Ancient Order of Hibernians - Division 1 Haverstraw, New York 
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                    Bryan Crecco
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History of the Rockland County AOH, To Begin at the Beginning……

The history of the Irish American Community and the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Rockland go back to the beginnings of Rockland County and our Nation.   Irish American’s such as General Anthony Wayne and Colonel Richard Butler had fought at the Battle of Stony Point, a battle whose significance is sadly often overlooked now, but one that was both an overwhelming victory for the Americans and the last major battle to be fought in the Northern Colonies.  After the Revolution, Rockland County’s first judge, John Suffern founded the town that now bears his name, but Judge Suffern originally named it New Antrim after his birthplace County Antrim, Ireland.

At the turn of the 19th Century, Irish immigrants began immigrating in large numbers, seeking a land where a person’s opportunities where not dependent on one’s parentage or limited by ones religious affiliation.  Many were drawn by the prospect of employment in Haverstraw’s Brick works that would be the chief building material of the growing Metropolis of New York and other cities.  More than a few found that America was a land of magic, where immigrant alchemist could combine hard work and freedom to convert clay bricks into gold and make their fortune.

However, even the original Eden had its serpent, and Rockland and America had one of their own:  the growing rise of anti-Irish/anti-Catholic nativism expressed by the “Know Nothings”.  While history records the despicable attack such as Boston in 1834, where a mob incited by the Rev. Lyman Beecher (father of Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe) burned the Ursuline Convent to the Ground, it overlooks that a year earlier the very first Seminary established in New York on 162 acres in Nyack was also burned down in “suspicious circumstances” shortly before its completion.

It was to counter such outrages and to protect Irish Americans and the Catholic Church from continuing outrages that the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) was formed.  Through harsh necessity in the face of oppression in their own homeland by a foreign government, the Irish had a long history of banding together under the bonds of “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity” to stand up to oppression and to protect community and church.  The AOH was formed in New York City in 1836.  When nativists attempted to burn down Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the AOH surrounded the Cathedral to protect it.  When confronted by men of resolve, not unsurprisingly the nativists in the typical character of bullies backed away.  Neither Old St. Patrick’s nor any other church in New York City would be burned.

History is often a study in irony, and few things are more ironic than that a few years later Irish Americans of the 69th New York State Militia, to be named in respect by their enemy Robert E. Lee as “The Fighting 69th,”would march pass the same Old St. Patrick’s, the site where their ethnicity and religion was attacked as “un-American”, to fight in a war to secure freedom and civil rights for others in the American Civil War.  Copious flows of Celtic blood shed in defense of their new country at Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg began to weaken the foundations of hate and nativism while ensuring that the world’s greatest beacon of liberty was not extinguished.

After the Civil War, while anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudices still existed (and sadly continue with us to this day) the renown that Irish Americans won on the battlefield caused a marked decline in overt prejudices and allowed the Order to focus on fraternal and charitable works.  The Hibernian movement was introduced into our county in the little town of Haverstraw, its first officers were elected on April 5th, 1882.  There are no records known of parades at that time, but Newspapers mention Hibernian picnics, the precursor to our current annual Rockland County Feis, where tens of thousands gathered to enjoy Irish dancing and singing competitions.  The Hibernians also contributed to the building of St. Peter’s Church in Haverstraw and its adjoining school.  At St. Peter’s a young priest from Canada would say his first mass assisted by a local altar boy.  The Priest, Fr. Francis Duffy, would go on to fame years later as the Chaplin of the Fighting 69th, the young altar boy, Michael A. Donaldson, now a giant of a man would be a member of the same regiment and earn the Medal of Honor.

Dark days though were coming for the nation and the Irish American community of Rockland.  New building materials and building methods resulted in a decline in the demand for Haverstraw bricks.  The rich clay deposits that provided the raw material for the bricks were beginning to be tapped out.  The final blow came with the great depression, causing industries to close and workers to migrate for better opportunity.  The AOH in Haverstraw was disbanded in the early 1930’s.  However, Hibernianism wasn’t dead in Rockland, merely in stasis as the country and Irish Americans directed their energies to the financial crisis of the 1930’s and in fighting to preserve freedom in the 1940’s.

 In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a second wave of Irish American immigration hit Rockland’s shores.  This wave was composed of Irish immigrants and first and second generation Irish Americans who having rose in the ranks of civil services and the professions were pursuing the American dream of home ownership in the suburbs.  They quickly sought to reestablish the social networks and community of the neighborhoods and parishes they had left behind.  They naturally turned to the AOH as a means in coming together in “friendship, unity and Christian charity.”  A new Division 1 was formed on February 26, 1962 fittingly enough going back to their roots at St. Peter’s in Haverstraw.  They were  followed in quick succession by Division 2 in New City, Division 3 in Pearl River.  Later they would be joined by Division 4 in Suffern and  Division 5 in Blauvelt.  Subsequently, divisions of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH), a separate and independent organization but committed to the same Hibernian principles, were formed in the same localities.

Within a year, the newly reconstituted AOH had given out over $50,000 dollars in charities and held their first parade to honor the patron Saint of Ireland and the Archdiocese and the symbol of Irish heritage and culture.  While with typical Irish conviction (which some mistake for stubbornness) few of the founders would be surprised that the charitable works and the Parade they founded fifty years ago are still keeping the tradition alive today.  They may be surprised that Rockland County is now home to the largest Division of the AOH in the country and the parade has now grown to be the second largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, an event that draws tens of thousands of people yearly from across the nation and the globe.

May the shadow of the Rockland County AOH, and the heritage and traditions it symbolize, never grow less…….

                                                Neil F. Cosgrove
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AOH Ireland Information


THE AOH

The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America (from here on referred to as the AOH) is the oldest Irish Catholic Fraternal Organization in the USA. It and was founded concurrently in 1836 in New York City (St. James Church on May 4th) and in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania.
The organization was formed to protect the clergy and churches from the violent American Nativist mobs that attacked Irish Catholic immigrants and Church property.
The Purpose of the AOH is:

To promote its motto,  Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity; o To foster and sustain loyalty to country and community;
To aid and advance by all legitimate means the aspirations and endeavors of the Irish people for complete and absolute independence, promoting peace and unity for all Ireland;
To foster the ideas and perpetuate the history and traditions of the Irish people; o To promote Irish culture; o To encourage civic participation;
To encourage an equitable U.S. immigration law for Ireland, and to cooperate with groups for a fair American Immigration Policy;
To accept and support, without prejudice, the concept of free expression of religious practice for the people of the world; and
To protect and defend all life, born and unborn.

The basic unit of the AOH is known as a Division.
To be a member of the AOH one must be a male residing in the United States; must be a practicing Roman Catholic; must prove his Irish ancestry or be a member of the Catholic Clergy or be enrolled as a Seminarian regardless of ancestry if they meet all other requirements: be of good character: and be not less than sixteen years of age.

IRELAND: BASIC FACTS

Ireland is the third largest island in Europe and the twentieth largest in the world.
There are four provinces in Ireland: Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connaught.
The basic subdivision of local government is the county of which there are 32.
26 Counties comprise the Republic of Ireland while 6 still remain part of the United Kingdom
While it is commonplace to refer to the six counties controlled by the United Kingdom as Ulster, this is incorrect.  The province of Ulster has 9 counties, 3 which are members of the Republic of Ireland.
Dublin, where almost 1/3 of Ireland’s population resides, is the capitol of the Republic of Ireland.
The longest river in Ireland is the River Shannon.
Gaelic is the native language of the Irish and the Gaelic name for Ireland is Eire.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is a volunteer led, community based organization that promotes Gaelic games such as Hurling, Football, Handball and Rounders.  The GAA has as its headquarters in Croke Park in Dublin.
The President of Ireland (Gaelic: Uachtarán na hÉireann) is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The current President is Michael D. Higgins. In 1990, Mary Robinson was elected the first female president of Ireland. In 1997, she was succeeded by Mary McAleese. This was the first time in world history that two female presidents have held successive terms.

IRISH (GAEILGE)

While Ireland is also an English speaking country, Irish (Gaeilge) is its national and first official language, is officially recognized as a minority language in Northern Ireland, and is an official language of the European Union. Eire is the Gaelic name for Ireland. The Great Hunger (An Gorta Mór), emigration, and English persecution had a devastating effect on the use of Irish in Ireland. Gaeltacht is a primarily Irish speaking area in Ireland. While there are smaller concentrations in Cork, Waterford and Meath, the major concentrations of Irish speakers are located in Donegal, Galway, Kerry, and Mayo.

Douglas Hyde founded the Gaelic League in 1893 with the aim of restoring and promoting the Irish language. In 1905, Patrick Pearse (Pádraig Mac Piarais) in his only appearance as a barrister, defended a Donegal poet who had been fined for having his name written in Irish on his donkey cart. He lost the case but it became a symbol of the struggle for Irish independence.  Many of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rebellion were members of the Gaelic League.

Please study the phrases below:

Hello. How are you?

Dia duit.  Conas tá tú?

I am good.

Tá mé go maith.

I am not good.

Níl mé go maith

What is your name? Cad is ainm duit?

My name is  _______. ______ is ainm dom.

Do you speak Irish?

An labhraíonn tú Gaeilge?

I speak a little bit of Irish.

Labhraím beagán Gaeilge.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit In ainm an Athar, agus an Mhic, agus an Spioraid Naoimh.

Thank you.

Go raibh maith agat.

You are welcome.

Tá failte romhat

ST. PATRICK

St. Patrick was born in Great Britain where he was captured at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland as a slave. He escaped back to Britain but returned to Ireland where he is credited with spreading Christianity throughout the country. St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. He is the author of an autobiography, Confessio, as well as Letter to Coroticus, which spoke against British mistreatment of Irish Christians. He is believed to have died on March 17th; around 460 A.D. St. Patrick is the patron saint of the archdiocese of New York. 

St. Columcille of Iona

In the years following the missionary work of St. Patrick to Ireland, mainland Europe continued to slip further and further into the gloom of the Dark Ages. Only Ireland, which had transferred its ancient traditional love and appreciation of learning to the new faith and its classical traditions, was the flickering flame of civilization kept alive. Here it could have remained, at the edge of the known world, a fragile light that one strong wind could extinguish. Instead through the example of one man the light was returned to Europe where it would once again enlighten a continent. That man was St. Columcille, (Latinized to St. Columba).

Columcille was born in Donegal in the year 597 A.D., some fifty years after the death of St. Patrick, in an Ireland that still had strong echoes of its Druid past as indicated by his birth name Crimethann (“the Fox”). He was of royal blood: a nephew of the current Ard Ri (High King of Ireland), his father a powerful Tyrconnell Chieftain, his mother the daughter of a Munster Chieftain. With such a pedigree and connections, young Crimethann could one day claim the high kingship for himself. He was schooled as a Bard and was considered one of the finest poets of his age. His love however was the Church, and it was from this love he was bestowed the name Columcille, translated “the dove of the Church.”

Columcille studied under St. Finian at Clonard until plague ravaged the area and forced the closing of the school. He returned home where his kinsman, the Prince of Tyrconnell, gave him land where he opened his famous monastery of Derry. Here Columcille showed both the unconventional oneness with nature that marked Irish Christianity, and perhaps evidence that there was still a bit of “the proud prince” in the young Abbott. Columcille built his church without the traditional alignment to face the rising sun so that he could preserve a stand of oak trees. By the time he was forty, Columcille had founded some forty churches.

Columcille had another passion: books. As the great libraries had vanished from Europe with many of their books burned, scholars from the classical world fled to Ireland bringing their books with them. The Irish Monks and Monasteries preserved books and copied them, even adding to them the first written copies of the early history of Ireland and its legends which had previously relied on oral tradition. Columcille’s love for books was such that it blinded his judgment: when visiting his teacher St. Finian, Columcille made a secret copy of one of his books, a rare copy of the Book of Psalms (called a Psalter) When St. Finian learned of the copy he demanded its return, Columcille refused. They agreed to have the dispute resolved by the High King Diarmuid. St. Finian argued that he should be able to decide when his book was copied and be allowed to ensure the copy was accurate (some copiers were not above adding their own embellishments); Columcille argued that books and their knowledge should be shared, and he did no harm to the value of the original book. Diarmuid reached a decision which still echoes today “To each cow its calf, to each book its copy.” It is the first recorded example of copyright law.

Though Columcille and St. Finian reconciled, some at the High King’s court appeared to have taken pleasure in seeing that the successful young monk was shown his place, and there was still enough of the noble in Columcille not to forget such a slight. When a short time later Diarmuid forcibly took into custody a young man who had been granted sanctuary in one of Columcille’s churches, it was the last straw. Columcille called upon his kinsmen and met Diarmuid and his followers in the battle of Cuildremne where Columcille was victorious but at a tremendous cost in lives.

Columcille realized the tremendous human cost of his pride and repented in a full confession. The penance he received carried a severity to match his sin: he was to leave the Ireland he loved and never see it again and he was to claim as many souls by conversion to the Church as he had caused to be lost in battle. Columcille and twelve companions boarded a coracle and sailed north till they found an island from which Ireland could no longer be seen: Iona off the coast of Scotland.

The humbled Columcille created a monastery and center of scholarship at Iona the likes of which had no parallel in Europe. Like Patrick had preached to the Irish, Columcille began to preach to the Picts and Scots. He was able to bring to bear his previous knowledge of royal politics, his bardic respect of their traditions and Christian compassion. His fame soon spread, and he quickly claimed as many souls as had been lost at the battle of Cuildremne and many times more. So successful was his Monastery at Iona, Columcille had to limit the numbers of monks to 150. However, rather than simply turning applicants away, Columcille came up with a more generous solution: when the number of monks reached the limit, he made room by dispatching “twelve and one” monks with a mandate to found a new monastery. By the time of Columcille’s death over sixty monastic communities dotted the coast of Briton, each one carrying books and the flame of learning back to a darkened Europe, helping the Western World reclaim her lost past; an act for which all people, and not just the Irish, should remember him.

St. Oliver Plunkett

It is somewhat strange that the media, which loves to tell stories of injustice, shies away from Ireland and its troubled history though there is plenty of material to choose from. One story in particular from Ireland’s past stands out as having all the elements that would make for a Hollywood Oscar winner, a story of a good man condemned by a government conspiracy using fraudulent evidence and the testimony of a man as evil as the victim is good. It is the story of St. Oliver Plunkett and Titus Oates.

Oliver Plunkett was born in county Meath in the year 1629 into a well-connected and propertied family. At the age of sixteen he left for Rome to study for the priesthood, little realizing that his way home would soon be blocked by the conquest of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell, whose prohibitions against the Catholic Church in Ireland made being a member of the Catholic clergy a capital crime. In exile, Plunkett entered the Irish College in Rome where he was described as “amongst the foremost in talent, diligence, and progress in his studies….a model of gentleness, integrity, and piety.” He was ordained a Jesuit and became a professor of Theology while simultaneously being unceasing in pleading the cause of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The Restoration of Charles II after the collapse of Cromwell’s commonwealth appeared to usher in a new period of religious toleration. Plunkett was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland. Upon his return to Ireland in 1670, Plunkett set about reorganizing and reforming a ravaged church. He rebuilt schools and instituted reforms amongst the clergy whose discipline had lapsed in the years without a central authority. In four years Plunkett confirmed over 40,000 people, helping restore the faith in Ireland Cromwell sought to destroy. Plunkett established a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attended the college, of which no fewer than 40 of whom were Protestant, Plunkett’s college was the first integrated school in Ireland. Such was the esteem that Plunkett was held in by all members of the Irish community, irrespective of faith.

If there was a man who was the polar opposite to Oliver Plunkett it was Titus Oates. Described by classmates as “the most illiterate dunce”, he was expelled from Cambridge and drifted into becoming an Anglican minister. Involved in a conspiracy to bring false charges against a local schoolmaster, he was convicted of perjury. Escaping prison, he secured a position as a chaplain on a Royal Navy ship only to be expelled within twelve months. Oates then converted to

Catholicism and enrolled into two different Jesuit colleges only to be expelled from each in a matter of months.

Oates then met Israel Tongue, a rabid anti-Catholic puritan. Between the two of them they created what was to become known as the “Popish Plot”, which centered on an alleged conspiracy to assassinate Charles the II, to be followed by an uprising in Ireland supported by an invasion of French and Spanish forces. Oates claimed that his conversion to

Catholicism and time in Jesuit colleges had been a pretense to gather information. Measures were taken to hide a copy of the “plot” and then “discover it”. While many were skeptical of the “plot” from the beginning, far more were willing to use the “plot” as a means to end what they saw as the threat of religious toleration to a Protestant England. With the mysterious murder of a magistrate who had heard testimony regarding the “plot” (which some believe was staged to give credibility to its existence), England went into an anti-Catholic frenzy similar to the Salem Witch Trials. Anyone suspected of being a Catholic was driven out of London. A “Test Act” was instituted that would ban Catholics from holding public office which had devastating effects for the native Irish to govern in their own land. While the King himself had questioned Oates and caught him in several lies, he did not have the courage to put an end to the madness for fear of losing his newly restored throne.

Among those implicated was Archbishop Oliver Plunkett, accused by Oates of training an army of 70,000 Irish men and conspiring with the French. The charges were so absurd, that when Plunkett was tried before an exclusively Protestant jury in Dundalk Ireland, no cause was found against him (in fact it was observed by several jurors that many of the witnesses should themselves be on trial). However, bent on satisfying public hysteria, Plunkett was transported to England where he was tried again. But this time, he was barred from bringing up the criminal record of many of the crown’s witnesses and was not allowed time to bring his own witnesses from Ireland. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. However, the chief magistrate reveled in sentencing Plunkett, the true reason the Archbishop was on trial, not for a “conspiracy against the crown” but for helping restore the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Archbishop Oliver Plunkett was hanged, drawn and quartered. Witnesses recorded that he faced his death with the serenity of a man of faith and the death of this innocent man finally caused people to denounce the “Popish Plot” for the fraud it was, but not before 24 innocent men were killed as the result of Oates lies. Oliver Plunkett was the last Catholic martyr to die in England.

Oliver Plunkett was raised to the sainthood in 1975 by Pope Paul the VI, becoming the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years. St. Oliver Plunkett’s head is venerated at his shrine in St. Peter’s, Drogheda and St. Oliver Plunkett is recognized as the patron saint of Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland. It would be hoped that one could say that Titus Oates fate was as fittingly just as St. Oliver Plunkett’s vindication was glorious, but such would not be the case. Though his reputation was forever tarnished, it was not until he attempted to concoct another fictitious conspiracy naming the King’s brother as a traitor that he was finally jailed. He was later pardoned when William of Orange came to the throne and received a substantial pension. It is hard to see this as anything but a reward for the furtherance of state policy through perjury at the cost of innocent lives. This was not the last time that forgery and perjury would be used as weapons against Ireland and her people. This is why we must be mindful of the past in the present, for if we forget it we shall surely relive it.

Commodore John Barry, Hero of the American Revolution

Born in County Wexford in 1745, little is known of John Barry’s early life. His father was a poor Catholic tenant farmer who was evicted by his landlord, forcing the family to relocate to Rosslare. There Barry’s uncle was a captain of a fishing skiff, apparently imparting to young Barry a love of the sea. Barry signed on as a cabin boy at an early age and must have shown great aptitude as a seaman; he obtained his first command, The Barbadoes out of Philadelphia, at the age of 21. He quickly earned an impressive reputation as a ship’s master and was soon sought out by the leading merchants of Philadelphia. As captain of The Black Prince, Barry set the record for the fastest day of sailing ever recorded in the 18th century.

When war with England appeared imminent in 1775, Barry immediately offered his services to the fledgling congress. He was given the important task of outfitting merchantmen as the first Continental Navy Ships and readying them for sea. Among those converted was his own Black Prince, rechristened Alfred. It was aboard the Alfred that a Lt. John Paul Jones would be the first to hoist the flag of the new nation aboard a ship of the Continental Navy.

Barry’s efforts at creating the first ships of the Continental Navy were soon rewarded with his own command, the Lexington, which was the first in a series of successful commands he was to hold during the Revolution. Space does not permit a full account of all of Barry’s service during the revolution, but in summary:

Barry was the first to capture a British war vessel on the high seas
Barry captured the most ships (prizes) of any captain during the revolution.
When deprived of a ship when the capture of Philadelphia seemed imminent, Barry formed a regiment of sailors and marines and fought at the battles of Trenton and Princeton
Barry captured two British ships after himself being severely wounded
Barry fought the last naval action of the Revolution

Barry’s most famous naval encounter, and the one that most truly shows his character, was while commanding the Alliance where he fought the two British Sloops Atlanta and Trepassy. During the battle, Barry received several wounds and was taken below deck for treatment. Barry’s second in command soon appeared before him to tell him that the ship was severely damaged and asking permission to strike the colors. A furious Barry replied, “No Sir, the thunder! If this ship cannot be fought without me, I will be brought on deck; to your duty, Sir.” At that point the battle dramatically turned, and both British ships surrendered. The British Commander was brought to the wounded Barry and presented him his sword. Barry received it and then immediately returned it; “I return it to you, Sir. You have merited it, and your King ought to give you a better ship. Here is my cabin, at your service. Use it as your own.”

After the Revolution, Barry would become the first commissioned officer of the United States Navy. It would be under his direction that the great frigates of the United States including the USS Constitution would be built. Under his tutelage, the great naval heroes who checked the most powerful navy in the world in the War of 1812 would be trained. Barry was also well known for his charity, supporting funds for the care of widows and orphans of sailors and a leading member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.

Barry would die in 1803 from the complications of Asthma. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of

Independence gave his eulogy and fittingly summed up Barry’s life and service: “He fought often and once bled in the cause of freedom, but his habits of War did not lessen in him the peaceful virtues which adorn private life.”

The paternity of the US Navy is often hotly debated. In fact, the U.S. Navy explicitly states that no one man can be the Father of the US Navy, this may be the only battle the Navy has ever shied from. The case of Barry and Jones both have merit, but if a father is someone who stands by and cares for their “child” until it is self sufficient, then certainly Barry has the better claim. Irrespective of titles, we must ensure that the patriotism and devotion of John Barry to his country is never eclipsed.