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!