them more than any aid they received in their lifetimes.  This museum is a critical effort and it’s what we are all about.  Now is our time to be a hero for Irish history.

Early plans for the museum include housing in temporary gallery space until a permanent building can be built; site locations for a prestigious permanent establishment are presently under investigation.  The museum will provide future generations of Irish-Americans with a proper sense of their history.  With very limited space for museums available on the national mall, the search will include property of historic significance in the early Irish history of Washington DC which also allows convenient access to visitors.

Education will be a key component of the museum to showcase 250 years of Irish-American history through innovative exhibitions, education and cultural programs.  This will be done in a state of the art facility designed to pay proper tribute to all those of Irish descent who played a role in the birth and development of the United States of America. The Museum will be a living and constantly developing entity. The core elements of the initial plan include exhibits of historical artifacts from the earliest Irish settlers up through the present.  Also included will be oral history projects recording the memories of individuals who contributed to the Irish American story; a library of donated and collected books, films, magazines, newspapers and recorded music; a historical research center; a genealogical research center; an auditorium for presenting plays and musical performances that tell the Irish American story and a gift shop where visitors can purchase books, films and other items of Irish American interest.  A cafeteria will serve quality food including dishes that would have been familiar to Irish immigrants.  A publishing department will also develop and publish books and films on the Irish American experience. Also planned is a state of the art cinema to present audio/visual material produced by the Museum and by outside sources on topics of Irish-American interest.

Raising money for such a facility and operation will take a significant amount of time and effort and it all began in 2007, when the Board of Directors of The Wild Geese, an Irish American cultural organization based in Fairfield County Connecticut, authorized its President and Vice-President to pursue the establishment of an Irish-American Museum as a standalone tax exempt organization.  They appropriated $30,000.00 as seed money to form the organization, and produce publicity material. The Wild Geese have subsequently granted an additional $5,000.00. The Museum has been incorporated and has been granted section 501(c)(3) tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.  According to Patrick Flaherty a founding director of the Museum, the organization must raise $10 Million to build, maintain and endow the museum in perpetuity.  They are soliciting funds from numerous sources including corporate sponsors, foundations, governments and individuals.

More informational can be found at their website www.irishamericanmuseumdc.org which is also in the process of being expanded.

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