Monday, September 3, 2007

Ancient Order of Hibernians and Culture Part II

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the usual mass and banquet combination of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage continued in Ohio. Youngstown AOH’s program was to follow mass and “recount the glories of Ireland and of St. Patrick in songs and stories.”[1] A year later, in 1926, the Mahoning County members focused their celebration on the Gillespie Fiddlers’ Orchestra of Five Instruments whose presentation focused on “the endearing ballads of Irish tradition during the [St. Patrick’s Day] feast.”[2] Dayton AOH and LAOH held dinner banquets for St. Patrick’s Day throughout the Great Depression.[3] Dayton celebrations in 1936 focused on “Irish wit and Irish song [which] permeated the green-festooned ballroom of the Miami hotel [and speakers] who spoke on subjects pertinent to the Irish people and nation.”[4]
During the decades between the thirties and sixties, Irish-American culture took a hiatus according to historian Dennis Clark in his work entitled Hibernia America: The Irish and Regional Cultures.[5] He argues that:
The hitatus in the Irish-American tradition in the second half of the twentieth century had numerous causes. Decreased emigration, changes in the Catholic Church after Vatican II, decline of traditional roles for members of the group, displacement by other groups, and failure to renew organizational forms all contributed.[6]

However, it was the onset of the civil rights movement during the 1960s that inspired many Americans to work in the interests of their communities.[7] Irish-Americans were drawn to this struggle as well. Many women [and men] “rediscovered their ethnic backgrounds” as a result of the work they embarked upon in their local communities.[8] Third generation Americans:
were now secure enough in their American identity to turn more openly to ethnicity;moreover the “new ethnicity” was encouraged in the late 1960s and after by a national climate more favorable to individuality and diversity.[9]

According to historian Maxine Seller:

The impact of the new ethnicity varied from individual to individual. Some women were virtually untouched. Others participated in ethnic heritage festivals,
revived ethnic arts, crafts, dances and foods, conducted ethnic holiday celebrations in their homes, sent their children to ethnic schools and camps, and read-and sometimes wrote-about their ethnic backgrounds and immigrant ancestors. Some traveled to the ethnic homeland as tourists or students. Grandchildren sometimes made efforts to learn the language of their grandparents, efforts that helped bring the generations together.[10]

This new found sense of cultural and ethnic identity encouraged many Irish-Americans in Ohio to join the old Irish ethnic organizations such as the AOH and LAOH beginning in the 1960s.
The latter half of the 1960s was the beginning of a new generation of the AOH and LAOH in Ohio. It is necessary to examine why the AOH and LAOH developed a new focus in their promotion and preservation of Irish culture and history before examining the organization’s activities during the latter 1960s. This new generation of Hibernians strove to get the community as a whole to participate in Irish cultural activities such as parades, festivals, concerts, and other events. The primary reason for Hibernians to involve the community at large was to illustrate the positive side of being Irish-American according to leading AOH members in Ohio.[11] Another Hibernian goal was to ensure that there was a “historical context to what we’re trying to do.”[12] An example of this “historical context” is the pike carrying division of the Columbus AOH which carries pikes in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to honor those Irish who fought the British with pikes during the rebellion of 1798.[13] In order to promote Irish culture, the AOH sponsors “Irish dance, Irish language, involving other Irish groups in their history projects, financial support of PBS programs which concentrate on the Irish, attending Irish cinema and theatrical productions.”[14]

Parades became the first and one of the most popular activities that promoted Irish culture during the latter 1960s. Following the St. Patrick’s Day parades in cities such as New York and Chicago, the AOH in Cincinnati planned the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in a century for that city in February of 1967. The primary goal was to involve the community at large in an Irish-American cultural tradition. The parade featured:
the bands of both Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, Irish dancers and musicians, uniformed members of Cincinnati’s Police, Fire and Postal Departments and all the Irish organizations also will be represented. And there’s a place for any loyal Irishman who feels he’d like to participate. But get out those maps of Ireland, because the Irish will be divided into groups according to the province of ancestry: Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster.[15]

The parade has been held every year since 1967. Each year the Hibernians of Cincinnati “borrow the statue of St. Patrick from Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams.”[16] The statue leads the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Cincinnati members attend an Irish language mass “before purloining the statue and hiding it away for the parade.”[17] According to the AOH members, borrowing the statue is a somewhat complicated task as the statue “is ceramic, 6 feet tall, and requires the muscle of about six strong men to hoist it aboard the pickup truck for its trip to its day of glory.”[18]

Community participation is encouraged through a variety of ways. One way is the nationality division in the parade. The “various ethnic groups of Cincinnati march in costume.”[19] Nearly “40,000 people and 67 bands participated in the parade” in 1973.[20] Another way to encourage participation is the “interrelationship between the [different] Irish groups and you’ll find that those people who are active in one [Irish organization] are usually active in the others” according to Gordon Thomas in an interview with the Cincinnati Post in September of 1973. This interrelationship is important due to the fact that various Irish American groups collaborate on large events such as festivals and parades in order to increase capital and participation amongst a community’s Irish American citizens. Cleveland’s United Irish Societies is an excellent example of this interrelationship of the different Irish groups working together to put on Irish events such as parades, dances, and festivals.[21] Both the AOH and LAOH in Cleveland work with the United Irish Societies in order to put on the annual parade on St. Patrick’s Day and Irish festival in the summer. Without the help of other Irish organizations, large scale events such as these would be difficult for a small organization such as the AOH to organize.

Besides St. Patrick’s Day parades, the AOH “either coordinates or supports various Irish events” throughout the year all over the country, these events feature Irish music, food, dance, and culture according to AOH member, Joe Casey.[22] Youngstown AOH invited an Irish step-dancing organization called the Theresa Burke Irish Dancers to their annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon in 1973.[23] Cincinnati LAOH “sponsors the Hibernian Dance Group” which is made up of mainly children of Irish descent but does include members of non Irish descent.[24] Akron AOH sponsors an Irish dancing organization as well.[25] Originally, “Irish immigrants brought traditional step-dancing to America, where it became part of theatrical dancing” according to author Maureen Dezell in her work entitled, Irish America Coming into Clover the evolution of a people and a culture.[26] Dance has played an important role in Irish history. It was one aspect of Irish culture that the British were unable to stamp out of Ireland. Although Irish dancing schools existed in the United States before the 1990s, it was not until the popularity of Riverdance that led to the explosion of Irish step-dancing in America.[27] The Hibernians decided to sponsor Irish step-dancing schools in order to meet the demand for dancing instruction amongst their membership and to expand the organization’s attempts at involving the community at large in Irish cultural activities.
Another way that the AOH promotes Irish culture is through the Irish language. Many Hibernians join Irish language societies such as Cumman na Gaeilge in Cincinnati whose goal is to “revitalize Irish, the oldest language in western Europe.”[28] At Hibernian meetings, the Irish language is used in prayers, rituals, and sometimes voting in order to educate members about the language of their ancestors.[29]

Hibernian divisions in Ohio also recognize their members and others in the community who promote Irish culture. An example of this is the Kevin Barry Award given by the AOH and LAOH in Cincinnati “in recognition of service within the local order in promoting the Irish and the goals of the Hibernians in Cincinnati.”[30] The Youngstown AOH gives out the “Irish persons of the year” for service to the community at large.[31]
Hibernians in Ohio are active in preserving their own history in addition to the numerous activities they pursue in promoting Irish culture and heritage. The preservation and documentation project that Ohio has embarked upon has garnered national attention. “In the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s the AOH donated stained-glass windows to many Catholic churches in Ohio and across the country.”[32] The windows have been found in churches “of all sizes, from cathedrals to small mission churches.”[33] Many have been found where there are no longer active AOH divisions.[34] The Hibernians:
are now involved in a project to identify and photograph all of these windows. To date, the organization has identified eleven churches in Ohio that currently have or have had Hibernian windows. Several of these churches have two windows, one donated by the AOH and one by the Ladies Auxiliary (now known as the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians).[35]

The project began in 2001 when the state board:
began a campaign to raise funds for the preservation and restoration of the AOH window at St. Lawrence O’Toole Church in Ironton, Ohio. This fundraising effort drew the attention of the Hibernian National organization, which also made a financial contribution to the Ironton project. Subsequently, a project was begun through the National Archivist’s Office to identify all of the AOH windows around the country, Dan MacDonald, AOH state president, said, “We are pleased that our continuing efforts to assist the parish of Ironton St. Lawrence with their window preservation effort has resulted in this nationwide campaign to identify these physical pieces of our history.”[36]

The project has been taken on by the national AOH board as well. According to national AOH president, Ned McGinley:
This gifting of the stained glass windows began as early as 1870 in PA and across the nation wherever the immigrant Irish went to work. In the past three years 227 windows have been discovered and this is thought to be only a fraction of the number originally gifted. Of that amount, eight no longer exist so it is likely that hundreds may be lost already.[37]

Besides historic preservation projects, the AOH holds cultural activities in order to bring in new members for the Order.
The AOH in Ohio organizes and supports numerous Irish themed festivals, dinners, and religious services that are open to the public at large. The goal in opening up such events to the public is to increase membership. According to Toledo AOH president, Maury Collins, the belief is that “the more people you have involved, the more good you can accomplish.”[38] Both the AOH and LAOH:
Sponsor or support cultural programs such as festivals wherein Irish dance, music,
instruments, storytelling and clothing are featured. Many LAOH divisions also help sponsor competition festivals (a.k.a. Feis) wherein children and adults compete in dancing, singing, and instrumentals. Many divisions also work on Masses dedicated to the feasts of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and the Our Lady of Knock apparition of Mary.[39]

At the national level, the AOH sponsors high school students to study and travel in Ireland for five weeks through the Irish Way Program.[40] The program “is a unique cultural and educational program for American High School students.”[41] Students involved in the program travel to Ireland and live with an Irish host family for five weeks. While in Ireland, “they learn about Irish history, literature and language through classes and field trips; experience Ireland’s culture through traditional Irish music and dancing…and travel the Irish countryside.”[42] Both the national boards of the AOH and LAOH give two $500 scholarships to help send the children of members to Ireland for the program. Hibernians also sponsor a study abroad scholarship for juniors in college who are children of AOH/LAOH members in order to study in Ireland. The national board gives away two $1000 scholarships and in return the recipients of the scholarship:
are expected to do two years of a community service project. The community service project could possibly be a lecture on his/her experiences or the setting up of a display of Irish books at their local library during National Library Month.[43]

Additional programs that the national board involves themselves with are historical projects that promote and preserve Irish and Irish-American history in the United States. One such project known as the Jeanie Johnston Project, is a replica of a ship, which brought Irish immigrants to America who were fleeing An Gorta Mor. The AOH and LAOH sponsor historical sight-seeing trips to Ireland as well.[44]
The AOH and LAOH have and will continue to preserve and promote Irish culture and history through their variety of projects, festivals, parades, and competitions. Many people joined the AOH and LAOH because they “wanted to become more of an Irish-American and learn as much as …[they] could regarding …[Ireland’s] history, politics, and culture.”[45] Another reason for membership was Irish-Americans to join was so that they “…wanted to be more than a St. Patrick’s Day Irishman” according to AOH member Joe Casey.[46] However the most important factor of taking part in the AOH and LAOH is the fact that many Irish-Americans “need to know where [they have] been and where [they are] going.”[47]
Both the early and latter time periods of both AOH and LAOH activity promoted and preserved the various aspects of Irish culture not only for its own membership, but for the state of Ohio as well. The AOH of the latter twentieth century has utilized the activities of the early twentieth century and expanded them to include dance, literature, language, music, and historical preservation projects such as the Jeannie Johnston Project. By building upon the past, present and future of Irish culture, the organizations have been able to “foster the ideals and perpetuate the history and traditions of the Irish people [and] to promote Irish culture.”[48]
An important aspect of “…the ideals [and] the history and traditions of the Irish people [and]…culture” is the Catholic faith.[49] Catholicism and Irish history and culture have been intrinsically linked since the time that St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle. That faith and culture have also played an important role in both the AOH and LAOH history as well. The importance of religion to the organizations has shaped the activities of the Orders, especially in regards to charitable activities throughout the nineteenth, twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

[1] Youngstown Telegram, March 13, 1925.
[2] The Youngstown Vindicator, March 7, 1926.
[3] Dayton Journal, March 8, 1936 and March 18, 1936.
[4] Ibid., March 18, 1936.
[5] Dennis Clark, Hibernia America: The Irish and Regional Cultures, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), 193-194.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Maxine Schwartz Seller, Ed., Immigrant Women (New York: State University of New York Press, 1994), 304.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Interview with author, J. Michael Finn, February 8, 2004. and interview with author, Dr. Thomas O’Mahoney, February 8, 2004, Uncatalogued materials, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Interview with author, Dr. Thomas O’Mahoney, February 8, 2004.
[15] Cincinnati Post –Times-Star, February 9, 1967, 20.
[16] Cincinnati Post, February 19, 1979, 18.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] The Cincinnati Post, September 18, 1973. Ethnic groups such as Polish-America Society, Germania Society, Oriental Band, and Mexican American groups according to an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, March 17, 1978, E13.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Catholic Universe Bulletin, March 16, 1979. Other cities where AOH/LAOH works with other Irish organizations are Columbus, Cincinnati, and Toledo.
[22] Email correspondence with author, February 17, 2004. Uncatalogued materials, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[23] Catholic Exponent, March 16, 1973.
[24] The Cincinnati Post, September 18, 1973.
[25] Akron Beacon Journal, March 17, 1975.
[26] Maureen Dezell, Irish America Coming into Clover the evolution of a people and a culture, (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 19.
[27] The Irish World, December 6, 2002
[28] Cincinnati Enquirer, March 16, 1979, E21.
[29] Lucas County LAOH meeting minutes from the years of 2002-present, Ohio State board meeting minutes, 2003-present. Uncatalogued materials, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Catholic Exponent, March 16, 1990 & March 15, 1991.
[32] Catholic Exponent, May 23, 2003.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid. Following is the list of churches in Ohio where AOH/LAOH windows can be found: Diocese of Youngstown: Immaculate Conception (two windows), there have been other documented windows but those churches are no longer in existence within the diocese; Toledo: Historic Church of Saint Patrick and the Catholic Church located in Ironton.
[36] Ibid.
[37] “Media Release Regarding AOH Window Search, January 31, 2005” J. Michael Finn, Hibernian email listserv, Yahoo groups. Uncatalogued materials, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[38] Email correspondence with author, July 26, 2004. Uncatalogued materials, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[39] Email correspondence with author, February 15, 2004. Uncatalogued materials, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
77 Ibid.

[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid.
[45] Joe Casey correspondence. Uncatalogued materials, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Dr. Thomas O’Mahoney interview.
[48] AOH constitution preamble.
[49] Ibid.