In May 2006, the President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary McAleese, officially launched the Irish Studies Program at the University of Montana. In the course of her address she spoke of the historical relationship between Ireland and Montana and, citing a Chinese proverb, reminded all that “those who draw the water should not forget those who dug the wells.” This piece is inspired by those words; it’s an attempt to show that the Irish Studies program in Montana did not emerge in a vacuum but was built on the foundations laid by previous generations primarily through our remarkable organization, The Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Of all the cultural, social and political societies and organization the Irish created from when they arrived in Montana in the 1880s, only the AOH remains as vibrant, creative and influential as ever. In fact, the longest continuously active division of the AOH west of the Mississippi – the Anaconda AOH, Division no. 1, Deer Lodge County – is found in Montana. This commitment to heritage is the defining characteristic of the Ancient Order of Hibernians; it is also the foundation on which the program rests.
The Friends of Irish Studies in the West [FOIS], was established to pursue two distinct objectives: build support among the people of the state for Irish Studies; and provide the community with greater access to the resources of the program. Of the 12 members on the Board of Directors of FOIS, 6 are members of the AOH representing Anaconda, Butte, Helena and Missoula. They have brought the spirit of their parent organization to bear on the Friends, transforming this small group into the single largest benefactor of the Irish Studies program. When one looks at the complexion of the Board and the record of achievement one could be forgiven for thinking that FOIS is less an independent organization and more an extension of the Ancient Order of Hibernians!
There is a saying that success breeds success. I don’t know who first offered that insight, but I suspect he wasn’t Irish! The experience of the Irish Studies Program is that success breeds challenges! The growth of the program has seen it exert an influence beyond the borders of Montana to attract an increasing number of out-of-state students. All of these students are interested in learning about their Irish heritage; many of them have parents who are members of the AOH, but most cannot afford the cost of studying in the more expensive private institutions. The University of Montana seeks to serve the children of the less-well-off Irish from all over the country.
To achieve this objective the Friends of Irish Studies must return to the well and to appeal to the spirit and members of the organization who have been there from the beginning. This appeal also brings with it the opportunity to recognize the immense contribution of the AOH in a real way. The Friends have established a specific Ancient Order of Hibernians Fund along with a separate page on their website outlining the history of the organization and its pivotal role in creating the Irish Studies program. The fund, therefore, will not only provide resources for the growth and development of the program, but will serve to remind all of the leadership the AOH continues to provide in ensuring that our heritage and ancestral culture is passed on from generation to generation.
We appeal to you to join us as a united Irish community to build this fund. Its success will bear further witness to our love and commitment to our heritage; its fruits will benefit those who come after us for generations. To assist in this effort or to learn more, please go to www.friendsofirishstudies.com or contact Mike O’Connor, past National Director at email@example.com.