The AOH and Irish Studies in Montana

AOH members affiliated with the Irish Studies Program are, from left, Bobo Kelly, Anaconda; Mike O'Connor, Helena; and Traolach O'Riordain, Missoula.

AOH members affiliated with the Irish Studies Program are, from left, Bobo Kelly, Anaconda; Mike O’Connor, Helena; and Traolach O’Riordain, Missoula.

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 or contact Mike O’Connor, past National Director at

Montana News

Irish Vice Consul Visits Butte

On April 21st, members of the Butte-Silver Bow AOH attended a luncheon with special guest Barry O’Brien, Vice Consul to the Consulate General of Ireland.  Visiting Butte with his parents, O’Brien said he could feel the legacy of Ireland throughout the state, especially in the Mining City of Butte.

The Butte AOH was organized in 1881 giving support to the thousands of Irish immigrants who came to Butte to work in the copper mines.  The fraternal organization offered a sense of security and stability by getting its members jobs in the mines and elsewhere and by attending to their everyday needs to include expenses when sick or injured. The AOH played a critical and significant role in the assimilation of the arriving Irish into the mining community of Butte.

Pictured (L - R) Frank Walsh, John Cavanaugh, Joseph Lee (Vice-President), Mike Kujawa (Marshall), Barry O'Brien (Vice Consul General of Ireland), Pat O'Brien, Dan Sweeney (President), Brendan McDonough, Jack Henry (Financial Secretary).

The Thomas Francis Meagher Divisions annual Presidents appreciation steak fry. Nine past presidents attended the festivities. Pictured (L - R) First row: Dennis O'Reilly, Jim Hammill, Neil Connole, Dennis Sheehy. Back Row: Mike Murphy, Mike O'Connor, John Curry, Hank Burgess, Tom Pahut.

Montana News

Members of the AOH & LAOH from Butte Montana on the steps of St. Patrick’s Church on St. Patrick’s Day before marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Montana News

The Montana AOH celebrated their annual Day of Recollection on top of Mullan Pass on the Continental Divide.

(L – R) Back standing - Bill Kloker, PJ McHugh, Tom Pahut, Sean Brennan, Mike Murphy, Bob Moes, Pete Sullivan. Front kneeling - Gabe Brennan, Neil Connole, National Director Mike O'Connor.

On January 15th the Anaconda AOH Division Number 1 celebrated it’s installation of officers. The evening began with a cocktail hour followed by dinner and concluding with the ceremony. Former State President and National Director Mike O’Connor was on hand to conduct the installation.

Pictured (L – R) Ed Burch Treasurer, Jim Killoy President, Mike O'Connor National Director, Gary Ouldhouse Marshall, Dennis Corcoran Standing Committee, Frank Fitzpatrick Financial Secretary, Bob Mehrens Vice President, Jack Kelly Recording secretary, (Not Pictured) Sentinel Tony Shea

Montana News

On the evening of Thursday, October 21st, 2010, the Thomas Francis Meagher Division of Helena, Montana gathered at the Montana City Grill for the Division’s 26th annual Charter Dinner and the awarding of the Archbishop Brunett Medal for Social Justice. The award is named in honor of Archbishop Brunett, the now retired Archbishop of Seattle who was formerly the Bishop of the Diocese of Helena. All in attendance enjoyed a wonderful dinner and a great social evening. It was the 11th time the Archbishop Brunett Medal for Social Justice was awarded. The 2010 recipient, Gertrude “Gert” Downey from Butte Montana is an extraordinary woman whose faith driven life of compassion for others has greatly impacted her family and her community. A summary of her accomplishments is inspiring.

Gert Downey, born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1931, is the mother of 10 children and her life of public service has been driven by her Catholic Faith. The local Butte paper,The Montana Standard, in an article about her stated:

If you ask Gert Downey what her primary motivation is for helping others, she doesn’t hesitate to reply, “Faith”. … Downey added that she believes the best legacy she could ever leave her children and grandchildren is compassion for those who need help.

Gert worked with the Butte Silver Bow Anti-Poverty Council from 1965 to 1995, serving as the Director from 1991 to 1995. Over all those years, she obtained many grants for the needy, helped establish a transitional housing project for them called “Homeward Bound” and also launched a project called “Rosalie House” which provides low income housing for seniors. She has always treated people of all socio-economic levels and varied mental and physical disabilities with the same compassion and kindness, always being mindful of their inherent dignity as children of God.

Her other Faith driven achievements, too numerous to fully describe here, include: Associate of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth and through that association and Habitat for Humanity rehabed a home for a developmentally disabled couple; initiating a project which successfully funded and built a home for a grandmother struggling to raise the 3 children of her daughter, a single mother, who died of ovarian cancer ; active in the right to life movement, the LAOH, and the Living Word local prayer group as well as

attending daily Mass and serving as a Eucharistic Minister to those who cannot get to Mass. The story of her life and the remarks she made upon acceptance of the award were a moving and inspiring experience to all attending the dinner. It was a great evening in Montana !!

Montana Work Party

A joint project by the LAOH and AOH of Helena Montana was to construct a fence around Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Marysville, Montana.  The Church was dedicated in 1886 in Marysville — one of Montana’s first mining towns. Marysville is also one of the first towns in Montana to establish an AOH division.  The work party consisted of Joe Calnan, Bill Kloker, P J McHugh, Bob Moes, Mike Murphy, Dennis O’Reilly, Mike O’Connor, Tom Pahut, and Dennis and Janet Sheehy.