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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore

james-cardinal-gibbonsJames Cardinal Gibbons, American prelate of the Catholic Church, is born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 23, 1834 to parents Thomas and Bridget (née Walsh) Gibbons who had emigrated from Toormakeady, County Mayo. In his role as Archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 to 1921, he serves as a bridge between Roman Catholicism and American Catholic values.

Gibbons is taken by his parents from Baltimore to Ireland in 1837. Following his father’s death in 1847, at the height of The Great Hunger, his mother moves the family back to the United States. He spends the next eight years as a grocer in New Orleans. In 1855 he enters a seminary in Baltimore, becoming a priest in 1861. He rises through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church quickly, and by 1868 he is the youngest bishop in the United States. During a short stay in North Carolina, he writes The Faith of Our Fathers (1876), a defense of Catholicism that proves exceptionally popular, selling more than two million copies. He is elevated to Archbishop of Baltimore in 1877. He assumes a leadership role as the presiding prelate at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, and in 1886 he is made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.

As a leader of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the United States, Gibbons is outspoken in his praise for American democratic institutions and he advocates Americanization — the rapid assimilation of Catholic immigrants into American culture and institutions — both as a means to counter Protestant Americans’ suspicions toward Catholics and to avoid the fragmentation of the Catholic Church in the United States along ethnic lines. He is also sympathetic to the cause of organized labour and works to overcome suspicions within the Catholic Church toward the Knights of Labor, which has been considered a secret society by many clergymen.

On education, as on other social issues, Gibbons seeks ways of harmonizing the tenets of the Catholic faith with the principles of American democracy. He enters the controversy over control of parochial and public schools in 1891 when he defends Archbishop John Ireland’s experimental plan for cooperation between Catholic and public schools in the Minnesota towns of Faribault and Stillwater. To the dismay of conservative bishops, he refuses to condemn public education and encourages efforts to find common ground between the two systems. The Faribault-Stillwater plan remains controversial despite Gibbons’s support, and acrimony between the plan’s supporters and conservative opponents lingers until 1893.

During World War I, Gibbons is instrumental in the establishment of the National Catholic War Council, and afterwards supports the League of Nations. Although initially opposed to women’s suffrage, when the Nineteenth Amendment passes Gibbons urges women to exercise their right to vote “…not only as a right but as a strict social duty.”

James Cardinal Gibbons dies at the age of 86 in Baltimore on March 24, 1921. Throughout his career he is a respected and influential public figure. Although nonpartisan, he takes positions on a variety of foreign and domestic policy issues and is personally acquainted with every U.S. president from Andrew Johnson to Woodrow Wilson.


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Formation of the Independent Orange Order

independent-orange-orderThe Independent Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organisation, is formed in Belfast on June 11, 1903 by Thomas Sloan and others associated with the Belfast Protestant Association, who have been expelled from the Orange Order because they voice opposition to it being used for party political ends by Ulster Unionists. Originally it is associated with the labour movement, but it soon realigns itself with traditional unionist politics.

It takes its name in memory of King William of Orange of the house of Orange who fights at the Battle of the Boyne, brings about the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights giving the Westminster parliament ultimate power of the country rather than the Monarch. The Independent Order is small compared to the main organisation with 1,500 to 2,000 members. It is largely based around north County Antrim in Northern Ireland but has lodges around the world, including England, Scotland, and Australia. Its annual main Twelfth of July demonstration is held in a north Antrim town or village.

The first notable effect after the formation of the Independent Order is a more liberal interpretation of the rules of the “Old Order.” In the early years of the Institution, many suffer the full wrath of the “powers that be,” who are opposed to any splitting of the Orange Order. Jobs are lost, homes are burned, and their headquarters in Belfast is bombed.

Independent Orangeism today maintains that it is essential for the Orange Institution to be kept free from politics and to guard the principles of Reformation Protestantism. They often express alarm when they believe these principles are endangered by conciliatory politicians. They are opposed to ecumenism and, while being opposed to Orangeism being linked to the Ulster Unionist Party, they are not apolitical and tend to work alongside unionist politicians and parties.

The Institution also promotes Ulster Protestant history and proclaims the principle of “Liberty of Conscience.” They declare their right to think and act independently without direction from political or clerical masters, they seek to strengthen the position of Orangeism, and they often warn of the danger of the development of a social and cultural Orangeism devoid of Protestant principle.