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Ancient Order of Hibernians (in America)

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This organization grew up gradually among the Catholics of Ireland owing to the dreadful hardships and persecutions to which they were subjected. It is impossible to give the exact date of the foundation of the order in Ireland. Some authorities contend that the first impulse towards forming such an association was due to the publication of an edict against the Catholic religion by the Earl of Sussex (Thomas Radcliffe), who was made Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1562. He prohibited all monks and Catholic priests from either eating or sleeping in Dublin, and ordered the head of each family to attend Protestant services every Sunday, under the penalty of a fine. Not only did the English begin a bitter persecution of the Catholics, they also confiscated the property of the Irish nobles. The prince Rory O'Moore with his companions took up the cause of religion and the protection of the priesthood as well as the defence of their dominions, and through their assistance the priests said Mass, on the mountains, in the valleys and glens, while "The Defenders", as they were called, acted as faithful sentinels to guard them from danger. The principality ruled over by Rory O'Moore was called Leix; it covered the greater part of Queen's County and part of County Kildare. The O'Moore's belonged to the Clan Rory of the Province of Ulster, and were descended from the celebrated hero, Conall Cearnach, who was the chieftain of the Red Branch Knights at the beginning of the Christian Era. This famous Rory O'Moore was victorious over the English forces in many battles during the reigns of Queens Mary and Elizabeth, and in consequence recovered the principality of Leix, which had been the property of his forefathers and which he governed until his death in 1578.

It is claimed that this Rory Oge O'Moore organized and founded Hibernianism in the year 1565, in the County of Kildare, in the Province of Leinster, and gave to his followers the name of "The Defenders". After the death of Rory, "The Defenders" rallied around the Irish chieftains, and after many glorious battles betook themselves to the mountains and defied the tyranny of England. In the course of time branches sprang up among the descendants in opposition to the Protestant organizations, such as the "Hearts-of-Steel", the "Oak-Boys", the "Peep-O'Day-Boys", the "Protestant-Boys", the "Wreckers", and finally the "Orangemen". The principal Catholic organizations were the "White-Boys", so called from wearing a white shirt, the "Rapparees", who received this designation on account of a half pike which they carried, and the "Ribbon-Men", so called because their badge was two pieces of green and red ribbon. In due time there arose also the "Terry-Alts" and the "Fenians". The spirit of these organizations gave rise to what is known in Ireland as the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Anyone familiar with the history of Ireland under English and Protestant domination will recognize that it was natural enough for such organizations to be formed among Irish Catholics. When the laws were made against the interests of the great mass of the people, it was the necessary to erect a barrier of defence. No doubt, some abuses were occasionally connected with the operation of these societies, but, in the main, they defended the religious and civil liberties of the Irish people.

While we have no authentic information as to when the Ancient Order of Hibernians was formally established under that title in Ireland, we know that, in 1836, certain Irishmen in New York, who desired to establish a branch of the organization in America, communicated with their brethren in Ireland, and received the following reply:

Brothers, Greeting: Be it known that to you and to all whom it may concern that we send to our few brothers in New York full instructions with our authority to establish branches of oursociety in America. The qualifications for membership must be as follows: All the members must be good Catholics, and Irish or of Irish descent, and of good andmoral character, and none of your members shall join any secret societies contrary to the laws of the Catholic Church, and all times and at all places your motto shall be: 'Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity ' * * *.

This letter concluded with the date : "This fourth day of May, in the year of our Lord, 1836", and it is signed by fourteen officers representing the organization in Ireland, Scotland, and England. The association rapidly increased in membership, but, after a few years, factions arose. They vainly attempted to heal the breach by consultation among themselves, and then referred their difficulties to the present writer, who was selected as arbitrator. Mr. P.J. O'Connor, of Savannah, Georgia, was national president of the faction called, "The Ancient Order of Hibernians of America", and Rev. E. S. Phillips, of the Diocese of Scranton, national delegate of the other faction, called "The Ancient Order of Hibernians of the Board of Erin". The arbitrator, after several months' deliberation with the principal leaders of both organizations successfully adjusted all difficulties, and the unified body became henceforth known as "The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America". This union was ratified at the national convention held at Trenton, New Jersey , from 27 June to 1 July, 1898.

Preamble of constitution revised and adopted at the national convention held at Indianapolis, Indiana, 21-26 July, 1908:

The members of The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America declare that the intent and purpose of the Order is to promote Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity among its members by raising or supporting a fund of money for maintaining the aged, sick, blind and infirm members, for the payment of funeral benefits, for the advancement of the principles of Irish nationality, for the legitimate expenses of the Order, and for no other purpose whatsoever.

The motto of this Order is Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity. Friendship shall consist of helping one another and in assisting each other to the best of our power. Unity, in combining together for mutual support in sickness and distress. Christian Charity, in loving one another and doing to all men as we would wish that they should do unto us.

(1) This Order is to be formed exclusively of practical Catholics. Therefore, each member is expected to comply with all his Christian duties. (2) Should any of the members fail in the above, and instead of giving edification and encouragement, become a stumbling block and a disgrace to the Organization, such a one, after proper charitable admonition, unless there be an amendment in his conduct, shall be expelled from the Order. (3) In order, however, that all may be done with justice, Christian charity and edification, there shall be in each county a Chaplain, appointed by the Ordinary of the Diocese, to be consulted by the Division before determining anything relating to morality or religion. (4) The Chaplain in each county shall see that nothing is done or countenanced within his jurisdiction which is contrary to the laws of the Catholic Church, the decrees of the Plenary Council of Baltimore, and the Synodical Constitutions of the Diocese. In any difficulty or doubt which he may not be able to solve, he shall consult the Ordinary of the Diocese. (5) All Divisions of this Order shall adopt the foregoing preamble, and their special Constitution and By-Laws shall be in harmony with the Constitution and By-Laws of this Order.

The constitution of 1908 gives full directions regarding the government of the organization and the manner of joining it. Article XXXV, sect. 1, treats of the place of joining the order: "Members of this Order shall join and belong to a Division in the city or town in which they reside if the Order exists therein or in the nearest locality in which a Division is located."

The membership of the A.O.H., according to the annual report for the year ending 31 Dec., 1908, is 127,254, distributed over the United States, including Hawaii, and the Dominion of Canada. The immense good done by the order can be estimated from the amount of funds expended during the part twenty-four years. During that period, about $8,000,000 have been paid for sick and funeral benefits, and for charitable purposes over $4,500,000. Among some of the noble works of the order may be mentioned the endowment of a $50,000 Gaelic chair at the Catholic University of America , Washington, D.C., and a donation of $40,000 towards their members who suffered in the San Francisco earthquake. The order also made generous gifts to the Gaelic League and established scholarships in colleges and academies to encourage the study of Irish literature and history. It was likewise instrumental in having Congress appropriate $50,000 towards the erection of a monument at Washington, D.C., to perpetuate the memory of Commodore John Barry, "Father of the American Navy".


The Ladies Auxiliary is the female branch of the order. It was established in Omaha, Nebraska, in May, 1894, and has the same objects and principles as the male branch. The Ladies Auxiliary remained for some time under the tutelage of the male Ancient Order, but, as it rapidly advanced in numbers, the ladies were permitted in 1906, at the Saratoga National Convention, to elect their own national officers, and to conduct their own affairs generally, although remaining an auxiliary organization. It is now a national body, having a membership of about 56,000 in the United States and the Dominion of Canada. The ladies have followed the generous example of the men and have established a scholarship in Trinity College, Washington, D.C., with an endowment of $10,000.

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