Historical Happenings

 

By Mike McCormack AOH National/NY State Historian

On a recent trip to the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, New York, I was pleased to find a truly professional presentation of our heritage and culture. If you ever get the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to drop in and see what they’re up to. Curator Ryan Mahoney recently put the contents of the archive material we submitted last year on line and you can view it at http://irish-us.org/collections/ . More will be added in coming months as documentation and cataloging continues.

We are working with the National Board Committee, the New York State Board Committee and the Suffolk County Memorial Committee to present meaningful and accurate representations of the Easter Rising of 1916 in conjunction with the centennial of that milestone in Irish history. As long as I am on these committees, you can be sure that I will stress that they be historical rather than political – and there are politicians on both sides trying to influence the presentations.

Some don’t want to upset the economic and political ties that have evolved between the Republic of Ireland and England and are playing down the military aspect of the event. Others are decrying the fact that the six northern counties are still part of the Crown and believe that this event should stress resolving that issue.

 

The shamrock’s three leaves

            Our committees are dedicated to history, not current events. We feel that the commemoration should remember the courage and dedication of those men and women who put their lives on the line against overwhelming odds to inspire the next generation to action. Their lives and the lives of the loved ones they left behind are the stuff of legend and far more fascinating than the fiction of any other country in the world. And the way the Irish people picked up the fight after the rising reveals so much more about their tenacity than that of any other race. The coming together of the three major factors that led to the event must also be considered; that is the frustration of a century of promise and deception, the inspiration provided by the Gaelic Revival and the motivation that came from Irish American support. These were the three leaves of the shamrock of insurrection, as I call it.

In conjunction with the third leaf, the AOH was a significant part of the rising and should be a significant part of the commemoration. During the Great Dublin Lockout, they sent more than a thousand dollars to James Connolly’s striking workers who were part of the Hibernian Rifles of the AOH American Alliance. When the Hibernian Rifles requested rifles from the American AOH, the AOH constitution prohibited such action so instead they sent American military manuals and money – money that allowed the Hibernian Rifles to buy their own arms from underpaid British soldiers! Those same Hibernian Rifles of the American Alliance provided a 50-man honor guard at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa and fought as part of the Army of the Irish Republic in the GPO.

 

Breaking the shackles of empire

In the end it was just as the leaders had predicted, the Easter Rising became the start of Ireland’s nationwide struggle for independence. Just as America’s struggle for independence started with the Battle of Bunker Hill and ended eight years later with the Treaty of Paris, so too did Ireland’s struggle start with the Easter Rising and end years later with the Anglo Irish Treaty, Bunreacht na hEireann and the Republic of Ireland Act as both nations successfully broke the shackles of empire. The most significant element in both was that the largest group supporting Washington’s Continental Army was America’s Irish immigrants and the largest group supporting the patriots of 1916 was also the American Irish of the AOH and Clan na Gael.

 

‘The Road to Rebellion’

Our recent 116-page illustrated book, The Road to Rebellion, is going remarkably well thanks to all who have ordered it; in the first month after publishing, nearly 100 have been sold. I was delighted to receive an endorsement from Pearse Lawlor, author of The Outrages, The Burnings and Lisburn. He wrote, This is a concise, informative, well-constructed account of the events leading up to and including the rebellion. It is the type of book every Irish family should have as an easy reference guide to this important period of our history. Well done! At the recent NY State Board meeting it was stated that we can’t educate others about the Rising unless we educate ourselves first. This information is now available more for education than profit and is available for only $12. from me at 37 Harrison Ave, Centereach, NY 11720. Please add $3. for shipping. Donate a copy to your local library for 2016. Don’t forget to check out AOH.COM and NYAOH.COM websites for a monthly history to read and share. It’s your history, revive it, don’t revise it!

HISTORICAL HAPPENINGS

 

Mike McCormack

The AOH has long been noted for its remembrance of historical events with plaques, memorial stones and statues. The recent Barry Plaza at Barry Gate at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis was certainly one of the most impressive, but other memorials continue to be remembered because that’s what they are for – to educate and remind future generation of the deeds of our ancestors. On October 12, Hibernians gathered at Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater, NY, to remember a contemporary of Commodore Barry – another American Revolutionary hero, Timothy Murphy. The commemoration took place at a plaque that the local AOH had erected in his honor and to the memory of all Irish and Irish-American supporters of America’s Revolution. Murphy was the son of Donegal immigrants to Pennsylvania and, as part of Dan Morgan’s sharpshooters, he was the sniper who took out General Fraser and Sir Francis Clarke at the Battle of Saratoga. The resulting confusion in the leaderless British ranks led to an American victory and resulted in Burgoyne’s demoralizing surrender of his entire army – an event unheard of in the annals of British military history. It was the battle that turned the tide of the American Revolution and the event that convinced France to become an ally of the patriot’s cause. The New York Times Magazine proclaimed the victory at Saratoga, “The Most Important Battle of the Last 1,000 Years.” Congratulations to the Saratoga Hibernians for remembering and keeping the tradition alive.

I’m sure that with the coming centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916 there will be many commemorations to remember the courage and dedication of not only those who fought, but those who supported the goals of the Rising. One that is being planned is the creation of a memorial to John Devoy by the Kildare Society. Devoy was the ‘man behind the man’ in that he was the one who sent Tom Clarke back to Ireland to rejuvenate the dormant IRB and guide them to the Easter Rising. Devoy, as head of Clan na Gael, was also instrumental in raising needed funds in America for that milestone in Irish history. When we go back to the origins of the Easter Rising, John Devoy was one of the main supporters in the Fenian tradition of Stephens, O’Mahony, Luby, O’Leary and O’Donovan Rossa. (See Profiles in Patriotism in this issue). For more info go to: countykildare.org/johndevoymemorialfund

Another memorial to commemorate the men and women who participated in the Easter Rising of 1916 is being planned for a 2016 dedication in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY. A committee made up of local Irish organizations including the Brehon Society, the AOH, the Police and Fire Emerald Societies, and others is hard at work. They have already secured a prominent location at the county’s Cohalan Court Complex in Islip, secured 501c3 designation and begun fund raising. As with other memorials, it will be the site of annual commemoration ceremonies to keep the memory of those who supported Irish independence alive for future generations. For more information check out Suffolkcounty1916easterrisingmemorial.com

I’m sure that there are many other dedications or commemoration ceremonies in the planning stages and I would like to learn about them. If you or your community organizations are planning something to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising which took place on April 24, 1916, won’t you please let me know so that I can publicize the effort. Just drop me a line or a flyer to Mike McCormack, 37 Harrison Ave, Centereach, NY 11720 or call me at (631) 732-1390. You can also send me an e-mail at aohbard@optonline.net . In all cases I will not only publicize your effort, but will add you to a listing I hope to prepare for the 2016 commemoration festivities in Ireland to highlight what Irish-America is doing to commemorate the event in which many of their parents and grandparents had a significant supporting part. If nothing is planned, let me know that too and perhaps we can get you to participate in a nearby activity. It may be too early to determine dates and times, but keep me in mind during the coming year. Check the sixteen brief biographies of the martyrs of 1916 on the Suffolk County Easter Rising website, copy them and distribute them to anyone you wish. It’s all about keeping their memories alive!

In line with that thought, we offer our congratulations to the New Orleans Irish on the thoughtful commemoration of An Gorta Mor and the celebration of the contributions made by the Irish, not only to Louisiana, but to America. The four-day event, from November 6 through 9 was chaired by AOH VP Judge Jim McKay and the Irish government in the person of Jimmy Deenihan, former Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and currently Minister of State for the Diaspora. Minister Deenihan chose NOLA as the central site for the annual world-wide commemoration of the Great Hunger because during the middle-to-late 1800s, it was such welcoming port of immigration for Ireland’s starving children that it became the most Irish city in the American south. Well done!

In this issue we begin a series called Profiles in Patriotism defining the heroes of 1916 as the roots of Ireland’s Liberty tree. Check out the histories on AOH.COM, click on ‘Historical Happenings’ and scan to December 2012 for a story about Christmas in Ireland. Also go to NYAOH.COM, click on ‘Historical Happenings’ and scan to November 2013 for a revealing look at Thanksgiving. You can also google shamrockandclover/books for Division readings on Irish history and for stocking stuffers for Christmas. Until next time, keep well, keep the faith and keep the tradition alive.

Historical Happenings

by Mike McCormack

For those who don’t think our values are constantly under attack, ask yourselves why a group of Gays and Lesbians would want to march in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Certainly it cannot be to honor the memory of the Saint who brought the Catholic religion to Ireland when their views are contrary to the teachings of that religion. When my grandfather took me to my first St Patrick’s Day Parade 70 years ago, he was careful to explain that all those marching men and women were honoring our patron Saint and the Catholic values that we stood for; that’s why the parade started with a Mass. As I grew older and took my place in the line of march with my school, I learned that not everyone in the parade was an Irish Catholic, but they willingly chose to honor our patron saint and his values. If one cannot honor those values, they can refuse to march. However, I know of several homosexuals who have marched in the past, but without a banner proclaiming their alternate life style. Banners are the issue. That parade has even refused banners supporting the 1981 Hunger Strikers (a cause most of the marchers endorsed) because it had nothing to do with Saint Patrick and the raison detre of the parade. With regard to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals, our clergy says “who are we to judge; judgement belongs to the Lord” and that is true, but are we judging if we simply withhold our endorsement of values that don’t match our own? That is why heterosexuals refuse to march in the Gay Pride Parade with a banner announcing their opposition to the LGBT life style. After all, boycotting is an old Irish tradition, one that we wish the Irish Gays would endorse.

I ask again, what could their motivation be to march in a parade that honors our Patron Saint and his values? If it’s just to prove that they’re proud to be Irish, then perhaps they would like to join us on Jan. 22 at the March For Life in Washington, D.C. Before you consider answering that, you might want to read Brother Neil Cosgrove’s Anti-Defamation column in this issue.

Our Scottish cousins have voted to remain in the United Kingdom and, again, we should not judge the rationale of the electorate unless we walk a mile in their shoes. However, what do you think would happen if that same option were offered to Northern Ireland. Given that we share pretty much the same history, it is a great subject for debate!

 

Wild Geese

The Wild Geese is an organization that began several years ago by promoting the contributions of Ireland’s immigrants and exiles in the lands to which they traveled or fled. It has since grown to include a variety of articles on many aspects of Ireland’s history and heritage both at home and abroad. Anyone can read the items on their website at thewildgeese.com or you can submit a story (blog) of your own. However, in order to contribute a favorite of your own, you must be a member. The good thing is that membership is free and anyone can sign up on their website. Membership also allows you to comment on a story you have read there and add a supporting or correcting comment or question. Today, there are members from Irish communities around the world in the Wild Geese organization and our culture, heritage and traditions are flying across the planet to an international audience. Check it out.

 

The Coming of the Celts

We have a new book to offer called ‘The Coming of the Celts’ and it explores the relationship between archaeological discoveries in Ireland, dating back as far as 7500 BC, and the tales in the Lebhar Gabhala Eireann (The Book of Invasions). The Book of Invasions is a collection of ancient Irish manuscripts relating Ireland’s own interpretation of her history from the very first settlers through the coming of Cessair, Partholan, Nemed, the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha De Danann and the Milesians. It is remarkable how so many of the tales that were considered to be myth and legend are being verified by recent archaeological discoveries. It’s a source of pride in that the Irish were such an advanced civilization at such an early time in history, yet a source of heartache that such a culture was erased by successive invasions (Viking and Norman) bent on pillage, plunder and greed. Hopefully telling their tales will at least keep them alive in memory.

 

For more historical bits, check the monthly histories at AOH.COM Historical Happenings, at NYAOH.COM Historical Happenings and at THEWILDGEESE.COM and check out SHAMROCKANDCLOVER.COM for Christmas stocking stuffers for students of Irish history.

Until next time, Keep well, keep the faith and keep the tradition alive.

Echoes of Irish History

By Mike McCormack AOH National Historian

Anniversaries are great things to celebrate if they are happy and have had a positive impact on the welfare of our people, like the Easter Rising of 1916. We also commemorate anniversaries that are tragic and had a negative impact on our people, like the Great Hunger. The option to celebrate or commemorate is up to the beholder and his or her understanding of that event in history. We are presently in a Decade of Dedications from 2013 to 2023 with many events to recognize favorably from the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913, which established the Irish Citizen Army, to 1923 when the Civil War ended and the Irish Free State became an accepted member of the League of Nations and began the journey to the Republic of Ireland. Likewise, there are events during that Decade that should not be observed favorably like the Loyalist gun-running into Larne, the Curragh Mutiny or Home Rule. These were all impediments to the nationalist movement that eventually succeeded despite them. Recently a discussion has divided many in our community as to whether or not we should celebrate the passing of the Home Rule Bill for Ireland in the British Parliament. One advocate even said that the Easter Rising was a foolish, unnecessary action in view of the fact that the bill had already passed. What a horrible misinterpretation of history!

 

Home Rule bills

For those not familiar with the Home Rule issue, it was an idea first advanced by Isaac Butt in 1873 seeking an Irish Parliament for domestic affairs since O’Connell’s Repeal Association had faded after his death in 1847. Butt’s death in 1879 left the Home Rule League to Charles Stewart Parnell who took it into the House of Commons as the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). As the IPP grew, it was able to support the Liberal Party against the Conservatives in return for the submittal of a Home Rule Bill. In 1886, Prime Minister Gladstone submitted a Home Rule Bill but it was defeated in the House of Commons. In 1891, Parnell died and the IPP was led by his aide John Redmond. In 1893, a second Home Rule Bill passed the House of Commons, but was defeated in the House of Lords. By the General Election in 1910, Liberals and Conservatives in the House of Commons were evenly matched. Liberal PM Herbert Asquith offered Redmond a deal: if the IPP supported his move to break the power of Lords and have his budget passed, Asquith would introduce another Home Rule Bill. The Parliament Act of 1911 was passed forcing the Lords to agree to limit their veto power. If a bill passed Commons twice, Lords could not veto it — only delay its implementation for two years.

 

“The sword’s edge”

In 1912, a third Irish Home Rule Bill was submitted. At a Home Rule Rally in Dublin, Padraic Pearse gave the bill a qualified welcome saying, It is clear to me that the bill we support today will be for the good of Ireland, and that we will be stronger with it than without it. But he concluded with the warning, however, if we are tricked this time, there is a party in Ireland, and I am one of them, that will advise the Gael to have no counsel or dealing with the Gall (foreigner), but to answer henceforward with the strong arm and the sword’s edge … If we are cheated once more there will be red war in Ireland. The Bill was passed by Commons and Lords could now only delay its implementation for two years. It would become law in 1914, but it never came into force. The reasons for that were many.

First, the Loyalists in northern Ireland started an armed militia (Ulster Volunteer Force) to oppose it. Secondly, in a mutiny at the Curragh Military HQ in Ireland, British officers vowed to resign rather than force the implementation of Home Rule if it passed. Further, bowing to Conservative power in the parliament, Asquith proposed an amendment to the Bill to let the counties in Ulster vote – county by county – to be included or excluded from the Bill. That was changed by the Loyalists, who knew they’d lose too much, to exclude all Ulster counties. The Liberals dropped the compromise, but delayed its implementation until the end of WWI. Partition was then suggested and the King signed the Bill into law on Sept. 18, 1914, with a pre-condition that it not come into effect until a provision had been made to satisfy Ulster!

 

British perfidy

The Bill, held out as a carrot on a stick promising a new constitutional order, restrained the energies of a more militant approach to freedom for 40 years. It would now not be implemented as voted on and passed; but would be altered to partition Ireland, which would remain subservient to Westminster. Further, Irish representation in Commons was reduced. The perfidy of the British government was once more displayed and the frustrated Irish patriots took to the streets of Dublin to take what the Crown would not give.

After the Easter Rising inspired the War of Independence in 1919, a fourth Irish Home Rule Act was passed in 1920 establishing Northern Ireland as an entity within the United Kingdom and attempting to establish “Southern Ireland” as another entity in a partitioned Ireland. It was too late, for the Irish had already elected their leaders and they sat in a parliament of their own called Dáil Éireann, which they maintained until they fought the British to the treaty table to establish the Irish Free State with more independence than was ever allowed in all of the Home Rule Bills. Therefore, the Home Rule Bill for Ireland was never implemented! The Irish Free State Constitution Act of 1922 permitted the ultimate realization of limited Irish independence through the removal many of the links with Britain. In 1949, Ireland became a republic, ending its tenuous membership in the British Commonwealth. To commemorate Home Rule or not is up to the beholder. It can be remembered as an example of Britain’s perfidious duplicity; however, what would be next – a commemoration of the October 1691 Treaty of Limerick, which was torn up to allow the Penal Laws? I think not!

Historical Happenings

By Mike McCormack, AOH National Historian

 

I dislike starting my column on a sad note, but I must pay tribute to the late John Hennessy. Most Hibernians knew John from Conventions where he was a familiar face and a jovial personality. I was honored to have brought John into the AOH in 1969 and to this day I count it as one of my greatest accomplishments for he was always ready to lend a hand, chair a committee or hold an office (sometimes several at one time). His knowledge of AOH rituals, bylaws, protocol and constitutional requirements was second to none and demonstrated his admiration for our Order and he insisted they be followed as a matter of honor. He was proud to wear his Life Member Medal wherever he went – I often joked that if we had given him a waterproof one, he’d have worn it in the shower. I don’t know if Jesus gave him a robe when John arrived at the golden throne, but I do know that if He did, the first thing John did was to pin his Life Member Medal on it. On second thought, this is not opening on a sad note, it’s a happy one for those of us who can’t help but smile when we think of that rare Hibernian and how happy we were to have known him.

 

Great Hunger

On a historical note, the initial rush to publish and capitalize on the 150th anniversary of the Great Hunger caused many false accounts of the tragedy to be circulated around 1995.  Some attempted to tone down the severity of the event to avoid inflaming hatred in Northern Ireland, which was volatile at the time. There were even some so-called ‘officials’ who proclaimed that the Hunger was over in 1847. Then we had the Anglophiles who can always be depended on to minimize England’s cruelty to the Irish.

Fortunately, as time passed, more intelligent authors took issue with the revised versions of the catastrophe and more diligent research produced enlightened accounts of the greatest calamity to ever hit the Irish nation.

Yet, the task for today’s student remains choosing the wheat from the chaff on their library shelves and the best way to do that is to examine the credentials of, and other writings by, the author.

 

Watch the facts about the Rising

The Easter Rising is about to become the subject of similar amateur coverage, which will no doubt be colored by nationalist sentiment or political correctness as we near the 100th anniversary of that milestone.

Some will rely on the three largest Dublin newspapers of the day that portrayed the Rising in derogatory terms, highlighting the fact that citizens hurled insults and garbage at the patriots as they were marched off to Richmond Barracks. Will they ignore the fact that William Martin Murphy owned those newspapers?  That must to be considered.

Murphy was the head of the Dublin Employers Federation whose attempt to destroy the Irish Transport and General Worker’s Union founded by Jim Larkin and James Connolly led to the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913 when 20,000 workers were fired for joining Larkin’s Union. Many of the workers had revenge on those businesses during the Rising but Murphy’s newspapers denigrated them as looters from the tenements citing their ‘disgraceful’ behavior. After the Rising, Murphy and 763 influential Dublin businessmen signed a memorandum encouraging the discretion of the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in Ireland to deal with the patriots as he saw fit and endorsing Martial Law.

As for the animosity of the citizens toward the patriots, it should be noted that the prisoners were marched off along the quay where many upper class loyalist Dubliners, merchants and British Army pensioners had gathered. Those who had sons serving in the British forces were upset over the possibility of their funds being cut off and some showed support for the winner in fear of retaliation on themselves. However, at Boland’s Bakery, the South Dublin Union and other spots, the patriots were cheered by the citizens for the courage they demonstrated in Ireland’s cause.

Those of us who had the golden opportunity to interview participants in the Lockout and the Rising and share their memories as well as the recollections they shared with their immediate descendants will be able to look at the soon-to-come accounts with a jaundiced eye and determine their accuracy. Time will tell, but I sincerely hope that the writings pass the test of truth, for those men and women who participated deserve no less!

Poetry and history, online!

Did you know that Oscar Wilde’s mother was a dedicated Irish patriot?  Check out her story on the history link of New York State AOH Website at http://www.nyaoh.com. You might also want to learn about the Plantation of Ulster. If so, that story is on the September Historical Happenings link of the National Website at http://www.aoh.com.  Mentioning websites, check out http://www.poetryabouttheirish.com for a book of verse that reads like a novel and is now available in a Kindle version. The talented National Webmaster, Joe McDonald, also compiled a website for our Irish History books, CDs and DVDs which make great Christmas stocking stuffers.  For that one go to http://www.shamrockandclover.com.

Until next time, keep well, keep the faith and keep our traditions alive!

 

Historical Happenings

The annual National History Day final at the University of Maryland is over for another year.  This is an international competition for youngsters from grade 6 through 12 who compete on a history topic locally, regionally and state-wide in a variety of formats from essays to performances, exhibits, slide shows, digital videos and websites.  Winners at each level advance to the next level and the ultimate winners compete at the national finals.  This year, there were 6,000 finalists of whom 25 were selected by your judging committee for consideration for the AOH and LAOH awards.  The AOH Award of two round-trip tickets to Ireland went to Cole Smith of Pittsboro, Indiana who portrayed a Druid discussing the coming of Christianity to Ireland.  The LAOH Award of $1500. scholarship assistance went to a team of four youngsters from Ragland, Alabama who portrayed the ghosts of his Irish ancestors lecturing an arrogant teen on respect for his parents and his heritage.

Sadly, upon my return home, I learned of the passing of a great man and close friend for whom I had tremendous admiration.  Artist Edmund Sullivan, whose landscapes of Ireland grace many Irish homes, went home to God, Whom he often spoke of as if he knew Him personally.  Edmund was a special man with a curious but honest outlook on life.  I remember an incident at the Nassau County Feis, many years ago, when Eddie had a tent full of his prints on display for sale.  He often laughed at the fact that I was the only one who called him Eddie, but we had grown up together in the Bronx and he was always Eddie to me.  As we chatted, a man came up and pointed to a framed print that was on display with a price tag of $300.  He said, “I’ll give you $250. for that one.”  Eddie replied, “The price is $300.  The man haggled and finally said disdainfully, “OK, $275 and that’s my final offer” to which Eddie responded, “the price is $325“.  The surprised haggler said, “But the tag says $300.” to which Eddie replied, “$350.”  The haggler mumbled something under his breath and stormed off.  I laughed and said, “You just lost a sale.”  Eddie looked at me in that special way he had and said, “That man didn’t appreciate art.  He just wanted a bargain; that’s not why I painted that piece.”  Then pointing to an old lady who was nearby admiring one of his works, he said, “See that woman.  This is the third time she has returned to look at that picture and you can tell by the way she looks at it that it is something special to her.”  Then he walked over to her and asked why she kept coming back to that picture and she said that it reminded her of where she grew up as a girl in Ireland, but she couldn’t afford to buy it.  At that, Eddie took the framed print off the easel and gave it to her.  I was dumbfounded and he laughed that inimitable laugh of his and said, “Now, she really appreciated that painting and her smile was worth more than its price.”  That incident truly defined this wonderful, sometimes complex, always unpredictable talent that we have just lost.  His like will not be seen again and I will miss him terribly, but I can still see him in each of his six works of art that hang on my walls.

On the 13th of July, some were inclined to mention the 150th anniversary of the New York Draft Riots and, using the bigoted press of the day, repeated the accusation that it was the Irish who rioted since they did not want to serve in the Union Army.  These amadons ignore the service of the Irish Brigade which historians have called the greatest Infantry Brigade that ever was (Remember Fontenoy by Joseph Bilby).  For the true and more accurate account of the New York Draft Riots, check the TOGIB version at the July Historical Happenings link on the New York State website at http://www.nyaoh.com  (TOGIB means Truth Opposing Grossly Inaccurate Blarney; it is also the reverse of BIGOT).

You might also want to learn about the Brigadier General who led the Irish Brigade and who died on July 1.  Irish-born Thomas Francis Meagher was a hero to three nations and a memorial was erected to him by the Montana AOH in 2009 near the spot where he died.  That story is on the July Historical Happenings link of the National Website at http://www.aoh.com.  Mentioning Websites, my sincere thanks to Rochester Hibernian, Jim Henderson who created a website  that features my book of poetry, Leanhaun Shee and Me, it is on http://www.poetryabouttheirish.com and folks can order printed or Kindle versions of the book.  The talented webmaster, Joe McDonald, also compiled a website for my books, CDs and DVDs.  For that one go to http://www.shamrockandclover.com.

In the History Repeats Itself department, people in northern Ireland are protesting that the British Historical Enquiries Team (HET), established to investigate Army killings during the troubles, will take care of their own.  They must remember the tragic story of Francis Sheehy Skeffington, a well-known pacifist and two newspaper editors: Thomas Dickson and Patrick MacIntyre – all innocent – who were executed by Capt. J.C.Bowen Colthurst in 1916.  In view of overwhelming evidence, Colthurst was found guilty but insane by another Royal Enquiry team.  He was sent to Broadhurst Asylum where he served less than two years and was retired to Canada on a full British military pension!  Yes, they take care of their own!

The harp, not the shamrock, is the official symbol of Ireland and its significance dates back to the earliest colonization of Ireland when each Chieftain had his own retinue of harpers.  I recently received an incredible CD by Moya Brennan and Cormac de Barra featured on concert harps with a few traditional musicians backing them.  De Barra has been playing harp since the age of 10, has played with the Chieftains and is part of Moya Brennan’s band.  Moya comes from the talented Donegal family group Clannad, which also gave the world Enya.  I tried to use the CD as background music while I was writing, but it failed for tune after tune kept demanding my full attention.  Suddenly I was in a Chieftain’s banquet hall and whatever I was attempting to write was lost in the magic of Brennan and deBarra.  It’s a great CD, but it won’t let you use it for background music.

My special thanks to New York State President Jim Burke for re-appointing me as AOH New York State Historian.  I will do my best to keep the tradition alive.

Historical Happenings – Mike McCormack

In this, my first column of the new year, I hesitate to reiterate old goals, but I fear I must.  I’m still waiting for many of the State Histories that the appointed State Historians were challenged to send me.  State Presidents, you know if your State Historian did his job or not and I put it to you that those members who organized, founded and maintained the organization in your state deserve to be remembered in the archives of the AOH.  I will now accept and acknowledge any state histories from any member who is so inclined to write one for the archives.

It is not too late to prepare a thoughtful and positive story of the contributions of the Irish to America for distribution to local newspapers, politicians and radio/TV media as they prepare their St. Patrick’s Day stories and commemorations.  If you need ideas on those contributions, check AOH.COM website and link to history; there are three years worth of monthly stories there.  If that’s not enough, check the three years worth of monthly stories at NYAOH.COM.  If that’s still not enough, contact me with an e-mail address and I will give you more!  There should be no excuse for bad press if the truth is properly disseminated; further, it will provide us with the opportunity to denounce the perpetrator’s defense that ‘they just didn’t know any better’.  It’s your heritage, defend it!

Congratulations to AOH Divisions 3, 8 and 9 in Suffolk County, NY who built a Creche for public display this past Christmas and to the Selden Fire Department for allowing it to stand on their firehouse property facing the much-traveled Route 25.  While that may have been a great example of Hibernians standing for the faith, we emphatically denounce the criminals who defaced a figure of the child, Jesus, in a Pearl River Creche.  Will this be treated as a hate crime?  It would have if it had been a Menorah that was destroyed.  We’ll see!

I wish a happy, healthy and successful New Year to all my brothers and sisters.

Historical Happenings

Did you know that Irish and Irish-American veterans of the American Civil War invaded Canada?  They were members of the Fenian brotherhood – an organization founded from the Emmet Monument Association – a committee of the AOH.

From the time of the Great Hunger, many Irish in America believed in the militant overthrow of the British in Ireland.  To that end, the Emmet Monument committee was formed within the AOH to support those ideals.  It was publicly advertised as a fund-raising activity to erect a monument to Irish patriot Robert Emmet.  Those who knew their history however, knew that in Emmet’s speech before his execution he said “Until Ireland takes her place among the free nations of the earth, let no man write my epitaph”.  AOH Members of the Emmet Monument Association like John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny, formed a militant organization and called it the Fenian Brotherhood with James Stevens in Ireland as leader.  The Fenian Brotherhood grew as a separate organization from the AOH, and became the largest Irish nationalist organization in the world.  Some Fenians developed a plan to invade the British province of Canada and trade it back to England for Ireland’s freedom.

On June 1, 1866, an army of Fenians, recruited mostly from veterans of America’s recent Civil War, crossed the Niagara River at Buffalo, NY under General John O’Neil, and captured Fort Erie.  They raised the Fenian flag to the frantic joy of the Irish around the world.  The following day the Irish marched to Ridgeway where a British force attempted to stop them and were routed.  The Fenians camped to prepare for the following day’s advance.  In the interim, the British appealed to the United States government which cut off the Fenian supply line and halted the reinforcements waiting to cross the border.  On June 3rd, Canadian militia were gathering to attack the Fenians and O’Neill felt it prudent for a strategic retreat back across the border to pick up the several thousand Irish volunteers who had gathered in villages and towns all along the New York border.  Once back over the river, O’Neill, his officers and about five hundred men were arrested  and incarcerated.

In the meantime, Lt. General U. S. Grant ordered the border closed preventing 4,000 other Fenian troops from crossing at Fort Erie.  Grant then ordered that incoming carloads of Fenian arms and ammunition be captured by US authorities throughout the region.  Despite the Fenian Army’s numerical superiority, once deprived of the means to sustain a fight and Grant’s closing the border, the invasion collapsed.  On June 6, President Johnson issued a Proclamation forbidding any further Fenian attempts to break the neutrality laws of the United States.  By June 6, the Fenian officers had all been released on their promises to appear later before the Federal circuit court. Their soldiers were paroled and given free railroad transportation back to their homes, on their promises not to again illegally cross international borders.

Now, in 2012, NY State Senator Timothy Kennedy, supported by the local AOH, successfully completed a two-year campaign to raise an 8′ by 4′ monument of Wicklow Granite in Buffalo’s Tow Path Park – the Niagara riverside launching point for the invasion.  The monument was officially dedicated by Kennedy and local politicians on March 16.  Kennedy noted,  The Fenian invasion has a unique place in Buffalo’s history.  The Fenian Brotherhood, battle-hardened American veterans, first fought to keep our nation united and strong in the Civil War. Then, by launching this invasion, they significantly contributed to the national independence of Canada and eventually Ireland. The Fenian invasion demonstrated that freedom and democracy are forces that no amount of oppression can stop.  The AOH held their official dedication of the memorial on June 2, the day after the 246th anniversary of the actual Fenian Invasion and we congratulate all the Hibernians who participated, especially President Tom Lambert (Div 1, Buffalo) and President Mike McNerney (Div 1, Niagara) and all on the committee.  After the stone was received, it was carved and etched by American stonecutters in English and Irish.

We only came in second!  The British National Army Museum in London recently held a public on-line vote to determine England’s worst military enemies.  Among the top five finalists were Mustafa Kemal Atatuurk (head of the Turks at Gallipoli), Erwin Rommel (Germany’s Desert Fox) and Napoleon Bonparte.  Coming in at number two was the Great Michael Collins, which was a bit of a shock; I would have thought he’d be number one!  However, number one was not a disappointment; it was none other than our own George Washington!  The final vote concluded a hard-fought contest launched by the Museum back on February 13 and by its close on March 31, the online voting site attracted almost 8,000 write-in votes and over 300,000 web hits.  If the Irish ever sponsored such an enemies list, it would look like a Who’s Who of English leaders.

Many thanks to Sean Patrick Duffy of Bishop Whelan Div 1, Wheeling, West VA.  Sean sent in a complete and detailed history of the AOH in West Virginia for the archives.  Starting before the first Division in 1868, Sean lays out an account of the growing Irish population, Know Nothing atrocities and the need for our Order in West VA.  His well-done writeup will join those of  Phil Gallagher and J.C. Sullivan.

Don’t forget to check out the monthly histories on AOH.COM and NYAOH.COM; it’s your heritage, keep it alive!

Historical Happenings

The National Presidents Testimonial Dinner in Philadelphia on Oct 8 was a memorable event. Meeting Clara Reilly, first woman recipient of the MacBride Award, was memorable – especially to this historian who has followed the time and troubles through which she has lived.

Special thanks to all for the compliments on 175 Years of Fidelity, the illustrated history of the AOH prepared by this office for the 175th Anniversary of the Order. It was a year in the research and writing and revealed some remarkable facts about our origins as well as containing some rare photos, but I never expected the book to be as well received as it was. I apologize to all who wanted another copy for a local library or archive when we ran out. However, the National Board has agreed to a limited reprint and is making another 50 available, at $20. each, on a first-come basis with delivery promised before Christmas. See the ad in this issue.

As far back as March, May and July 2010, we invited all jurisdictions to sponsor a page on the history of the AOH in their area to complement the overall History of the Order. Thanks to those who did for your stories are inspiring and show the extent to which the AOH has seeded this nation. However, some ignored the appeal and some of those were ones who whine the loudest when their submissions don’t appear in the Hibernian Digest. My position on this issue is that while today’s events are significant today, those Irish immigrants who came before us, many of whom walked across this land with little more than the clothes on their backs and a handful of tools, brought the Catholic Church and the AOH from coast to coast as they built this great nation and they deserve to be remembered. More importantly, they deserve to be introduced to our grandchildren by us recording their deeds.

Therefore, after consulting with the National Board, the Office of National Historian is officially directing all jurisdictions (State, County and Division) to appoint, at the next election of officers, a Historian who will commit to compile as much of the history of that jurisdiction as is known and forward it to the National Historian’s Office by the end of one year. We can accept the information in any form, but would prefer digital files. If there are any questions, call (631) 732-1390 and let’s make 2012 the Year of the Historian.

If by January 2013, no information is received, the name of the delinquent jurisdiction will be published and an appeal made to any member of that jurisdiction to provide the information. The providing member will then be publicly credited with having provided the information and given a byline in the archives.

Many have said that they didn’t realize the request was for all jurisdictions while some said they assumed we already had the information. This offer is being made one final time so that everyone can have the opportunity to show future researchers that the AOH, with its benevolence and organizational ability, was truly one of the building blocks on which America was established. It’s your heritage – promote it!

Mercier Press is publishing a new book by author Pearse Lawlor, “The Outrages, 1920-1922,” which gives an account of the major incidents, now slipping from local memory, in Ireland’s War of Independence along the border counties. The many lives lost in each border county are chronicled with factual accounts of attacks and reprisals, the impact these events had in Westminster and how Churchill, Craig and Collins reacted. Included are the events leading to the creation of the Ulster Special Constabulary’s ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Specials and an in-depth account of the shooting of ‘B’ Specials at Clones railway station, the killing of eight unionists in a single night in south Armagh, the cover-up after ‘A’ Specials left three innocent nationalists dead and two wounded in Cushendall, and the litany of reprisal killings from Camlough to Desertmartin. It includes details of attacks on the Great Northern Railway and other networks, not previously published, that provide a unique insight into the problems faced by railwaymen and by the government during the period.

It is clear that the worst of all groups, including the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, were the Ulster Special Constabulary ‘B’ specials, who left all others in the dust when it came to murder and mayhem. Lawlor covers the pogroms against Catholics in at least three major towns led by off-duty ‘B’ Specials. Kudos to Lawlor for documenting an important part of our history before it is lost to memory. We know there are no choir boys in war; this book makes that fact even clearer.

— Mike McCormack, aohbard@optonline.net

Historical Happenings

There are memorials and there are memorials.  Some bring happy memories like the Tom and Katty Clarke Memorial at Manorville, Long Island indicating that the patriotic family happily lived and farmed there before returning to Ireland to engineer the 1916 Rising.  There are some that inspire pride in the accomplishments of our ancestors like the battlefield memorials at Antietam and Gettysburg.  But then there are those which bring the sadness associated with a tragic event like the many memorials to the victims of the Great Hunger.  None should be forgotten, but sadly, some are!

One in particular is a memorial to two horrible shipwrecks that took place off the south shore of Long Island in the winter of 1836.  The ships, Bristol and Mexico, both needlessly broke up in storms waiting for pilot boats to guide them through the narrows and into New York Harbor.  In both cases, the majority of passengers were Irish men, women and children fleeing conditions in Ireland and all 216 were lost.  In one case, the Pilot’s preferred not to work on Sunday and in the other case, the Pilot’s had adjourned to a saloon to ring in the New Year.  Meanwhile, the stranded passengers cries could be heard by nearby residents all through the night until they slowly tapered off beneath the sounds of the storm.  The morning light revealed many, who had lashed themselves to the deck to avoid being washed overboard, embedded in blocks of ice.  They froze to death where they stood praying, in sub-zero weather, just 200 years off the Long Beach shore in sight of the land of their dreams.  Only their tears reached the shore.  For the full story, see Echoes of Irish History in this issue.   Today, 139 of the victims sleep in the Mariners Burial Ground in the Rockville Cemetery, 45 Merrick Rd, Lynbrook where a monument was erected in 1840 to commemorate the tragedy.  On November 19 at 10 AM, a group will meet there to mark the 175th anniversary of the two wrecks.  There will be a collation of coffee and pastries at Historian Art Mattson’s home (28 Hart Street, Lynbrook) following the ceremony where guests will be able to view his newly discovered oil painting, The Wreck of the Mexico, painted in 1837 by noted maritime artist, James Fulton Pringle.  Art is a local historian, author of Water and Ice: The Tragic Wrecks of the Bristol and Mexico (Lynbrook Historical Books, 2010, illustrated)  who has been promoting this remembrance for years with the Gaelic Society of St. Agnes Cathedral and The Historical Society of East Rockaway and Lynbrook.  I hope it’s a cold morning so that we will be able to realize a bit of what they suffered.  See you there.

In keeping with history, youngsters in grades 6 through 12 should now be working on their National History Day entries.  For more information on how to do that go to  NHD.ORG .  For questions regarding registration, you can also  contact the National History Day office at 301-314-9739.   This year’s topic is made for the Irish; it is Revolution, Reaction and Reform in History.  In order to qualify the revolution doesn’t have to have been successful, but each one did bring about change, for better or worse.  What were the results of the 1798 rising; Emmet’s 1803 rebellion; the 1848 Young Ireland rebellion; the 1867 Fenian rising; the 1916 Easter Rising; the 1919-21 War of Independence or any of the Troubles.  Were they justified, did they lead to change or just sew the hydra’s teeth for new rebellions?  And what about the reforms like Grattan’s Parliament, the Land League or the Home Rule Bill.  And what of the only rebellion that ever took place outside the land the rebel’s were trying to free – when Clan na Gael invaded Canada to swap it to England for Ireland.  I can’t wait to do the judging next June!  I hope one of yours will be there too.

The revised History of the AOH being prepared for the 175th Anniversary is done.  All that is left is to go to print.  I thank the states, county’s divisions and groups who sponsored a page of the history, your names will live as long as the book does.  It has been a 10-month effort and worth every minute of it.  To those well-meaning members who missed the opportunity, we’ll probably do it again in 25 years, so stick around.

However, there is no 25 year window on the construction of the Commodore Barry Memorial at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.  The AOH convinced the Navy that Commodore Barry was worth a memorial and they agreed to allow us to erect one.  But, we must do it!  This is probably the most significant event to take place in Irish-American history.  Think how proud you will be to tell your grandchildren that you were a part of erecting that impressive monument to that great Irish-American.  Send a check today, no matter how small, made out to Hibernian Charity with Barry Project on the memo line to BARRY PROJECT, PO Box 391, Meriden, CT 06450.

Remember, it’s your heritage; defend it