Joe Byrne and the Ancient Order of Hibernians

Joe Byrne arriving at JFK airport. (L to R) Congressman Eliot Engel, Eileen Byrne, Joe Byrne, Matt Reilly (member of the Fort Worth Five), Moira Reilly and Mairead Byrne is out in front.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians was formed in New York City in 1836 for many reasons, one in particular was to protect young Irish men who had recently immigrated.  While Joe Byrne was not considered by many to be “new” to America, his unjust arrest was enough for all who belonged to the AOH/LAOH to stand up and fight for him.

Early Friday morning, on July 28th, 2006, Joe and his family were met by 20 Armed U.S. Marshals at their home.  Joe’s daughter, Mairead, then three years-old, was the first to see these men.  Joe was arrested and brought to Valhalla, were he was locked up until his release on Friday, September 8th, 2006.  On that Friday morning, no one knew why Joe had been arrested.  The U.S. Marshals told his wife, Eileen, that Joe would be brought before a judge in White Plains at 10:00am.  It was there that they learned that Ireland had asked the United States Government to honor an extradition request of one Joseph Simon Byrne.

In 1996 and early 1997, in Dundalk, County Louth, Joe had been picked up for questioning regarding a robbery. Joe answered the Gardai’s questions and was released on his own recognizance.  Later in 1997, Joe went back to Gardai Station and informed them he planned on moving to America.  “Any problems?” he asked, “none” replied the Gardai.  In 2001, Joe had settled in Pearl River with his future wife when he needed to renew his Irish passport.  This was done in the Irish Embassy and his passport was mailed back to his home in Pearl River.  In 2004, Joe applied for his Green Card.  He reported on his application that he had been questioned in Dundalk Gardai Station about the robberies.  When INS asked the Irish Government about Joe’s reputation, he was issued a Certificate of Good Standing from Ireland.  Joe’s Green Card had also been sent to his address in Pearl River.

Sometime in 2005, the Irish Government issued an extradition order for Joe.  No one knows why it took the U.S. Marshals over a year to find Joe, but I will always remember a quote in the local Journal News on Saturday, July 29th – “You can run, but you can’t hide.”  I have since forgotten the name of that US Marshal, but clearly, Joe was not hiding in Pearl River.  He could be found on just about any job site, in Hibernian House, at a Division 3 meeting, Shop Rite, marching on the avenue for Rockland’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, etc…  He was truly out and about in town.

I received the first of many calls regarding Joe’s situation around 6:15am that awful Friday morning.  I immediately started making phone calls to members of AOH/LAOH Division 3 and one person actually went and woke up our local Town Councilman.  Throughout the course of the day, as the bad news travelled, I received phone calls from many AOH/LAOH members, asking what they could do to help.  I remember thinking then – if the number of phone calls was enough, Joe would be home by midnight.  Of course, it didn’t happen that way, but no member of the AOH/LAOH walked away from Joe, his family or Division 3.  As each call was answered, they were all told the same thing, reach out to your politicians and ask them to join New York State Congressman Eliot Engel in helping get Joe out of jail.

From July 2006 till February 20th, 2008, I always knew that Joe and his family could count on the AOH/LAOH to help try and put a stop to his extradition.  But on that fateful day of February 20th, 2008, word came down that then Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, had signed Ireland’s request for Joe’s extradition.  On February 29th, 2008, Joe arrived back in Dundalk, County Louth.

While Joe’s fight shifted from America to Ireland, the AOH/LAOH in America never forgot about Joe and from the e-mails I received over the past 29 months, all of you kept the faith that Joe would one day come back to America.  From New York to California, Wisconsin to Texas, Maine to Arizona, Florida to Washington and everywhere in between, all of you never forgot about Joe and the injustice that was done to him and his family.  You all had one goal in mind – to reunite Joe with his family, right here in the United States of America.   One of my last e-mails to all in 2008 stated:  “While we came up short on the extradition, we know that the nobility of the Irish character is to be never broken by temporary defeat but to come back stronger and more determined than ever. “

Oh, how true those words are!  And I am proud to say that with Joe’s return to the United States on Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 (one day short of a four year nightmare), it was due in part to Congressman Eliot Engel and his belief in Joe’s innocence and every member of the AOH/LAOH.  We proved that we will never let the nobility of the Irish character be broken and we will always come back stronger and more determined than ever.  God Bless the AOH/LAOH.  I am extremely proud and humbled to be a part of this organization.  United We Stand, Divided We Fall!  Good Luck, God Bless and God Speed to one and all!  Thanks for an awesome job!


Siobhan Dennehy Awarded JFK Medal

Siobhan Dennehy, Executive Director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, was the 2010 recipient of the JFK Medal at the AOH & LAOH National Convention in Cincinnati Ohio. She thanked the AOH/LAOH in these words:

I am so very glad indeed to be here this evening to accept this award.  And I am especially grateful to Brendan Moore his wife Eileen, Danny O’Connell and their team of colleagues for their invitation to be with you tonight. I know firsthand how much work goes into an event such as this and am truly impressed with the outstanding job everyone has in welcoming me and my family.

I want to thank my family my husband Dan in particular there is a saying that behind every great man there’s a great woman – well here it works in reverse thanks to Dan for being the great man supporting me! My mom Sheila is here tonight from Dublin and my daughters Cara and Ashling – thanks for all your help to make this moment my FPD [favorite part of the day].

I want to pay a particular tribute to the AOH and LAOH membership tonight; by recognizing me with this prestigious national award you have chosen to highlight me as a person for the work I do, the organizations I represent, the staff & board members who help me achieve the work I complete, the clients and community members who seek our help, my own family who work with me and the family who sacrifice much for me. Like many others of my generation I came to this county as a young university student, in my case from Trinity College, with a love of my heritage and culture and yet aware that Ireland’s economy then could not offer me a career opportunity.  In New York I discovered a thriving Irish American community which offered me limitless potential. In meeting Dan and his dad (DJ) I came to know the AOH and many of you and part of this award is being accepted in his memory

In receiving an award named for someone else, protocol would dictate that as the recipient you do a little research about that person …there are very few here I’m sure that would argue that John F Kennedy needs any introduction at all and we can agree that he and his family represent a very proud immigrant history.

When President Kennedy arrived at Dublin my home town just over 47 years ago, he expressed, the special pride which he felt in the generosity of the United States over the years to so many immigrants from so many different countries and he also noted on that historic visit to Ireland that everywhere, immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.

Emigration to America represents a new opportunity, and our people by and large, make good lives for themselves here.  For many, emigration is never an easy option; but it can be their only option.  We know that emigration presents some people with very particular difficulties; they can, for instance, find themselves adrift and marginalized.  The people who offer front-line assistance and advice services to the vulnerable Irish provide, therefore, a critically important support structure.  The work of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, as well as all the Immigration Centers in the US continue to serve that cause on a daily basis. My pleasure in receiving the JFK Award is heightened by the fact that many centers are now such valued resource for the immigrant community.

There is an expression in the Irish language about co-existence and the importance of community support: is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – we exist in each other’s shelter.  The spirit of community service and consideration for others is exemplified by people who receive the JFK Award in the name of the AOH and LAOH.

In his address to the Dail and Senate in 1963 President Kennedy said: Across the gulfs and barriers that now divide us, we must remember that there are no permanent enemies. The context here was in the face of Anglo Irish relations but I ask you all to think about these words and apply them to the US’s immigration policy particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 and how that event has changed the face of US Immigration policy.

There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US; some argue that number might be too high; many of us in the context of the challenges facing the Irish ecomony at the moment believe that number is arguably higher.

The reason that they are here in that undocumented capacity is that there are honestly no other options open to them.  Since assuming the position of Executive Director EIIC in March of 2003 every year in politics has brought renewed debate on immigration reform and after seven years the challenges are growing immeasurably and we must as a society choose to look at changing the immigration policy in a humane and effective way.

I have been honored to assist the AOH many times in recent years and have received the assistance of many members for which I am grateful.  I look to continue to extend the use of our resources and look for the day when legal and secure paths to US immigration will allow future flows of Irish to enjoy the cultural exchange and love for two countries which we all share here tonight.

We have some work to do on immigration reform and I appeal to you and your membership to continue to support on the matter of Immigration in this vision. President Kennedy wrote in 1958 in the book entitled A Nation of Immigrants.  And I quote, Immigration policy should be generous, it should be fair, it should be flexible; with such a policy we can turn to the world and to our own past with clean hands and a clear conscience.

In closing, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to you all from me as a mother of two daughters to be a female recipient of the JFK Medal Award that I am truly humbled and I assure you that it will inspire me to look for ways to do more for my adopted country going forward

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir