Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ancient Order of Hibernians and Irish Culture Part I

The promotion and preservation of Irish culture have played important roles in AOH activity and history since it’s beginning in Ireland during the mid-sixteenth century. In regards to promotion and preservation, AOH involvement in Ohio can be traced to two distinct time periods: 1880 to 1936 and 1967 to 2004. The first time period is important because it was those years that AOH began in Ohio and grew to become one of the largest in the nation. This earlier period is ripe with newspaper coverage of the various AOH events that promoted and preserved Irish culture. The second time period is important because the resurgence of the AOH can be traced to that time period. This period brought new Irish-Americans into the fold as events in Northeastern Ireland unfolded and the explosion of Irish cultural activities such as step-dancing in the 1990s.

During the 1880 to 1936 era, the AOH in Ohio primarily focused on Irish history and music in preserving and promoting Irish culture. This earlier era primarily focused its promotion of culture amongst its own members, thereby overlooking the promise of promoting Irish culture within their local communities. The AOH of the 1967 to 2004 era has broadened its preservation and promotion of culture to include Irish step-dancing, literature and language in addition to the older era’s history and music cultural promotions. This latter era primarily focuses its attention on preserving and promoting Irish culture for the community at large, not just for the benefit of its own membership. The preamble of the AOH constitution clearly spells out that the AOH must “…foster the ideals and perpetuate the history and traditions of the Irish people [and] to promote Irish culture.”[1]

One of the first accounts of the AOH promoting Irish culture was in Youngstown where the divisions held a procession through the town for St. Patrick’s Day in 1876. A lecture was held for the AOH members about why Irish-Americans celebrate the holiday in honor of their heritage.[2] This lecture educated Hibernian members about the history of their native country and why it was important to honor their heritage at their gatherings. The Dayton AOH members in 1890 held a gathering for St. Patrick’s Day in order to educate their membership about the importance of preserving their Irish heritage in America.[3] That same year, the Cleveland AOH held a procession through the streets of Cleveland followed by a speech that was given by the Speaker of the Ohio State House, Representative Hysell. According to the newspaper account of the speech, Representative Hysell said, “he could appreciate the love of country implanted in every true Irishman’s breast” after viewing the parade.[4] Mr. Thomas McNamara, Jr. spoke at the gathering in Youngstown in 1893 on how Hibernians “appreciate what St. Patrick’s day is in the green isle beyond the sea.”[5] In March 1890, Cleveland’s AOH divisions hosted two speakers at a community wide event which focused on Ireland as It Was and Irish-American as the topics for the evening.[6]

Columbus divisions of the AOH held a celebration of Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day in 1901. The morning began with mass at St. Patrick’s church with the AOH divisions of the city. Following mass, a parade consisting of Hibernian members, Columbus police, Hibernian military divisions known as the Hibernian Rifles, and civic leaders of Columbus. The evening entertainment was held at the Board of Trade auditorium with speakers, music, and dramatic recitations of famous Irish speeches in order to educate the community at large about the culture and history of Ireland.[7]

The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH) in Youngstown held its first annual ball in honor of St. Patrick’s Day with music provided by the Mahoning Orchestra in 1903.[8] For Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, the shops of the city were decorated with “…pots of hardy shamrock…and the bits of fluttering green on every other pedestrian gave the proper note to a festival which has the peculiarity of being almost a national holiday in every country on the globe” according to the Cleveland Catholic Universe during that same year.[9] The AOH in Cleveland organized a banquet featuring speakers and Irish music at a local parish for their members later that evening.[10]

AOH in Columbus focused on promoting Irish history during the centennial anniversary of the execution of Robert Emmet by the British in 1803. A tribute “of word and song” was one of the highlights of the remembrance according to the Sunday Columbus Dispatch during the event in 1903.[11] Speakers for the ceremony were Ohio Governor George K. Nash, Mayor Robert H. Jeffrey of Columbus, Honorable T.S. Hogan (state president of the AOH), and Captain George Sweeney (chairman of the state AOH committee). LAOH took charge of the evening program where Irish songs were sung and a presentation was made on the historical contributions of women in Ireland.[12]

In December 1903, national AOH president James E. Dolan spoke to the Cleveland AOH about the movement to revive the Irish language in America. Cleveland Catholic Universe stated that the AOH are “devoting thousands of dollars a year to spread the movement, because they believe that with a general knowledge and use of their native tongue, Irishmen will regain their racial individuality and her national independence.”[13] To help with this endeavor, the AOH created an endowed Chair of Gaelic at Catholic University for $50,000.[14] In addition to the Irish language, Hibernians placed an emphasis on Irish literature when the AOH in Cleveland also planned a literary evening with lectures given by Irish writers such as Seamus McManus in order to educate their members about Irish literature.[15]

The AOH members in Youngstown decided that in lieu of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, they decided to celebrate the division’s fortieth anniversary on March 9, 1904. Michael Davitt, “the famous Irish member of Parliament, will be here to deliver an address” in celebration of the order’s existence.[16] Toledo AOH held a program celebrating Ireland’s literary tradition entitled, “Modern Irish Literature” in March 1904. The speaker, J.P. Madigan talked about “the position that Ireland held in the world of letters and her educational institutions, [which were made] famous during the early centuries…[and how modern Irish writers] are restoring Ireland to her ancient literary glory” according to the Cleveland Catholic Universe.[17] AOH Cuyahoga county board members published “a list of books in the public library relating to Ireland and by Irish writers” so that its members could educate themselves about their Irish heritage.[18]

In 1904, the Youngstown AOH hosted the Ohio state convention for three days in August. “A parade through the principal streets of the city, in which home and visiting folks… [took] part” was held after the opening of the convention.[19] An estimated “10,000 people … [were] expected in the city while the convention is in session” according to the Youngstown Telegraph.[20] Ireland’s history was celebrated throughout the course of the parade:
The parade was headed by a squad of the city police. Next came the Youngstown
Military band with brilliant white head pieces, and the rifle companies in the following named order: Springfield, Cleveland, Columbus, and Zanesville, followed by the Gallow Glass pikemen, wearing the costume of the fighting men of the time of Ireland’s patriot, Brian Boru who drove the Danes from that country about the eleventh century.[21]

During the state convention, a resolution was passed which stated:
Resolved, That we most heartily endorse the action taken by the national convention at St. Louis, commending the efforts and work of the Gaelic League, in endeavoring to revive the interest in the Irish language, and that we, this committee, request that wherever possible, the work be taken up by our sisters [in the LAOH].[22]

With the passage of this resolution, Hibernian members wanted to stress the importance of promotion of Irish culture and history were to the Hibernians in Ohio. They had a real desire to keep various aspects of their culture alive, especially the Irish language which was struggling to survive in the Emerald Isle.

The AOH in Cleveland continued to honor and promote Irish history in a celebration “commemorating the 127th anniversary of the birth of Robert Emmet” in March of 1905.[23] The event was:
attended by over 800 people, who crowded the large auditorium and the ante-rooms. County President Callahan made the opening address, after which the Hibernian Rifles, of Division No. 12, under Captain A.F. Burke, gave an exhibition drill lasting half an hour. The ladies especially were much interested in the work. Panoramic views of scenes in Ireland …were then shown under the direction of John Graham, of Division 12. While the picture of the trial scene was displayed on the canvas, Miss Conroy recited Emmet’s speech in the dock.[24]

The reenactment of important themes from Irish history such as Robert Emmet’s speech from the dock reinforced the themes of struggle and triumph over tragedy that have been rampant throughout the history of Ireland. By keeping their members aware of those themes, they AOH was able to keep the flame for Irish freedom from the British alive and to keep their members interested in their culture and heritage.

Promoting Irish music became the focus of the Youngstown AOH during the summer of 1906. The program concentrated on “…the music of Irish composers and the tunes so dear to the Irish hearts” according to the Youngstown Daily Vindicator.[25] The musical program was such a success that more and more people flocked to AOH sponsored events that promoted Irish culture. At the 1907 St. Patrick’s Day banquet, “it was estimated that the crowd would probably number from 1,200 to 1,400 people, but it is safe to say twice this number turned out, the outpour being simply amazing” according to the local newspaper.[26] The program consisted of dinner, music, and comedy acts. Entertainment was limited during the first couple of decades of the twentieth century before the advent of television and radio due to the fact that access to facilities was limited and that many Irish worked a six day work week. Musical shows held within the local community were an important part of bringing people such as the Irish together for an evening of culture and fun.

At a March 1909 open house celebrating the dedication of new AOH headquarters for Mahoning county, Father John L. Moran addressed the gathered Hibernians on the subject of St. Patrick. Youngstown Telegram said that Moran:
referred to the early life of Ireland’s patron saint when the youth was a slave, to his return to preach the gospel of Christianity, to the prosperity, the learning and the wealth of Ireland at that time and lastly to the indissoluble relations of the history of St. Patrick and the history of Ireland.[27]

The focus on Irish history and Christianity continued at Youngstown’s St. Columba Church in March 1910. Father Maurice Griffin reviewed:
the history of the Green Isle during its missionary period when its children entered the church and spread the gospel throughout Europe. After three hundred years of religious zeal persecution followed, and after drinking the cup of sorrow the Irish people came through the frightful period lasting for centuries, stronger in their faith than ever [before].[28]

Youngstown brought a speaker by the name of P.H. O’Donnell from Chicago who spoke on “Irishmen’s Contributions to Civilization” at the St. Patrick’s Day banquet.[29] The Youngstown Daily Vindicator concluded that O’Donnell’s presentation was “…pleasing, inspiring, [and] ennobling.”[30] Hibernians brought speakers in to keep their membership informed about Irish history and culture.

The AOH divisions of Columbus held a parade through downtown and a mass where Father Gaffney spoke on “Irish Ideals.”[31] According to The Catholic Columbian, Father Gaffney’s sermon was:
a tribute to the trinity of trait characteristic of the Irish race-loyalty to God, to Church,and Country. Devotion to these Irish ideals during the past sixteen centuries was briefly traced down to the history of the Fighting 69th, recently issued by Father Duffy, its Chaplain. It was pleasing and inspiring to listen to Father Gaffney, who always stays with his text and emphasizes his points with apt quotations from recognized authors.[32]

In 1921, the Chamber of Commerce was the setting for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Columbus under the auspices of the AOH and LAOH. The local Catholic newspaper described the event as:
The most complete Irish program ever attempted in this city…The entertainment…will include a review of Ireland’s most loved songs, dances and instrumental numbers. The famous marching song of the Irish Republican Volunteers will be given by members of the Hibernian Rifles chorus and many beautiful Irish melodies will be given by the most prominent Irish singers of the city. Musical numbers including the Irish harps, concertinas, melodians and flute will be given and a chorus of pretty colleens will sing delightful Irish airs.[33]

In addition to events previously discussed, which were held to promote Irish culture and history, the Hibernians decided to expand their outreach to the children whose parents were already members or those who were not in order to educate Irish-American children about their ethnic heritage.

In January of 1923, the outreach activity decided upon by the national AOH was to create an essay writing contest that was open to all parochial and public schools “for the purpose of stimulating an interest in the study of Irish and American history.” [34] The contest was open to grades seven through twelve and college students and contestants need not be of Irish descent. “Twelve cash prizes ranging in value from $200 down, will be given successful contestants in the competition.”[35] The division of subjects were the following:
The choice of two subjects is given the essayists in each class. In the college division the subjects indicated are: “Did Ireland Gain or Lose, or Both, and How, by Not Becoming a Part of the Roman Empire?” and “Ireland’s Influence on American Affairs and America’s on Irish Affairs.” The prizes for this class will be $200, $100, $75 and $50. The length of the essays for this class will be about 3,000 words. In the high school and academy class the subjects will be “The Relation of the American Colonies to England and That of Ireland, Till the Year 1800, Compared,” or “Why We Should, and How We Can Best Study Irish History.” The prizes in this class will be $100, $75, $50 and $25 and the length of essays about 2,000 words. In the grammar school class the subject will be:
“What in Your Opinion, Was the Greatest Event in Irish History, and Why?” or “My Favorite Irish Hero or Heroine.” The prizes will be $50, $25, $15 and $10 and the length of the essays about 1,000 words.[36]
The essay contest continues to play an important role for Irish cultural outreach for American children today.

[1] AOH constitution preamble, (circa 2000), uncatalogued material, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[2] Youngstown Daily Vindicator, March 24, 1876.
[3] Dayton Daily Journal, March 17, 1890.
[4] Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 18, 1890.
[5] Youngstown Daily Vindicator, March 18, 1893.
[6] Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 18, 1893.
[7] Columbus Sunday Dispatch, March 17, 1901., This is the only account of a Hibernian Irish culture event that was open to the public at large. All other events during this era continued to be geared towards the education of their own members.
[8] Youngstown Daily Vindicator, February 5, 1903 & February 25, 1903.
[9] Cleveland Catholic Universe, March 20, 1903.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Columbus Sunday Dispatch, September 20, 1903.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Cleveland Catholic Universe, December 4, 1903.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Youngstown Daily Vindicator, March 9, 1904.
[17] Cleveland Catholic Universe, March 25, 1904.
[18] Ibid., July 15, 1904.
[19] Youngstown Daily Vindicator, August 5, 1904.
[20] The Youngstown Telegram, August 8, 1904.
[21] Ibid., August 10, 1904.
[22] Ibid., August 11, 1904.
[23] Cleveland Catholic Universe, March 10, 1905.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Youngstown Daily Vindicator, June 12, 1906.
[26] Ibid., March 17, 1907.
[27] Youngstown Telegram, March 15, 1909.
[28] Youngstown Daily Vindicator, March 14, 1910.
[29] Ibid., March 13, 1914.
[30] Ibid.
[31] The Catholic Columbian, March 12, 1920.
[32] Ibid., March 19, 1920.
[33] Ibid., March 11, 1921.
[34] Ibid., January 19, 1923. The contest is now run by the LAOH today.
[35] Ibid.
[36] The Catholic Columbian, January 19, 1923.