New Jersey News

New Jersey Provides Scholarships

AOH Div 10 in Trenton awarded full scholarships to five teens to attend the Colaiste Gael Linn Irish Cultural College in Donegal, Ireland.  Four of the winners came from New Jersey and one from Derry. The scholarship, which memorializes Billy Briggs, a much loved Irish-American with a passion for Ireland and its people, provides students with immersion learning of the Irish language and culture for a three-week term.

The New Jersey scholarship winners, Michaela McFadden, Allison Burns, Lauren Tracey and Rosie Griffin were joined by Rioghnach Ni Dheimhin of Ireland at the school where students take daily courses in dance, sports and music in addition to language.

Billy Briggs and a few others were the principle founders of the Division.  It is the memory of Billy Briggs, his spirit and his love of Ireland that drives the dedication and work of the Division members. In addition to memorializing Billy Briggs, the Hibernian’s goal in creating the scholarship is to advance Irish culture and language through friendship between young people in Ireland and the US.

Starting out, the small committee that organized the scholarship had, as its goal, one winner. Applicants were required to submit an essay entitled “My Irish Heritage and What It Means to Me.” Five quality essays were submitted and the committee decided that none should be eliminated. So they went from one to five in a blink multiplying their financial burden accordingly. It was a remarkable decision by a remarkable group of Hibernians from what has become a remarkable Hibernian Division.

Div 10 also produces the annual Gael Scoil for children at Notre Dame High School. In its fourth year, the Gael Scoil has doubled enrollment each year and was forced to close enrollment last year. Again, a small committee of driven AOH members met weekly to create the program and continue to meet bi-weekly.

Want to find out more about the Billy Briggs Memorial Scholarship and see pictures of the winners? Want to learn what the Gael Scoil is about? Want to see the other charities that Div 10 supports and some of its activities?  Go to our web site. http://www.aohdiv10.org

Scholarship awardees Michaela McFadden, Allison Burns, Lauren Tracey and Rosie Griffin

Vice President Moore Named Irishman of the Year in Smithville

Cape May Div 2 sponsored a huge Irish festival in Smithville NJ. A great deal of effort went into this event and the Cape May Division deserves a great deal of credit, especially Pat Jockel who guided the activities. The weather was beautiful and 20,000 people attended what the New Jersey Leisure Guide rated in their top 10 things to do in October. With 35 Irish craft vendors, 8 food vendors, continuous music and an appearance by the Shamrock and Thistle Pipe Band, the festival was a tremendous success.

In conjunction with the Festival the Division presented their Hibernian of the Year to National Vice President Brendan Moore and their Irishman of the Year award to Atlantic County Freeholder Joseph McDevitt. State and National officers from the AOH & LAOH were in attendance as was last year’s Hibernian of the Year, NJ State President Jere Cole, National President Seamus Boyle and many of Brendan’s family. Everyone is looking forward to next year while Pat Jockel takes a well deserved rest.

(l to r) Joseph McDevitt, Brendan Moore and Jere Cole

Tomhas na Teanga

Táimid i lár an tsamhraidh um an dtaca seo, ach tá mé ag smaoineamh faoi chúrsaí scoile.   We’re in the middle of summer right now, but I’m thinking about school stuff. Is iomaí duine a fuair céim ó scoil amháin agus atá le tosú ar scoil nua san fhómhair.  Lots of people got a degree from one school and will be starting a new school in the fall. Athrú mór i saol duine a leithéid.  That’s a big change for someone. Beidh mo mhac féin chun bheith ina chónaí ag an ollscoil i mbliana.  My own son will be going off to college this year. Is rud nua sin dósan, agus dá thuismitheoirí, freisin!  That’s a new thing for him, and for his parents, too!

Nílimid go léir sa ghlúin chéanna in Ord Ársa na hÉireann. We’re not all in the same generation in the AOH. Tá gach saghas duine again.  We’ve got all kinds of people. Ina measc, tá fir óga gan pháistí fós, agus tá seanóirí le garpháistí.  Among them, there are young men with no children yet, and seniors with grandchildren. Agus tá daoine mar mise ann atá idir eatarthu.  And there are people like me somewhere in between Is cuimhin liom nuair a bhí mo mhac ag tosú ar scoil don chéad uair, agus gheallfainn nach raibh sé ach tamall beag ó shin!  I remember when my son was first starting school, and I’d swear it was just a short while ago! Imíonn an t-am.  Time flies.

Imíonn an tAm.  Sin teideal ar dhlúthdhiosca le Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin.  That’s the title of a CD by… An-albam is ea é, agus molaim go hard é.  It’s a great album, and I highly recommend it. Tá an chuid is mó de as Gaeilge, ach tá cúpla rud ann as Béarla, freisin.  Most of it is in Irish, with some English. Is as Contae na Gaillimhe é.  He’s from Galway.  Mar a tharlaíonn, bhí deis agam bualadh le Tadhg i Nua-Eabhrac tamall ó shin.  As it happens, I had a chance to meet Tadhg a little while back, in NY. Níl sé ina cheoltóir amháin.  He’s not just a musician. Scríobhann sé don teilifís go minic, agus is é an fáth gur bhuail mé leis ná go raibh sé ag déanamh cláir don teilifís, faoin bhfile Raiftearaí.  He frequently writes for TV, and the reason I met him was that he was making a TV show about the poet Raftery. Rinne mé agallamh gearr leis mar táim i mo eagarthóir ar An Gael, agus tharla gur fhoilsíodh an dán cáiliúil ‘Mise Raiftearaí’ don chéad uair riamh in An Gael, sa naoú haois déag.  I did a short interview with him because I’m the editor of An Gael, and it happened that the famous poem…was first published in An Gael.

Ní daltaí scoile iad, den chuid is mó, ach tá eagraíocht i limistéir Nua-Eabhraic darb ainm Daltaí na Gaeilge.  They’re not students at school, for the most part, but there is an organization in the NY area called…(students of Irish). Bíonn siad an-ghníomhach ag eagrú ócáidí chun an teanga a mhúineadh agus a úsáid.  They’re very active organizing occasions to teach and use the language. Is minic go reáchtálann siad deireadh seachtainí na Gaeilge.  They often put on Irish language week-ends. Nuair a thug Tadhg a chuairt ar Nua-Eabhrac, chaith sé am le Daltaí na Gaeilge ar dheireadh seachtaine, agus chan sé dóibh.  When Tadhg was visiting NY, he spent time with them on a week-end, and sang for them. Tá físeáin de ar an idirlíon.  There are videos of it in the internet. Tá Tadhg ar Facebook (mar atáimse), agus is féidir iad a fháil ansin.  Tadhg is on…(as I am), and you can find them there.

Déanann Tadhg leabhair agus ceol do pháistí, freisin.  Tadhg makes books and music for kids, too. Más mian leat Gaeilge a mhúineadh do pháistí, b’fhiú duit súil a chaitheamh ar a shuíomh idirlín:  www.futafata.com.  If you would like to teach kids Irish, you ought to look at his web site. Tá nasc ann go stuif do dhaoine fásta freisin, Imíonn an tAm san áireamh.  There’s a link there to stuff for grown-ups, too, including…

Is iomaí duine a d’fhás aníos in Éirinn ar cuimhin leo Gaeilge a fhoghlaim ar scoil.  Lots of people who grew up in Ireland remember learning Irish at school. Sách minic, níor thaitin sí leo ag an am.  Very often, they didn’t like it at the time. Ach tá daoine eile ann agus is cuimhin leo go raibh sár-mhúinteoirí acu, agus bhain siad an-sult as na ranganna Gaeilge.  But there are other people who remember having great teachers, and they really enjoyed the Irish classes. Chuaigh roinnt díobh go coláistí samhraidh sa Ghaeltacht, agus bhí clubanna ann a spreag iad chun a gcuid Gaeilge a úsáid.  Some went to summer ‘colleges’ in the Gaeltacht, and there were clubs that encouraged them to use their Irish. D’fhoghlaim siad a lán amhrán agus dánta, agus is cuimhin leo fós iad.  They learned a lot of songs and poems, and still remember them. Dánta mar ‘Mise Raifearaí’ agus amhráin mar ‘Cill Aodáin’ (a scríobh Raifearaí).  Poems like…and songs like…(which Raftery wrote).

Dóibh siúd atá ar scoil fós agus, tá súil agam, don uile dhuine againn, tá laethanta saoire againn i rith an tsamhraidh.  For those who are still in school, and I hope for all of us, we have vacation during the summer. Bíodh sos maith againn go léir, mar sin, agus go bhfaighimis fuinneamh, neart is misneach nua, ionas go mbeimid ullamh do gach dúshlán atá romhainn.  Let’s all have a good break, then, and may we get new energy, strength and courage, so that we’ll be ready for every challenge to come.

Go n-éirí le gach duine atá ag leanúint ar aghaidh lena gcuid oideachais, sa bhaile nó ar scoil.  May everyone who is continuing their education, at home or in school, be successful. Ná bíodh deireadh leis an bhfoghlaim!  May there be no end to learning!

New Jersey News

Division 10 of Mercer County, New Jersey held its third annual Gael Scoil for children on March 6 and 7 at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  Most remarkable is that we sold out. Enrollment for our two day program has doubled every year for the three years it has been in existence and this year we could not have accepted any more students. The Gael Scoil is not a fund raiser for Division 10 and most of the material we present is available for free or at a very low cost and the kids love it. Many of them were returning for their third year. Our Gael Scoil Committee is comprised of just five AOH members. We meet once a week and produce a high quality product that is in demand throughout the region. One of the goals we set for ourselves is to encourage other Divisions to put their own Gael Scoil together. We haven’t been successful in achieving that goal as of yet. Our Committee would be happy to help any Divisions get their programs rolling. Meanwhile the Committee is already thinking about our 2011 program and how we can expand to allow more kids to attend. Please follow this link for pictures and information on our program. http://www.aohdiv10.org/

Jersey Brothers Raise Money for Injured Soldier

On April 17, 2010 The Fr. Mychal Judge/ Hudson 1 Division attended a fund raiser for Iraqi war veteran Brendan Marocco.  The division had 20 members in attendance.  Alex Marocco, Brendan’s dad, spoke to fellow brothers of the rehabilitation that Brendan is doing.  Jim O’Donnell, AOH Div1 Financial Secretary said it best “We had to come” when thanked by Alex Marocco.  Almost a year to the day, in the early morning hours of April 12,2009 Brendan’s unit was returning from a night mission, his vehicle was hit directly by a Explosive Fired Projectile (EFP).  The attack killed a fellow soldier. Brendan lost both arms and legs, had a severed carotid artery, fractured face and eye socket and a pierced eardrum. Brendan was saved by his platoon medic and fellow soldiers long enough to be transported to a US Army trauma hospital in Tikrit, Iraq. Today Brendan is currently recovering and undergoing physical and occupational therapy at Walter Reed hospital.  A trust has been set up, to help Brendan when he returns home.  The fund will offset costs for Brendan and his family to make his home compatible to his disabilities.  The AOH/Hudson 1 is planning a fund raiser for Brendan is the fall. If you would like to know more about Brendan, please visit his website at www.brendan morocco.org. He is one remarkable person, a real inspiration.

Brendan Marocco receives a check from Jim O’Donnell and the Hudson Div 1 AOH. (L to R) Tom Murphy, Jim Donovan, Pat Murphy, P Coleman, Jim O’Donnell, Alex Marocco, Brendan Marocco, Ed Coleman, Pete Walsh, Tom Donlin, and Mike Collum.

New Jersey State Board Endorses National Candidates

The NJ State Board on Saturday April 17th at a board meeting endorsed the following candidates running for office this July in Cincinnati Ohio at the National Hibernian Convention:

Jere Cole – Director

Seamus Boyle – President

Brendan Moore – Vice President

Tom McNabb – Secretary

Jim McKay – Treasurer

Danny O’Connell – Director

Keith Carney – Director

All incumbents and candidates were unanimously endorsed.  “It’s the leadership and experience and energy that makes these men great leaders”, stated State President Cole

AOH/LAOH Join the Bloody Sunday March in Ireland

Once again Sean Pender, AOH FFAI Chair, organized a wonderful and very informative trip to the Six Counties of Ireland with the help of Coiste & Relatives for Justice.  It all coincided with the “38th Bloody Sunday Commemoration and March”.  There were fifteen AOH/LAOH members that made the trip including our National LAOH President, Mary Ryan and National Immigration Chair, Anne-Marie Nyhan-Doherty.

The tour met in Belfast on Friday and that afternoon we attended a reception at the Scoil Na Fuiseoige which is the Irish speaking school located in Twinbrook, West Belfast.  The AOH/ LAOH presented a generous monetary gift of $5,000.00 in memory of our own David Burke from Division 8, Lawrence, MA.  The children and teachers were waiting for us when we arrived, we were told the children patiently stayed after school (even though it was a Friday afternoon) as they  wanted to meet the American’s that were coming to their school.  The teacher explained that the children were going to put on a play for us in Irish; we would probably recognize it even though most of us don’t understand the Irish language.  It was “A Christmas Carol” and I must say it was simply delightful to watch and to listen to the children speaking Gaelic.  They also sang several “Irish songs” and then played the tin whistle, there was no shortage of talent at this school and the entire show was just a joy to watch.  The staff was so grateful to receive our donation and it will most certainly be put to good use.  I couldn’t help but think of Dave and how proud and happy he‘d be at our remembering him in such a special way. A plaque will be put up in the school to honor his memory, what a wonderful way to begin this tour!!!

Later that evening we went downtown to a couple of local pubs and found out then that a social was on at the O’D’s for Pol Brennan so naturally we all ended going there.  What a pleasure it was to see Pol and to see that he seems to be adjusting so well being back in Ireland. The place was packed with all Irish Republicans and there were so many of the ex-POWs that I recognized from years past.  It was so nice to see them all there for their comrade Pol.  Unfortunately, the next day his father passed away but at least Pol and his family were able to be with him during that time.

We then traveled on to Derry and once again on the Saturday evening before the Bloody Sunday Commemoration, we were at the AOH Hall on Foyle Street in Derry for Mass.  We were warmly welcomed by all our AOH brothers.  They graciously served tea and sandwiches after Mass and before the presentations were given.  Sean Pender presented checks to the Pat Finucane Center, Relatives for Justice, The Cairde ex-political group from Strabane,etc.  He then gave out the Hurley to the members present representing the different AOH/LAOH Divisions, State Board, and National Boards that donated over $1,000 to the Christmas Appeal.  I’m very proud to say, a Hurley was given to the LAOH National Board, New Jersey LAOH State Board and LAOH Division 1 Baltimore City.  Our LAOH sister, Catherine Reinholdt, Division 1, Baltimore City was in attendance with other members from her Division.  It was a pleasure to meet them all and to hear about the fundraiser they had where they raised $1,100 for the Christmas Appeal.

Sunday morning we attended the solemn wreath laying ceremony for all victims killed on that horrific day Jan 30, 1972.  It was very sad indeed to think that they still haven’t been told the truth about that fateful day and they’re still waiting on the Saville Report.  Afterwards, we were given a tour of the murals done by the Bogside Artists which told the story of events that unfolded in Derry during the Troubles.  In the afternoon, we assembled for the Commemorative march and rally.  It seemed like there were larger numbers of people marching that day which was great to see.  After the march, we stood and listened to what each family member had to say about their loved ones that were killed that day as they held their photo for everyone to see. Martin McGuiness was then the main speaker of the day and as usual gave a brilliant speech.

After the march, Eamon Daly from the Omagh Basketball Club met with us at the AOH hall.  He’s bringing his under 14 team to CT, NJ, NY and Boston this summer.  This is a cross community team and maybe the first time these youngsters have ever met others from the other side of the community.  The parents are also very involved and also getting to meet each other from the Protestant and Catholic communities.  I’m proud to say this is one of the many projects our Christmas Appeal helps.

Over the course of the trip, we met with representatives from the Pat Finucane Center and also Relatives for Justice.  They’re both working tirelessly to bring truth and justice to families who have lost loved ones, in part, through collusion with the security forces.  We heard from families who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday and also during the Ballymurphy Massacre.  The Ballymurphy Massacre occurred August 9th through the 11th, 1971 when 11 innocent people were gunned down by the occupation forces.  It was heartbreaking to hear their stories of what transpired over those three days.

One of the highlights of the tour was a visit and tour of Stormont.  There we met with Raymond McCartney.  Raymond is now an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) for Foyle (Derry) since 2004 but at one time had spent several years in prison and took part in the 1980 hunger strike from 27 October to 18 December, he was released in 1994.  The next day we got the news that a deal had been struck between the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and Sinn Fein for the devolution of policing to the Six Counties of Ireland. This was great news to hear and certainly a historic moment in the Peace Process!!!

In Belfast we met a representative from the David Ervine Trust (one of the groups the Christmas Appeal donates to).  It’s named after David Ervine who was once a member of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force- a Loyalist paramilitary group).  He served time in prison but questioned his involvement in the UVF.  He later became instrumental in securing the Loyalist cease-fire of 13 October 1994 and supported the virtues of peace and reconciliation for Northern Ireland.  The David Ervine Foundation is a cross-community effort to help people from both sides of the community in securing grants, etc.  In his own words, David stated, “There are great opportunities for Northern Ireland, we just have to grasp them”.

In gratitude of all the AOH has done to help The Holy Cross School/Trust in Belfast we were asked to be their guest for lunch.  We were warmly greeted by Fr. Gary Donegan who gave us a bit of history on the school and church.  Fr. Donegan also told us of the events that took place in 2001 when the school children were constantly harassed on their way to school.  The entire group was then seated and an elegant lunch was enjoyed by all.

There were more presentations given at the “Felon’s Club” in Belfast to Coiste, Green Cross, An Cumann Cabbrach, and the Belfast NGA (National Graves Association) Liam Shannon.  All and all, it was a great trip; we experienced once again the traditional kindness and warm hospitality unique to Ireland during our eight day visit and a special thank you to Sean Pender, AOH FFAI National Chair for his gracious leadership throughout our trip.  Wishing you all a blessed Easter and a happy spring!

Freedom For All Ireland

Members of the AOH and LAOH traveled to the North of Ireland in late January to attend the annual Bloody Sunday Commemoration march and spent a week meeting with the organizations that we support through our annual Christmas Appeal.  Our members were able to see first hand the great work that is done by the groups we support and personally experience the sincere appreciation that each group has for the support of our Order. It was an exciting time to be in the North as the Hillsborough Castle Agreement was being debated and eventually agreed upon.   Participating in the this year’s Freedom for All Ireland trip were from New York: Freedom for Ireland NY state chair Tim Myles, Tom Wright and Keith Swingle; from Massachusetts: LAOH National President Mary Ryan, National LAOH FFAI chair Kathleen Savage and National LAOH Immigration chair Ann-Marie Doherty; from New Jersey State President Jere Cole, Bob Bergen, Bill Becker, and Doug Pfluger; from Ohio National director Danny O’Connell l and from Florida Katrina Hopkins and Gerry Moss.

Our trip started with a very special visit to the Irish speaking grade school Scoil Na Fuiseoige, (School of the Lark) in Twinbrook West Belfast.  Bobby Sands was from the Twinbrook section of Belfast.  His writings used the lark as symbol of freedom and that is what the school is named for.  This school is basically housed in temporary trailers and has been for over a decade but the work that is done in these very humble surroundings is nothing short of spectacular.  The students, teachers and parents are to be commended for their dedication to promoting the Irish language.  In an example of the continued subtle nature of discrimination of the native Irish language, the school continues to wait for the release of funds so that a new school can be built.  The children of Scoil Na Fuiseoige welcomed us with an Irish language version of a Christmas Carol, tunes on tin whistles and songs in Irish from their award winning choir.  Although the language may not have been familiar to many on the trip there wasn’t a person there that didn’t appreciate the efforts of the children and the beauty of their voices.  It was a truly memorable stop that those who were there will not soon forget.  Throughout 2009 I sold raffle tickets for the Gerry Adams autographed hurling stick and One Island – One Ireland t-shirts and the $5000 profit that was raised from these efforts was presented to the school in memory of Dave Burke.  The principal let us know the money would allow the school to purchase two brand new electronic chalkboards, which will greatly help the teachers and students in their studies.  The school will be a placing plaque on site in memory of Dave Burke that will read David R. Burke 1940 – 2009 Member of Division 8 AOH Lawrence, Massachusetts USA.  Recipient of the 2007 Sean MacBride Award.  A lifelong advocate of Economic and Social Justice, Human Rights and a United Ireland. Dave’s family offered the wording for the plaque and I am sure that they and Dave are very proud of the work that is now being done with his help.

Before heading to Derry for the march our group visited the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick.  There we were greeted and hosted to a personal tour by education director Andrew Gibson. We learned of the life and legacy of St. Patrick and how that legacy is helping to support peace and reconciliation in today’s North.  We visited the gravesite of St. Patrick and the location of his first teachings in Ireland.  The centre is a tremendous place to visit so full of the history of Ireland, St. Patrick and of such relevance to all Hibernians.  It is strongly recommended.  The Christmas appeal donation to the centre went to help the cross community school work that Andrew in his role as education director completes.

The Derry AOH once again hosted all AOH and LAOH members for the weekend.  In addition to those on the trip there were many more AOH and LAOH members from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and other locations that made the trip to Derry.  Mass was celebrated by the Derry AOH chaplain and afterward we made our Christmas appeal donations to representatives of many of the organizations that we support in the Derry area.  Spokespersons from the Pat Finucane Center, Cairde, the Bogside Artists, the Omagh Basketball Club, and the Bloody Sunday families addressed the large gathering and were grateful for our support.  The groups were able to give specific examples of where the money that we donate goes and why it is so vitally important.  In upcoming issues of the Hibernian Digest I will highlight the organizations that we support, the work that they do and how our donations help that work.  Representatives of divisions and boards who donated more than $1000 to the appeal were presented with customized Irish hurling sticks to recognize their efforts.

On Sunday morning at the memorial service NJ State AOH President and LAOH National President placed a wreath at the Bloody Sunday victim’s monument.  The families are very appreciative of our efforts and support throughout the years.  The march later that day was somber as we retraced the steps of the march of 1972.  At the end of the March representatives of each family, SDLP President Paul Durkan and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness addressed the crowd. During our time in Derry I delivered to the Bloody Sunday families a letter signed by Congressmen Richard Neal, Chris Smith, Eliot Engel and Joseph Crowley.  The letter expressed the Congressmen’s support of the family’s efforts to receive the often delayed findings of the Saville Inquiry at the same time that the British government receives it.  The inquiry is set to be released the week of March 22nd and the British government plans to hold it for at least two weeks before releasing to the families.  This of course is totally unacceptable to the families; they have waited 38 years for the truth and should not have to wait one minute more than they have to.  Since my return I have been in touch with the families to offer further assistance.  Preliminary discussions regarding a contingent of Bloody Sunday family members visiting the US during St. Patrick’s to lobby for further support have taken place.  The families have verified that Judge Saville would not have a problem releasing the findings to the families at the same time they are presented to the British government but since Saville was charged by the British government to complete the Inquiry he must submit the findings first to the government.  The families have launched a campaign entitled Set the Truth Free. Details can be found at www.setthetruthfree.org It is my sincere hope that as you read this article in the early days of April, that the families of those murdered and injured have the findings of the inquiry and may have finally experienced some sort of justice.  If on the other hand the British government has once again used the cruel tactics of delaying justice for these families we will increase our efforts to get the report to the families without further delay.

Leaving Derry our tour stopped in Dungannon and Cappagh in County Tyrone.   Sponsored by Relatives for Justice we met with families whose loved ones were killed in acts of state sponsored murder and collusion.  We met Martin Mallon the nephew of one of those killed, 70 year old Roseanne Mallon from near Dungannon, County Tyrone; she was shot dead in her sister’s home on May 8th 1994. Martin told us of his family’s 15 year struggle for justice and the work and support that Relatives for Justice has provided.  We spent two nights in beautiful South Armagh at the Ti Chulainn centre where we enjoyed two great nights of Irish music at the centre and at the Welcome Inn in nearby Forkhill.  During our time in Armagh we received briefings from the Pat Finucane Center’s Newry office, an overview of the oral history project that Christmas Appeal recipient Cuimhneamih does, and learned of the relationship of the area to Irish mythology.

Returning to Belfast for our last couple of days we had a full schedule.  We met with a representative of the David Ervine Trust, and made a donation to help fund the cross community education project the trust sponsors.   We met with Sinn Finn MLA Raymond McCartney at Stormont the seat of The Northern Ireland government and received a comprehensive briefing on the political landscape in the North and the on going policing and devolution talks.  Our group also toured Stormont, which at one time was described as a “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People”.  Thankfully it now is more representative of the entire population of the North.  Bik McFarlane former OC in Long Kesh during the 1981 Hunger Strikes served as tour guide for the group as we toured North Belfast and Ardoyne.  Fr Gary Donegan of Holy Cross Parish and School and Michael Hanna of the Holy Cross Trust hosted our entire group to a tremendous dinner at the church. They updated us on the work of the Trust and thanked the AOH and LAOH for all of our support since 2001.  We visited the Falls Road office of Relatives for Justice (RFJ) another recipient of Christmas appeal donations to learn about the work they do relating to truth and justice initiatives.  At RFJ we heard from family members of those that were killed at the Ballymurphy massacre of 1971. These victims were killed by the same troops who were not held accountable for their actions in Ballymurphy and instead sent to Derry in January 1972 and were part of Bloody Sunday.  At the Felons Club in West Belfast we were hosted by old friend Liam Shannon, we meet with the organizations that we support in the Belfast area: Coiste, Green Cross, An Cumann Cabhrach, National Graves Association of Belfast and TarNall.  Once again our members learned first hand of the work of these organizations and the importance of our donations.

National Director Danny O’Connell and I were able to attend a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.  We were the guests of Sinn Fein Policing board members Martina Anderson and Alex Maskey.  After the meeting we had lunch with Martina, Alex, DUP member Ian Paisley Jr., PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott and Chairman of the NI Policing Board Barry Gilligan.  Danny and I conveyed to Constable Baggott our condemnation of the recent acts of dissident violence in the attack of PSNI officer Peadar Heffron.  (Heffron is the Catholic nine year veteran of the PSNI who is a fluent Irish speaker and an avid participant of GAA sports.  He was attacked and almost killed in a bombing of his car, by dissident republicans.  As a result of the attack his leg was amputated.)  We reaffirmed the statements of AOH president Seamus Boyle who in 2009 said “There would be no support among the Ancient Order of Hibernians for any of these splinter groups” and that there is no support among Irish-Americans for this terrible attack.” We asked that Chief constable Baggot pass along our best wishes to Officer Heffron and his family and asked to be notified if there was any way that we could assist in efforts to support the Heffron family.  We also discussed with Constable Baggot our belief that the devolution of policing and justice would be beneficial to the people of the North and he agreed, he was hopeful that the negotiations going on at that time would yield that result.

All in all it must be said that this year’s trip like this years Christmas appeal was a great success. It was a busy and full seven days of travel.  Luckily we were able to balance the time we spent learning and being educated with time for fun, camaraderie and social activities.  All that took the trip had an opportunity to learn about that past, present and future of the North of Ireland by meeting with those that lived thorough the past are working in the present and those that will shape its future.  The families of Bloody Sunday hope that 2010 and the release of the Saville inquiry will final offer them some truth, justice and peace.  If, please God, that happens, the final commemoration march should take place in Derry in 2011.  Let us pray that truth and justice happens and the 14 who died on Bloody Sunday, those that were injured on that day and all of those families members that have passed away in the 38 plus years since that day may finally rest in peace.

Final thoughts: On Thursday night February 4th the Hillsborough Castle Agreement (HCA) was finalized, it would be announced the next morning. I had the great fortune to be invited to the review of the agreement by Sinn Fein to its constituents in North Belfast on Thursday night. I found the review to be an incredible event that allowed me to see first hand a very democratic grass root review of a strategy that has persevered in the face of great adversity; a strategy whose long term goal is a free and united 32 county Ireland with justice for all.  It is a strategy that we can help support by gathering United Ireland resolutions from our local, county and State governments. Full details are available at:

http://www.aoh.com/pages/national_programs/freedom_for_all_ireland/freedom_for_all_ireland.html

The major component of the HCA was the devolution of policing and justice from London to the people of the North.  It is an agreement that supports equality and a basic democratic precept that those that are governed and policed should control those that govern and police.  As I spend more time in the North it becomes more and more obvious that the concept of equality and the idea that all are created equal is not an ideal that is shared by all.  It is evident that many in conservative Unionism, many members of the DUP and the Orange order do not want equality and will fight it every step of the way.  The thought of equality to some of these people was best summed up by a republican I met at the Thursday night meeting he said that “it was hard to believe that Republicans could under estimate the absolute toxic nature that many in unionism view equality with”.  It was a strong statement but I watched the announcement on TV the next morning and watched DUP First Minister Peter Robinson fail to extend his hand to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness to recognize the agreement; actions sometimes speak louder than words.