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

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Founding of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) is founded in the United States on May 4, 1836, at St. James’ Roman Catholic Church in New York City, near the old Five Points neighbourhood. A branch is formed the same year at Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The existence and activities of the Order are concealed for some years.

During the late 1860s and early 1870s many of the lodges of the order in Pennsylvania are infiltrated by the Molly Maguires. However the Molly Maguires and their criminal activities are condemned at the 1876 national convention of the AOH and the Order is reorganised in the Pennsylvania coal areas.

In 1884 there is a split in the organisation. The Order has previously been governed by the Board of Erin, which has governed the order in Ireland, Great Britain and the United States, but is composed of officers selected exclusively by the organisations in Ireland and Great Britain. The majority leave in 1884 and become the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America, while the small group calls itself Ancient Order of Hibernians, Board of Erin. In 1897 the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Board of Erin, has approximately 40,000 members concentrated in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, while the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America has nearly 125,000 members scattered throughout nearly every state in the union. The two groups reunite in 1898.

A female auxiliary, the Daughters of Erin, is formed in 1894, and has 20,000 members in 1897. It is attached to the larger, “American” version of the order. The AOH has 181,000 members in 1965 and 171,000 in 736 local units of “Divisions” in 1979. John F. Kennedy joins the AOH in 1947.

The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH) raises $50,000 to build the Nuns of the Battlefield sculpture in Washington, D.C., which the United States Congress authorises in 1918. The Irish American sculptor, Jerome Connor, ends up suing the Order for non-payment.

In 1982, in a revival of Hibernianism, the Thomas Francis Meagher Division No. 1 forms in Helena, Montana, dedicated to the principles of the Order and to restoring a historically accurate record of Brigadier General Meagher’s contributions to Montana. Soon after, six additional divisions form in Montana.

The Order organises the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade for 150 years, emphasising a conservative Catholic interpretation of the Irish holiday. In 1993 control is transferred to an independent committee amid controversy over the exclusion of Irish-American gay and lesbian groups.

The Brothers of St. Patrick Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America is established at Brother’s of St. Patrick in Midway City, California, in 1995.

In 2013, The Ancient Order of Hibernians raises and distributes over $200,000 to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.

In 2014, the AOH calls for a boycott of Spencer’s Gifts, for selling products the AOH says promote anti-Irish stereotypes and irresponsible drinking.

On May 10, 2014 a memorial to Commodore John Barry, an immigrant from Wexford who is a naval hero of the American Revolution and who holds commission number one in the subsequent United States Navy, is dedicated on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy. The memorial and associated “Barry Gate” is presented to the Academy by the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Several buildings of the Ancient Order of Hibernians are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places or are otherwise notable.


Black Thursday – The Molly Maguire Executions

molly-maquires-gallowsOn June 21, 1877, a day that will long be remembered as Black Thursday, ten members of the Molly Maguires, an Irish labor organization, are executed in Pennsylvania, the first of twenty executions that make up the largest mass execution of any group by the U.S. federal government in history.

The Molly Maguires are an Irish 19th-century secret society active in Ireland, Liverpool, and parts of the eastern United States, best known for their activism among Irish-American and Irish immigrant coal miners in Pennsylvania. The Mollies are believed to have been present in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania in the United States since at least the Panic of 1873.

Members of the Mollies are accused of murder, arson, kidnapping and other crimes, in part based on allegations by Franklin B. Gowen and the testimony of a Pinkerton detective, James McParland, a native of County Armagh. Fellow prisoners testified against the defendants, who were arrested by the Coal and Iron Police. Gowen acts as a prosecutor in some of the trials. The Molly Maguires become largely inactive following the executions of 1877 and 1878.

On June 21, 1877, the first ten executions take place. Six Mollies – James Carroll, James Roarity, Hugh McGehan, James Boyle, Thomas Munley, and Thomas Duffy – are hanged in the prison at Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The sheriff hangs them successively two-by-two rather than build a special gallows to accommodate six. An immense crowd gathers covering the surrounding hills. Boyle carries a blood-red rose and McGehan has two roses in his lapel. Carrol and Roarity declare their innocence from the scaffold. In County Donegal, McGehan’s relatives meet in the kitchen and, it is said, the sky blackens at the moment of hanging.

On the same date, Alexander Campbell, John “Yellow Jack” Donohue, Michael J. Doyle, and Edward J. Kelly are hanged at a Carbon County prison in Mauch Chunk for the murders of John P. Jones and Morgan Powell, both mine bosses. Here gallows have been erected to accommodate four hangings and the four are hung at the same instant. Campbell, just before his execution, allegedly slaps a muddy handprint on his cell wall stating, “There is proof of my words. That mark of mine will never be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man.” The handprint remains to this day.

Ten more condemned, Thomas Fisher, John “Black Jack” Kehoe, Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh, Patrick Tully, Peter McManus, Dennis Donnelly, Martin Bergan, James McDonnell, and Charles Sharpe, are hanged at Mauch Chunk, Pottsville, Bloomsburg, and Sunbury over the next year. Peter McManus is the last Molly Maguire to be tried and convicted for murder at the Northumberland County Courthouse in 1878.