The Ancient Order of Hibernians is America’s oldest Irish Catholic Fraternal Organization founded concurrently in the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania and New York City in May, 1836. The Order can trace its roots back to a series of similar societies that existed in Ireland for more than 300 years. Today the AOH exists in the Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and we have a presence in every State in the United States. While these organizations share a common thread, the American AOH is a separate and much larger organization.
Currently in Ireland, there are AOH divisions in Donegal, Derry, Antrim, Tyrone, Down, Armagh, Monaghan, Leitrim, Louth, Dublin, Cork and a few other locations. There are county Boards and a Provincial board in Ulster as well as the National Board – The Board of Erin. The headquarters of the AOH is on Foyle Street in Derry City, home of AOH Division No. 1.
The early Irish societies were born of a need in the mid-fifteen hundreds to protect the welfare of fellow Irish Catholics, and especially the clergy who risked immediate death to keep the Catholic Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the Penal Laws of 1691. These various secret societies were formed across the country to aid and comfort their people by whatever means was available. Similarly, the AOH in America was founded at New York’s St. James Church on May 4, 1836 by men emulating these Irish societies, to protect the clergy and churches from the violent American Nativists (“Know Nothings” and their followers) who attacked Irish Catholic immigrants and Church property. At the same time the vast influx of Irish Immigrants fleeing Ireland’s Great Hunger in the late 1840′s, prompted a growth in many Irish societies in the USA – the largest of which was, and continues to be, the AOH.
Active across the United States, The Order seeks to aid the newly arrived Irish, both socially and economically. The many Divisions and club facilities located throughout the United States have traditionally been among the first to welcome new Irish immigrants. Here, the Irish culture — art, dance, music, and sports are fostered and preserved. Newcomers can meet some of ‘their own’ and are introduced to the social atmosphere of the Irish-American community.
In addition, the Order has provided a continuing bridge with Ireland for those who are generations removed from our ancestral homeland. The AOH sponsors many programs associated with promoting our Irish Heritage such as the IRISH WAY PROGRAM, SCHOLARSHIPS and NATIONAL HISTORY DAY sponsorship.
Annual dances, concerts, and parades sponsored by all levels of the Order raise millions for charity, while providing a showcase for the positive contributions of the Irish to every walk of American life. Divisions usually support local charities within their geographic areas.
The AOH has also been at the forefront for issues concerning the Irish, such as: Immigration Reform; economic incentives both here and in Ireland; human rights issues addressed in the MacBride Legislation; Right-To-Life; and a peaceful and just solution to the issues that divide Ireland. Hibernians never forget their ancestral homeland and can always be found actively lobbying for, praying for, and working for the total independence of a united 32-county Ireland, as their constitution avows: “By all means constitutional and lawful.”
Membership in the AOH is confined to men 16 years and older who are practicing Roman Catholics of Irish Birth, Descent or Adoption and are citizens of the United States.
We invite all Catholics of Irish birth or descent to seek admittance to the FINEST Irish Catholic Organization in the World — all we would ask is for you to live our motto of: “Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity”.
Dia ‘s Muire dhuit! (God and Mary be with you)
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Facts about the Ancient Order of Hibernians
- The AOH is the oldest lay Catholic ethnic organization operating in the United States.
- The Hibernians represent the most broadly based Irish-American organization with over 80,000 members in all 50 States. There are also divisions in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
- The twin constitutional goals of the Irish and Catholic membership is to assist in the re-unification of Ireland, supporting the Church and its mission, and promoting Irish culture.
- The AOH supports the raising of monuments to famed Irish or Irish-Americans (Commodore John Barry and Robert Emmett) and memorials to events like the Great Hunger or the slaughter of abortion. You can find these memorials in every major American city such as: Mobile, AL (Fr. Abram Ryan); Washington, DC (Nuns of the Battlefield); Valley Forge, PA (Medal of Honor grove); and Chicago, IL (Mt. Olivet Cemetery).
- The history of the AOH lies not just in big cities but tracks America’s expansion west along the Lewis and Clark Trail (St Anne’s, Great Falls, MT), along the Cherokee trail (Sacred Heart, Pueblo, CO), and along side the Central Pacific Railroad from Ogden, UT (St. Joseph’s) to Sacramento, CA (Old Cathedral).
- The march of the AOH across the continent stretches from the first stop on the National Road (St Patrick’s in Cumberland, MD) to Seattle, WA (St James Cathedral), with lesser known stops along the way that have all but vanished (Hinckletown, IA; Snoddy’s Mill, IN; Kalo, IA; Forty Fort, PA; Irwin, GA; and Iron Mountain, MO).
- Early history and growth of Hibernians is linked to mining for gold (Yreka, CA), copper and silver (Butte & Anaconda, MT), iron ore (St. Patrick’s, Escanaba, MI and St. Joseph’s, Mt. Pleasant, PA), hard rock mining (St Peter’s, Rutland, VT) and coal (Schuylkill Co, PA – where the infamous Molly Maguire trials were held).
- Hibernians shared meeting halls with other fraternal societies like the Foresters, Odd Fellows, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Pythias, and the GAR. However, the AOH were bitter opponents of the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish Know-Nothings who burned and attacked Catholic churches throughout the country.
- Members of the AOH have included labor leaders Terrence Powderly and John Sweeney; Bishops John Lennon, Fulton Sheen, and John Cardinal O’Connor; astronaut James McDevitt; President John F. Kennedy; insurance industry leader Bill Flynn; actor Pat O’Brien; Civil War General Thomas Francis Meagher; and recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.