A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AOH IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA
Written by Brother Patrick Moynihan, a long time Brother of our Order and of Brevard Division 2
Edited by Brother Ray Lynch on July 30, 2020
The first persons to call themselves Hibernians in Florida were the members of the Hibernian Regiment of the Spanish Army under the Command of Colonel Arturo O’Neill of County Tyrone who besieged Fort George, drove the British from Pensacola and established Spanish control of Western Florida on the 9th of March 1781. For the next 12 years O’Neill governed Western Florida under Spanish Law. Ninety-five years later the Ancient Order of Hibernians established the first division of the Order in the State of Florida when James D. Redmond became the President of the Jacksonville Division on March 30th 1876. A second division was established in Jacksonville in 1894 and a third division was founded in Pensacola in 1898. No two divisions of the Order were in existence simultaneously in this era and by 1900 there were only 85 Hibernians in Florida; within a very short period all divisions within the State became defunct.
There was a long period of almost three quarters of a century of Hibernian hibernation until the Order was reestablished in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County in 1974 under the guidance of Florida’s only National President, Tom Gilligan, and former State President and National Director, Jim French. Soon thereafter a division was established in Pinellas County. Notwithstanding the fact that no State Board had been established at the time, Florida Hibernians organized and administered a highly successful National Convention in Miami in 1980. The State Board was established a few years later (circa 1983) and Eddie Kalfleish, formerly of New York, was elected as the first State President. A State banner was designed and produced by Ernie Kees of the then fledgling Brevard 2 Division.
Past Florida State President Sean Denny is a native Floridian and the youngest person to hold the office in the State. He was, perhaps, the youngest State President in the nation when he was elected to that office in 2007. He represents an anomaly in that the majority of the membership in Florida is made up of émigrés from the various States drawn to the warmth of the Sunshine State in their retirement years for the full year or as snowbirds for the winter months. Consequently, the attrition and mortality rates are high and divisions of the Order in Florida prosper and wane in accord with the movements and health of its members. Therefore, the State has lost divisions in Brevard, Indian River and St. John’s Counties. New divisions, however, have been added over the past few years with the help of our State Organizers and senior members. The current divisions in the order of their seniority are described in the following section.
CURRENT FLORIDA DIVISIONS IN THE ORDER OF THEIR SENIORITY
Pasco County: William G. Hulton Division 1. Named for its first President, the Division received its charter on March 17th, 1982. The home division of Past State President Joe LaGuardia received the National Award for Charities at the New Orleans Convention in 2008.
Brevard County: Fulton J. Sheen Division 2. Named for America’s best-known Archbishop, the Division received its charter on October 8th, 1983. The home division of current State President Greg Seán Canning hosts an annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Commodore John Barry Day.
Pinellas County: Padraic Pearse Division 2. Named for the Irish Patriot, the Division was installed on December10th, 1995. The home division of Past State President Seán Denny it best known for it scholarship and charities programs.
Lake County (The Villages): Mother Teresa of Calcutta Division 1. Named for the recently beatification of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the Division was formed on August 18, 2010. In keeping with her good works, several charities have been targeted for adoption by the Division.
Pasco County: James Francis Powers Division 2. Named for the recently deceased Florida State Secretary, the new division was installed on July 9th, 2011 with State Vice-President, Phil Mulrenin as its first President. On February 11th, 2012, the Division was presented with its Charter by State President, Greg Seán Canning.
Broward County: Fireman Bill Elliott Division 2. Received its Charter on January 23, 2012.
Named for deceased Fireman Bill Elliot, the Division formed on December 5th, 2011. It received its charter on January 23rd, 2012 by State President Greg Seán Canning and State Organizer John Pesce.
Hernando County: Bishop Norbert Dorsey Division 1. Named for deceased Orlando Bishop Norbert Dorsey (a member of Brevard Co. Div. 2) the Division formed on February 28th, 2013 and accepted it’s charter on April 18, 2013. Dr. Michael Higgins was elected as the Division’s first President. The Charter was presented to the Division by State President Greg Seán Canning and State Organizer and Past State President Joe LaGuardia.
St. Lucie County: Brian Boru Division 1. Named for Ireland’s most famous High King (Ard Rí), the Division formed on August 21st, 2014 on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Knock (Queen of Ireland) at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church Hall in Port St. Lucie. Ray Lynch was elected as the Division’s first President. The new Brothers were initiated and the new Officers installed by Florida State President Greg Seán Canning (National Director and National FFAI Co-Chairman). Assisting the State President were Francis X. Delaney (Florida State Secretary), Patrick Ripton (Florida State Historian), Dennis McKenna (Martin County Division 1 President and State Organizer), and Brothers from the Fr. Michael Judge Division 1 of Martin County.
Indian River County: Division 2. (info to follow)
Orange County: Division 1. (info to follow)
Palm Beach County: Frances Hughes Division 2. (info to follow)
Manatee County: Division 1. (info to follow)
* The MacBride Law was passed in Florida in 1988 (res #S.121.153.F.S.) and strongly endorsed passage of the Good Friday Agreement. The MacBride Principles provide anti-discrimination restrictions on investments in institutions doing business in Northern Ireland. Senator Sanderson pre-filed her repeal-Bill (Senate Bill 1160) on January 14, 2002. She promptly withdrew it upon strong opposition from the Irish National Caucus and numerous legislators and groups on January 22, 2002.
* In March 2012, permission from the National Office of Vice-President Brendan Moore and Degree Chairman Patrick Shannon was granted for the formation of a Florida Major Degree Team. This endeavor remains in its earliest stages of development under the guidance of Brothers James Cahill, Greg Seán Canning, and Dennis McKenna.
* On May 3 of 2013, the Florida Senate passed a resolution (sponsored by Senator Simmons) supporting the efforts of the Irish people to arrive at a peaceful solution on the question of reunification.
CURRENT FLORIDA STATE PRESIDENT
2019 – Raymond Lynch
PAST FLORIDA STATE PRESIDENTS
2015 – 2019……………Jim Cahill
2011 – 2015………….Greg Sean Canning
2007 – 2011…………….. Seán Denny
2003 – 2007…………….. Joe LaGuardia
2003 – 2003…………….. Ed Pauly
1999 – 2003…………….. John Brogan
1995 – 1999…………….. Patrick Gilligan
Date Unknown………….. Marty McAndrew
1983 …………………….. Eddie Kalfleish