January 2017

ANNIE

In 1888, Matthew and Julia Moore, sailed from Co. Cork and landed at South Street in lower Manhattan. From1820 to 1920, more than 4 million left Ireland for New York and a new life in America.  Life in Ireland was so oppressive that the Moore family came seeking a better life for their three children, Anna, Anthony and Philip.  With very little money, they purchased room in steerage and left their children  with relatives until they could raise enough money in America to bring them over.  Temporary separations were not a new thing for Irish families.  They found a small apartment at 32 Monroe Street in lower Manhattan’s St. James parish where the AOH had been founded.  They were three blocks southwest of the Five Points center and three blocks west of the birthplace of future Governor Al Smith who was just 15 years old at the time.

Three years after establishing themselves, Matt and Julia sent for their children.  They left Queenstown (now Cobh, Co. Cork) on December 20, 1891 aboard the S.S. Nevada, as three of the 148 steerage passengers. The youngsters spent 12 days, including Christmas, at sea arriving in New York on New Year’s Eve, December 31.  It just so happened that a new federal immigrant inspection center at Ellis Island in New York Harbor was to officially open on January 1, 1892.  The S.S. Nevada had arrived too late on New Year’s Eve to be processed at South Street, which meant its third-class passengers would be the first to pass through the newly built federal immigration station.  At 10:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, a flag on Ellis Island was dipped three times as a signal to transport the first boatload of immigrants.  Foghorns, clanging bells, steam whistles and cheers serenaded a barge adorned with red, white and blue bunting as it ferried Nevada’s passengers to the dock at Ellis Island in view of the statue of liberty.

As passengers lined up to disembark, the first person at the top of the gangplank was an elderly gentleman and a sailor announced Ladies first.  He graciously stepped aside to let the Moore children proceed ahead of him and the first immigrant to step onto Ellis Island was a brown-haired Irish teenager who bound down the gangplank with her brothers in tow. She entered through the enormous double doors of the 3-story  building and skipped up the main staircase steps, two at a time. She was ushered up to a tall registry desk. What is your name, my girl? asked Charles Hendley, a former Treasury Department official who had requested the honor of registering the new station’s first immigrant.  She replied Annie Moore, sir! She was then escorted into the next room where former congressman John B. Weber, federal superintendent of immigration for the port of New York, gave her a ten-dollar gold piece which is the equivalent of $272. today. A Catholic chaplain blessed her and gave her a silver coin, while another bystander slipped her a five-dollar gold piece before she passed into the waiting room and the arms of her parents. So it was that 17-year old Annie Moore and her brothers, Anthony and Philip, who were 15 and 12, respectively were the first to be processed through Ellis Island. 

Meanwhile, local legend noted that she struck out for the west and married a descendant of the great liberator Daniel O’Connell in Texas, before dying young in 1919, the victim of a streetcar accident.  In recent years however, New York magazine journalist Jesse Green took a long look back at that legend and found many inconsistencies.  Between 2002 and 2006, Genealogist Megan Smolenyak began chipping away at those inconsistencies and realized that Annie Moore may never have left the lower east side. She interviewed descendants of lower east side residents and offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could lead her to the “real” Annie Moore.  The search led her to the same tough streets where Al Smith played as a boy and she learned that Annie’s life was not an easy one.  She had married a son of German Catholic immigrants, Joseph ‘Gus’  Schayer, who worked at the Fulton Fish Market, at St. James Church in 1895.  They had ten children, five of whom died before the age of three. She spent nearly every year of her marriage pregnant with, giving birth to, or burying a child.  The family had enough money for a family plot, but the children were buried without a headstone.  In an age when the average life expectancy was 47, it was lower in the slums, and Annie would have expected some children to die.  The death rate among the NY Irish in the mid-1800s was 21 percent (more than 1 in 5) while among non-Irish it was 3 percent.  When the disease which felled the children was explained to Annie’s great-niece, she broke down in tears.  Annie died on December 6, 1924. 

As a result of finding the true story of Annie Moore, her unmarked grave was identified and four generations of her descendants raised money for a headstone.  On October 11, 2008 a ceremony was held at the grave-site opened by a pair of pipers. After words by NY Irish Consul General, Niall Burgess; NY Commissioner of the Dept of Records, Brian Anderssen; Great-grand-daughter Smith Devous and Patricia Pryor, President of the Irish Center both of Phoenix AZ;  a blessing was given by Bishop Dennis Sullivan. 

 Then Ronan Tynan sang Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears – the song written about Annie Moore by Brendan Graham, brother of Andy Cooney guitarist Colm Graham who also wrote the popular You Lift Me Up.  Then the descendants of Annie unveiled an Irish bluestone Celtic Cross grave marker. 

Annie Moore is also honored by two bronze statues sculpted by Jeanne Rhynhart – one at Cobh Heritage Centre, her port of departure, and the other at Ellis Island, her port of arrival. Her image will forever represent the millions who passed through Ellis Island in pursuit of the American dream. The Irish American Cultural Institute also presents an annual Annie Moore Award to an individual who has made significant contributions to the Irish and/or Irish American community and legacy.

While the memory of Annie Moore is now secure in bronze and limestone, it is her story that needs to be told.   She is an important symbol of the Irish immigrant experience in America.  Celebrated as the first immigrant to arrive into America’s welcoming arms, she was immediately forgotten after the politicians, cameras and newsmen were gone.   She lived the typically hard life of the immigrant Irish poor in the slums of the Land of Opportunity and died of heart failure at age 50 at 99 Cherry Street, just two blocks from her first NY home and less than half a mile from where she first landed.  One of her granddaughters lived in a public housing project in the same neighborhood until her death in 2001. After she died, Annie was buried with her five children, still without a headstone.


​​​June 2015

FLAG DAY

By Mike McCormack, Historian

  June 14th is a special day for us in America. It is a day set aside to honor our national emblem - the stars and stripes. It is flag day, a day when we should all be flying our flag, but just why is it flag day, what does it mean, and what is our flag anyway that it should have a day of its own.  Well, in terms of material it is only a piece of cloth, dyed with a little blue and red that makes a design. And that may be all that it is to those who show it no respect, to those who make clothing from it, to those who have the audacity to burn it.  But that piece of cloth is much more than material. Its more than a symbol, it’s an emotion; it’s a frame of mind. For you see the design on that banner wasn't simply selected because it was the most attractive; there is a story in that flag.

  In British North America, each of the 13 colonies had its own banner. When they dared to unify and challenge the Crown for their liberty, they sought a banner that would represent that unity and freedom. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress enacted a resolution that the flag of these United States be 13 stripes alternating white and red to represent the purity of their new nation and the blood spilled to win it. In the corner would be 13 stars on a field of blue to represent a new constellation in the heavens - it was to be called the United States of America. Later, when the country began to grow, the flag grew as well. In 1794, when Vermont and Kentucky entered the Union, two more stars and two more stripes were added, but Congress later ordered the stripes restored to 13 as a reminder of the 13 original colonies, and allowed that only a star would be added for each new state.

  That’s how it was born, but the real story is in how it grew up. It had a few Irish godfathers to guide it through a violent youth.  The first to carry it into battle was Commodore John Barry, the Irish-born father of the American Navy; it was also carried by General William Thompson of Co Meath, who became the first commissioned officer in the new U.S. Army, and scores of others who gave their lives that it might fly unchallenged over a free nation.  But those who gave their lives, didn't give it for a piece of cloth, they gave it for an ideal. They gave it so that new constellation would not disappear, for that flag was a symbol of freedom not a race of people like other countries flags; it represented unity rather than an ethnic group, it represented an idea instead of a nationality - it was for everybody. And in that respect, it was the first of its kind and everybody in America supported it, whether their heritage was Jewish, Italian, Polish, Greek, German, or Irish. But, it held a special place in the hearts of the Irish for it represented all they had ever hoped to achieve, but were denied in their own land.  Like Barry and Thompson in the American Revolution, they felt an emotion for this noble emblem, and came to its aid at every call.  In the War of 1812, the British had to be reminded that our United States was not just a temporary union, and they ran from its colors in the final battle of that war at New Orleans where it was carried by General Andrew Jackson, the son of Co Antrim immigrants.

  When a great civil war threatened to tear it in half, among the Americans who rallied to its protection were Thomas Francis Meagher and the famed Irish Brigade who left many a son of Erin on the battlefield so that the stars and stripes might not fall. The 69th Regiment of that Brigade proudly claims that they never lost their flag in battle, but they came close at Fredericksburg when their flag bearer was found dead with the bare flagpole lying beside him.  Upon removing his jacket they found the flag protectively folded beneath his jacket – a bullet through it and his heart.  Since that day, it has been carried by the fighting 69th through two world wars and military actions to this day in Iraq where the dangerous road between the airport and the Green Zone was named Route Irish in their honor.  Over time, it led many an Irish heart to victory for his adopted land, and there is a fair measure of Irish blood in the red of its stripes.  Besides flying victorious in battle, it has also draped the coffins of America's heroes - from foot soldiers to Presidents. It has a grand and glorious history that star-spangled banner of ours, and I daresay there's not another one that can match it. It is a proud ensign that bows to the flag of no other nation on earth.  And that tradition was started by an Irishman at the 1908 Olympics during the opening parade when the flags of all nations were dipping to the King of England as they passed the Royal Box.  American Olympian Martin Sheridan of Mayo whispered to the flag-bearer, “dip that flag and you’ll be in hospital tonight!”  Since that day it has dipped to no earthly king.  The only time it can legitimately be lowered is in honor of a deceased American.  Yet, there are five locations where even that cannot happen - even upon the death of a President.  Under no circumstances is the flag ever lowered over the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia - its reputed birthplace - over the national memorials of the Alamo, the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the last one, probably because no one can reach it, is the American flag planted on the moon.

  There has been much praise written for that grand old ensign of ours, and it is fitting that it’s most memorable praise came with an Irish flavor.  When Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, the tune used was an ancient melody; it was a planxty written by the legendary Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan.  And it was never praised with more respect than by one of America's favorite Irish-American sons -- George M Cohan.  Call it what you will, the Star-Spangled Banner, Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, or the Grand Old Flag; June 14th is our flag's birthday. Long may it wave!


May 2015 

THE EASTER RISING – THE AMERICAN CONNECTION

by Mike McCormack AOH Historian
Ninety-nine years ago today, the British Army were on a weekend break from murdering Irish patriots.  It was Sunday, May 7, 1916 and they had already taken the lives of Padraic Pearse, Tom Clarke and Sean MacDonagh on Wednesday, May 3rd; then they shot Ned Daly, Micheal O’Hanrahan and Joseph Mary Plunkett on Thursday May 4th, and on Friday, May 5th, John MacBride went against the wall.  Then came the weekend and the rifles of the firing squad were given time to cool down while the killers were given the weekend off duty.  

After the Easter Rising, ninety men had been condemned to die at secret Courts Martial without legal representation, in revenge for their vain attempt at trying to gain independence for their native land.  And these seven men were only the start of the blood letting.  There were still more to come, but was it legal?  They had been convicted of rebellion, but according to Britain’s Offenses Against the Realm Act, such crimes were punishable by deportation to Penal Colonies.  Execution was only warranted for treasonous support of  England’s enemy in wartime.  Granted England was at war with Germany, but these man were not fighting for Germany, they were fighting for Ireland.

They had attacked the British administration in Ireland in the hope that the British might abandon Ireland to concentrate on the war in Europe, but that was not to be.  Instead the British sent more than 15,000 members of the greatest army in Europe reinforced by 1,000 police against little more than 1,200 members of the Army of the newly proclaimed Irish Republic.  In so doing they destroyed the center of Dublin with indiscriminate shelling and gunfire that killed more civilians than were lost by the military on both sides combined.

What made the Irish think that they could achieve independence with so few numbers?  First of all, there were supposed to be greater numbers, but the rising planned for Easter Sunday was cancelled on Holy Saturday by Volunteer Chief Eoin MacNeill who felt that it could not succeed after an arms shipment was lost.  It was then that the patriots decided to go on Monday since it was a Bank Holiday and they knew that the Brits were planning to arrest all the leaders during the coming week.  It was a matter of now or never.  And, three major factors influenced their decision: Frustration, Inspiration and Motivation.  The frustration came from an economic and political pendulum that swung back and forth from promise to deception and from reconciliation to rebellion for 100 years since the Napoleonic War ended in 1816; the inspiration came from the Gaelic Revival which had educated the people to the glories of Ireland’s culture and history and inspired a pride in themselves as an ancient nation; and the motivation came from the American Irish who were largely exiles from the Great Hunger and who were anxious to support retribution against those who had forced them to flee their homeland.

With MacNeil’s cancellation of the nationwide rising, the patriots knew that they could not accomplish their original goal of independence, but relying on how the three factors of frustration, inspiration and motivation had affected the Irish people at large, they believed that all that was needed was one bold and decisive action to stir the people to react and finish the job they started.  And on Easter Monday, 1916 they bet their lives that they were right as the Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers, The Hibernian Rifles and Cumann na mBan marched into Dublin and onto the pages of Irish history.

On the May 6-7 weekend General Maxwell received a cable from Prime Minister Asquith’s calling for the executions to end as they were enraging public opinion.  Maxwell refused to listen and on Monday, May 8th, he continued the vengeful slaughter of those who led such a small group of patriots who embarrassed his massive army by holding them at bay for six full days.  He sent Michael Mallin, Eamon Ceannt and Sean Heuston against the wall in Kilmainham Jail’s stone breaker’s yard.  Then on May 9th Thomas Kent was executed in Victoria Barracks in County Cork.  He was buried somewhere on the Barracks ground and, although it is now Collins Barracks, the exact location of his grave remains unknown to all but the Brits who will not reveal its whereabouts to the Irish.  Thus he remains the only one of the 1916 victims who has not been buried with the honors due him.  Then, Maxwell apparently heeded Asquith and halted the executions.  However, pressure from Dublin’s businessmen, against whom James Connolly had led his workers on strike during the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913 brought pressure on Maxwell not to forget the wounded Connolly.  And so three days later on Friday, May 12th, James Connolly was taken from Hospital where his shattered ankle had been allowed to gangrene and he was transported to the stone breaker’s yard.  Since one was to die, he might as well rid himself of the architect of the Rising as well and that was Sean MacDiarmada who was also a member of the AOH as well as Volunteers Military Council.  After a volley of gunfire ended Sean’s life, Connolly was carried in on a stretcher, painfully tied to a chair and propped up against the wall to receive his majesty’s bullets.  Of all the executions, none raised as much public anger then or since as the execution of the wounded James Connolly.  As life after life was taken, Dubliners watched the black flag raised above Kilmainham after each, and just as the leaders had predicted, the Easter Rising became the start of Ireland’s nationwide struggle for independence.  

Just as America’s struggle for independence started with the Battle of Bunker Hill and ended eight years later with the Treaty of Paris, so too did Ireland’s struggle start with the Easter Rising and end six years later with the Anglo Irish Treaty as both nations successfully broke the shackles of empire.  The most significant element in both was that the largest group supporting Washington’s Continental Army were America’s Irish immigrants and the largest group supporting the patriots of 1916 were also the American Irish of the Friends of Irish Freedom made up of members of the AOH and Clan na Gael.





April 2015

THE ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS

by Mike McCormack

Where did we start?  How did the AOH come to be?  I heard that we started in Ireland, so I went to find out.  Derry AOH Div 1 minutes don’t go back far enough; the Dundalk AOH Hall is really the John Boyle O’Reilly Club and doesn’t precede his passing in 1890.  I met with Dr. Wallace of the National Museum of Ireland who had no  evidence of an early date, and finally I found Gene Markay, Irish historian and curator of the County Cavan Museum outside Ballyjamesduff.  He had spent years researching that very subject.  He said there was no evidence of the AOH in Ireland before the 1850s and convinced me that it had, indeed started in America.  I had also read that it started in New York in 1836, so I set out to verify that, yet the earliest evidence I could find was a reference to the AOH incorporating in 1851 in a history by John Ridge.  Heading up a History Committee organized under Ned McGinley, we found evidence of an early Hibernian society in the coal fields of Pennsylvania before that date, but they weren’t called AOH.  Putting together all the research done over a period of some twenty years we believed we had finally come up with the answer.  It had been there all the time, but had been unintentionally twisted over the years just as some stories get changed in the retelling.  We published the story in the Hibernian Digest several years ago.  We even put a corrected version on the AOH.COM website and yet, some people continue to make copies of old printed versions of our history and misinformation continues to be propagated.  So, here once more is the story of our origin. 

Yes, we are descended from the secret societies of ancient Ireland, but not under the name AOH.  To say that the AOH was founded in 1565 Ireland is wrong.  What happened in 1565, is that a group of Irishmen organized to fight back against English aggression and suppression of the Catholic church.  That group inspired others to do likewise and through the years similar societies of purpose were formed, suppressed and reformed to protect those values under attack.  The groups had names like Whiteboys, Defenders and Ribbonmen; they were identified with attacks on landlords and protection of the Catholic clergy and could trace their roots back to those 1565 defenders of heritage and homeland.  In the writings of 16th century history the term defenders is used as a general noun to describe those who defended their heritage, they were not part of a group called Defenders; that name didn’t come until 1784 when a society in County Armagh formed to protect Catholics from attack by the Protestant Peep O'Day Boys and they adopted that name.  In fact, a 2010 book by Brian Mitchell called the Defenders of Ulster refers to the planters who defended against Catholics and secured the Plantation of Ulster during the 1641 rebellion.  As time and government prevailed, many of the societies were suppressed and reorganized under new names.  

The secret way in which they operated left no records and a detailed history of their activities may never be written, but we know of their existence from what others wrote about them.  What history does tell us however, is that through the years they were referred to as Tories, Rapparees, Terry Alts, Rockites or Defenders.  Some were named for distinctive apparel worn for identity such as Blackfeet or Whiteboys.  Groups, generally identified by a colored ribbon were called Ribbon societies although it wasn’t until the early 19th century that efforts were made to bring these secret societies together into one organization.  By that time, oppression forced many Irish to flee to other lands and the instinct for secret societies, which had developed in Ireland, went with them.  These became the latest in the long line of those secret societies of purpose, under such names as the Hibernian Sick and Funeral Society, the St. Patrick’s Fraternal Society, the Hibernian Benevolent Society, and others.  In the ethnic slums of the lands to which they fled, the immigrant Irish formed these and other fraternal societies into associations to promote the welfare of members and their families.

As the Irish population grew, a period of intolerance was launched that began with social segregation, followed with discrimination in hiring, and reached its climax in nativist gangs bent on violence.  In 1806, an anti-Catholic mob attacked St. Peters Church in lower Manhattan.  They were held off by members of the Irish community who formed a guard around the building, and led to two days of rioting.  St. Mary’s  Church in New York was burned to the ground in 1831; in 1832, 57 Irish railroad workers, some suffering from Cholera, near Malvern, PA were  refused medical attention and they and their colleagues were murdered and dumped in an unmarked grave; in 1834, an Ursaline Convent in Massachusetts was torched; and in 1834 and 35, nativist gangs attacked the Irish in the Five Points neighborhood of New York resulting in street brawls that lasted for days.  The Irish fraternal societies soon found that a militant dimension was necessary to defend against escalating intolerance.

Then, in 1836, according to The Miner’s Journal newspaper in Pennsylvania’s Schuykill County coalfield region, and other verified sources, a contingent of miners from a  group called the Hibernian Benevolent Society traveled to New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade.  While there they met with a group of New York activists from the St. Patrick’s Fraternal Society.  No minutes of the meeting exist, but with nativist activity becoming a national threat, it’s not difficult to imagine the Irish seeking to coalesce several societies into one major defensive organization.  Historian John O’Dea in his History of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (1923) records that these men, who had been Ribbonmen in Ireland, discussed the advantage of forming an American version of that organization.  Owing to the secret nature of the Ribbon society, there were no written rules of association, but they wrote to individual groups seeking advice and support.  The response they received was put into the form of a charter which has long been lost, although the words remain.  In several early versions of the AOH history, reference is made to the founding of its first Division at New York’s St James Church on May 4, 1836 – less than two months after the historic meeting of the New York and Pennsylvania activists.  Another Division was formed at the same time in the coal-fields of Pennsylvania.  At about 1838, this coalition took the name The Ancient  Order of Hibernians.

Know nothing activities spread across the country. In 1854, construction of the Washington Monument was halted when nativists stole and destroyed a granite block donated to the project by Pope Pius IX since they would tolerate no Catholic stone in that icon to America’s first president.  The following year, a nativist attack on an Irish neighborhood in Louisville, KY caused 22 deaths and considerable arson and looting.  Although the secrecy surrounding the early operation of the AOH makes their reaction to such attacks difficult to define, it is not unlikely that those who had been Ribbonmen in Ireland called on their collective experience and dispensed home-grown justice.  Soon, other societies like the Hibernian Friendship Society in Arlington Virginia, founded in 1831, joined the growing union of Irish societies known as the AOH.  As nativist bigotry spread across America, so too did the AOH.  True to their purpose, they provided social welfare benefits to members and stood guard to defend Church property.  After their formation, actual attacks were few, but the long, cold nights of vigil were many.  At about this time, a group in Ireland adopted the name Ancient Order of Hibernians and the organization now had Irish links.  Co. Cavan Museum curator and historian, Eugene Markey, who had devoted many years to dating the origin of the AOH in Ireland, concluded that the AOH was, in fact, an American organization that had been founded on ancient Irish principles.  Organized with the intent of defending Irish values under attack, it claimed continuity of purpose unbroken back to the secret societies of 1565.  Thus, in early nineteenth century America, the AOH, became the newest link in the evolution of the ancient societies.  

In several versions of our history, written and expanded over the years, reference is made to the founding of its first Division at New York’s St James Church on May 4, 1836 – less than two months after the historic meeting of the New York and Pennsylvania activists.  At the same time, another Division was formed in the coal-fields of Pennsylvania.  Local tradition notes that one Jeremiah Reilly of Cass Township, Hecksherville, Schuylkill County, PA started one of the first AOH divisions there, but no records have been found to authenticate this.  Contrary to the early belief that a letter from the parent AOH in Ireland authorized the AOH in America which began to then spread roots, it now appears that the letter may have been from the SPFS (formerly Ribbonmen) in Ireland to both the New York and Pennsylvania groups.  The roots of the AOH already existed in the many small local societies throughout America that were formed to protect their own.  From 1836 on, they  grew together to become the great tree that is the AOH organization today.  Thus many of the early fraternal and benevolent societies, as well as the Ribbonmen in Ireland, can all claim to have contributed to the birth of the mighty AOH organization of today.  As for the name Ancient Order of Hibernians, that was officially born in America when the amalgamated societies applied for incorporation in New York State in 1851 under that name.





March 2015

​                                                                                               St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

                                                                                                                                                          by Mike McCormack, Div 8 Historian

Each year around March 17, the name of St. Patrick appears in every major publication in the civilized world - sometimes with honor and sometimes with scorn - often due to the conduct of those who celebrate his memory at affairs which bear his name.  Of the many things written about this holy man, some are true, some misleading, and some false.  St. Patrick was Italian; St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland; St. Patrick was the first to bring Christianity to Ireland; St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain the trinity – all of these statements are false!  Let’s take them one at a time.  

Some claim St. Patrick to be Italian because he was born in Roman occupied territory, and his name was Patricius.  The mists of time have clouded the exact location of his birth, but what is known from available evidence is that he was born somewhere in Wales around 386 AD.  His father was employed by Romans and was a Christian Deacon while, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, his mother, Conchessa was a relation to St. Martin of Tours.  Although Wales was part of the Roman Empire at that time, it was a Celtic country and its people were one race with the people of Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man.  Further, the Romans often left an occupying force in lands they conquered,  but used natives to fill minor roles.  As for his Italian sounding name, it was given to him when he was consecrated Bishop and assigned to the mission in Ireland.  Before that time, our patron Saint's name was Maewyn Succat – a very Celtic name.  There is, therefore, more evidence to suggest that Patrick was Celtic, than any other nationality.

As for the snakes, although a popular legend, it is geologically known that there never were any in Ireland to begin with.  His connection with that legend stems from the Church's representation of the Devil in the form of a serpent, and Patrick driving the Devil out of Ireland in that form.  The fact that there were no snakes led to the question, "what happened to them,” and the answer was easily found in St Patrick’s traditional statue which shows him driving the devil out of Ireland. 

As for being the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, there were several missionary priests there before him, but he was sent by Rome to co-ordinated their activities and form a national Irish Church, which he did so successfully that it became the Isle of Saints and Scholars and re-educated the whole of Europe after the Dark ages.  It is also said that he used the shamrock to explain the blessed Trinity which is totally false.  The first written mention of the link does not appear until 1681, in the account of Thomas Dineley, an English traveller to Ireland.  To the Celts, three was already a powerful symbol as all things came in threes – sea, land and sky or birth, life and death or earth, wind and fire.  There are even triads in Irish lore such as the three things to most be wary of: the horn of a bull, the bark of a dog and the word of an Englishman.  Patrick merely used the Trinity to explain why three was such a powerful number.  No leaf was needed.   

Another tradition is that Corned Beef and Cabbage is an Irish dish.  It was never popular in Ireland until it was brought over by the American Irish.  It is a definite Irish-American tradition – the Irish would be more familiar with Bacon and Cabbage.  In the Nineteenth century, potatoes were the staple diet of the Irish tenant. On special occasions one might enjoy a bit of bacon and cabbage with the potatoes, but potatoes were the staple.  An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) in 1845, destroyed the potato and caused a major calamity; many were forced to emigrate to survive.  When the Irish escaping the Great Hunger settled in New York, many were forced into the slums of the lower east side around the notorious Five Points.  Unskilled and unschooled, they tried to scratch out a living and send a few pennies back to those they were forced to leave behind. 

Among the hardships families had to endure in a slum environment was the lack of nourishing food.  It was generally up to the mother to prepare a healthy meal for her family and in this situation, her ingenuity left us a tradition.  In the mid-19th century, New York was a major port in the China tea trade.  From 1841 through 1860, clipper ships dominated that trade and a trip to China and back would take about nine months.  However, an unlucky ship could spend an additional three weeks crossing due to doldrums, calms, squalls, and shifting winds.  Carrying a crew of 50 to 60 men, the ships were provisioned before leaving New York with enough fresh water, flat bread, oats, coffee, rum, and salted beef to last until they reached China. After gastric complaints about re-provisioning in China for the trip home, many began to carry double provisions for the round trip.  These always included a bit extra in the event of doldrums.  Upon arrival back in New York, the excess provisions were generally dumped in the harbor for what else could one do with lumps of beef that had been soaking in brine for 9 months.

It was then that coincidence and circumstance collided and the Irish mothers seeking nourishment for their families were spotted fishing the floating beef out of the river.    It didn’t take long for ship’s cook to realize there was a market for the old brined beef and returning ships soon saw women lining up for the leftover salted beef which was now sold at a penny a pound. They took it home and developed a method of purifying and preparing it so that their diet would have meat at least once a week – or at least when their ships came in (giving rise to an old expression).  They would boil the beef to remove the salt, discard the water and boil it again.  They found that repeating that process three times - once each for the Father, Son and Holy Ghost - would remove enough salt to make it palatable, however, while the salt was gone, so was the flavor!  That’s when a head of cabbage was added.  The last time the beef was boiled, it was boiled in water that had boiled a head of cabbage and a flavor was introduced to the meat.  It was a far cry from the bacon and cabbage they might have enjoyed in Ireland, but still it was a welcome dish.  In later years, the dish became a nostalgic tradition for it brought back memories of a mother’s love.  Today’s dish may be more palatable than the old ship’s stores, but unless it was boiled in Cabbage water, it’s not authentic.  Nor should it remind us of Ireland.  Rather it should remind us of the ingenuity of Irish mothers, their dedication to their families and their determination to overcome any obstacles put in their path.  It should also remind us of the hardships endured by our immigrant ancestors who persevered and overcame the difficulties imposed on them in a tenement slum and brought us to a better life so that today we can enjoy a dish of corned beef and cabbage in pleasant company and surroundings. 

In another story related to ships provisions, the ships log for the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) records that on July 27, 1798, she “sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum" to harass English shipping. Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum.  Then she headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November.  She took on 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.  On 18 November, she set sail for England.  In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchant ships, salvaging only the rum aboard each.  By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted.  Nevertheless, though unarmed she made a night raid up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland.  Her landing party captured a whisky distillery and transferred 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn. Then she headed home.  The U.S.S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, no rum, no wine, no whisky, and 38,600 gallons of stagnant water.



​​Feburay  2015

                                                                                        THE AMISTAD CONNECTION
                                                                                                                                                                    by Mike McCormack, AOH Historian
In February, 1841 – 174 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court took the word of an Irishman in a controversial case and here’s the story.  If you remember, in 1998, a Hollywood film on the voyage of the Amistad, told the tale of a group of slaves who mutinied to win their freedom.  The film brought to light an Irish connection with that incident which had almost been forgotten.  It had to do with a Dr. Richard Madden who was born in Dublin in 1798, just two days after the United Irishmen’s Rising was crushed.  The son of a prosperous silk merchant and his wife, young Richard studied medicine in Paris, London, and Naples, and wrote for the Morning Herald while in Italy.  He practiced medicine in London and in 1833 he became head of the British Anti-Slavery Commission in Havana, Cuba – a body charged with enforcing the provisions of the 1820 British-Spanish treaty banning the importation and trade of slaves.  In 1836, he was Judge Arbitrator in cases involving liberated Africans in Cuba and that’s how he became involved in the Amistad incident in 1839.  The Amistad was a schooner carrying Africans, who had been sold into slavery, from Havana to another port in Cuba.  During the journey, the slaves mutinied intending to sail back home to Africa.

With no navigational skills however, they ended up on the north shore of Long Island, where they were taken into custody.  They were then taken to a federal court across the Sound in Connecticut.  The Spanish, who claimed to own the slaves, filed a lawsuit to get them back.  American abolitionists rose to their defense.  This was a time in America when slavery was a hot issue – in another 20 years it would cause our civil war.  President Martin Van Buren wanted the case to go away and ordered it resolved quickly, even if it meant returning the slaves to the Cubans.

Spain had abolished slavery in 1820, but ruled that those in bondage before that date had to remain in bondage.  The case therefore, hinged on whether or not the African mutineers had been slaves prior to 1820, or were they recently kidnaped free men.  Dr. Madden, who had earned a reputation as a man of integrity, was preparing to return to England when he heard about the Amistad incident.  Based on his experience in Cuba, he knew these men were recently kidnaped free men.  He immediately purchased his own ticket to travel, as one historian wrote, a thousand miles out of his way, to testify on behalf of the Africans.  Madden arrived in New London and offered his services to an abolitionist named Tappan who was raising money to fight the Cuban slave traders.

One reporter wrote, Madden and Tappan were a strange pair.  Madden was an Irish Catholic and a scholar who had studied language and customs in a dozen countries.  He was a writer with numerous books to his credit, and a respected judge who had handed down historic decisions in Sierra Leone and Havana, while Tappan was a deacon, a Yankee merchant with a puritanical New England upbringing.  At the Amistad hearing on Nov 20, 1839,  Madden’s testimony caused considerable excitement, according to historian Howard Jones, because it upheld the  argument that these men had been recently bought in illegal slave markets.  A most credible witness, Madden described, with firsthand knowledge, the operation of these slave markets right down to the forging of documents of purchase.  Try as they would, the attorney for the Cubans could not discredit his testimony.  When Madden finished, noted one historian, it was obvious that the testimony of this one small quiet man had created much sympathy for the abolitionist argument.  Another historian wrote that his testimony was impressive, and convincing.  No longer could the Van Buren administration hope for an outcome that would hide the issue by returning the Africans to Cuba, for Dr. Madden had made it clear that return meant certain death.  The case went to the Supreme Court in January 1841, and former President John Quincy Adams argued the defendants' case.  In February, 174 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court took the word of an Irishman and decided in favor of the Africans, and the survivors were returned to their homeland. 

But the story is not over.  After the case was done, Madden set sail for his homeland and the continuation of his humanitarian and literary works.  He had been writing a history of the United Irishmen, a task he’d undertaken years earlier to expose the economic slavery which had been forced on his own people after the ill-fated rising of 1798 and the Act of Union in 1801.  Impressed by the concept of uniting Catholics and Protestants in common cause against the Crown, Madden set out to write the history of that rising in which he praised the ideals of the United Irishmen.  At one point, early in his research, he was led to an old woman in the slums of Dublin to hear her story.  She had been the housekeeper of the patriot, Robert Emmet.  She and her entire family had been tortured in Kilmainham Jail by soldiers seeking to break her and learn information on the United Irish leaders.  She refused all efforts to betray her countrymen and, when finally released, she was broken in health, penniless and alone.  Dr. Madden cared for her until his assignment took him to Cuba.  Now, on his return, he learned of her untimely death and burial in a pauper’s grave.  He had her body exhumed and re-buried in the patriot’s section of Glasnevin and erected a memorial over her grave.  Her name was Anne Devlin, and she is remembered today as one of Ireland’s foremost heroines, thanks to Dr. Madden.

For the remainder of his life, he continued his dedication to humanitarian causes, publishing books on slavery, the Penal Laws and important people in Irish history.  He died in 1886 in Donnybrook, near Dublin, but his legacy lives on in his writings, especially in the story of the United Irishmen which eventually took seven volumes and who, without his efforts, would have been largely forgotten instead of being remembered with pride.

​​




​​​January 2015


SPIRIT OF THE OCCASION

by Mike McCormack

In 1798, the United Irishmen attempted to free their native land.  Upon the stage of that rebellion, several characters played out their parts little knowing that they would meet again, with different results.

The successful start to the rebellion took place in Wexford, but was brutally crushed by British forces.  Theobold Wolfe Tone, one of the primary leaders of the United Irishmen, had secured the promise of French aid, but the French forces, under General Humbert, arrived too late, and too far north to help poor Wexford.  Their landing in Mayo however, rekindled the fire of rebellion, and the Irish and their French allies began to again to capture town after town - this time in Ireland’s west.  The British decided to give their recently disgraced Lord Cornwallis one more attempt at redeeming the reputation he had lost in 1781 to General George Washington's rebel forces.  Cornwallis came to Ireland with a huge army, determined to win.  One of his staff of officers was a Captain Packenham.  By sheer force of numbers, Packenham overwhelmed the French and Irish at a place called Ballinamuck, where he ceremoniously took the sword of General Humbert on the field of battle.  He then separated the Irish from their French allies, and put the Irish to the sword, while the French looked on in horror.  Then Humbert and his French army were expatriated back to France in disgrace.  Humbert reported his failure to a furious Napoleon and eventually was retired.  He left for one of France's distant colonies - thus came General Jean Humbert to New Orleans, Louisiana.

  Five years later, in 1803, America purchased Louisiana from France, and Humbert, who had ended up in a French section of the city, decided to remain.  Less than 10 years later, America found herself fighting England once again, in the War of 1812.  America again emerged successful, but this time one of the leading British Generals was none other than former Captain Packenham.  As the second son of an English peer, Packenham was not entitled to share in the family estate, so he chose the military as a career.  This was an acceptable course since it was not uncustomary for Generals to amass their fortunes from the spoils of vanquished cities.  When it seemed that England was losing the war before Packenham had been able to loot a prosperous American settlement, he sailed his army toward the prize of America's south - New Orleans - hoping to make his fortune there.  England surrendered before Packenham's army reached the Crescent City, but that didn't stop Packenham.  He was as determined as he had been 14 years earlier at Ballinamuck, and he attacked New Orleans.

America’s military commander learned of the plans, and set to oppose him.  Unknown to Packenham, the American General he would face, was the son of Irish immigrants who had been forced to flee Ireland by the Crown - General Andrew Jackson.  Also unknown, but equally significant, was that one of the Aides that General Jackson had enlisted in his Campaign was none other than retired General Humbert, whose sword Packenham had taken at Ballinamuck.  Jackson had given Humbert a chance to redeem his honor.

The Battle of New Orleans, was fought on January 8, 1815, and resulted in a sound defeat of the British.  However, Packenham himself was killed in the action.  In celebrating their victory, Jackson and his Aides de Camp toasted their fallen enemy, and decided to expatriate the British soldiers, as the French had been expatriated after their defeat in Ireland, but what to do with the remains of General Packenham.  It was too late to disgrace him, he was dead; and since they were all honorable men, they would have to ship his remains home unmolested.  It was then that Jean Lafitte, a local pirate who also served as an Aide to General Jackson, came up with the idea that made General Humbert smile.  They packed his corpse, for the trip home, in a cask of New Orleans Brandy so that it could never be said that the general was not returned home in good spirits.



December 2014


THEY SENSELESSLY DIED IN DECEMBER

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

Rory O'Connor was born in Dublin in 1883.  He was educated at St. Mary’s College, Clongowes Wood College, and University College, Dublin.  With his College of Science diploma, he emigrated to Canada in 1911 to work as a railway engineer.  He became active in the Fenian Brotherhood and returned to Ireland in 1915 in answer to an IRB call.  He joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians, fought in the 1916 Easter Rising and was interned after the surrender.  After internment, he quit the IRB on the grounds that a secret movement could not gain popular support and threw his support to Sinn Fein.  During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) he became Director of Engineering of the IRA and a close associate of Michael Collins.

O’Connor did not favor the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which established an Irish Free State, because it abolished the Irish Republic declared in 1916, which he had sworn to uphold.  On 26 March 1922, he and other anti-treaty officers of the IRA held a convention in Dublin, in which they rejected the Treaty and repudiated the authority of Dail Eireann – the new Irish Parliament.  O’Connor became Chairman of the Military Council of the dissident IRA, known as the Irregulars.

On April 13, 1922, O'Connor, with 200 Irregulars under his command, took over the Four Courts building in Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government.  They hoped to provoke the British troops, who were still in the country, into attacking them.  They felt that this action would re-start the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy.  Michael Collins tried desperately to persuade O'Connor and his men to leave the building but to no avail.  The British told Collins to get them out or they would step in and remove them.  Collins knew that surrendering military authority to the Crown would make a mockery of the treaty and destroy the new Irish Free State in its infancy.  Rory O’Connor and his men remained in Four Courts under truce conditions with the Free State until members of the Four Courts garrison kidnapped JJ ‘Ginger’ O’Connell, a general in the Free State Army.  The Brits moved artillery into place and told Collins to use it or they would.  Collins had no choice but to shell the Four Courts with the borrowed British artillery.  Rory O'Connor surrendered after two days of fighting, but not before the Irregulars torched the collected records of British occupation in Ireland.  O’Connor was arrested and sent to Mountjoy Prison.  This incident sparked the Irish Civil War as fighting broke out around the country between pro- and anti- treaty factions, dividing old friends and families alike.

One family divided was Sean Hales and his brother Tom.  Both were members of the IRA during the War of Independence and both were against the treaty.  Sean, however, was persuaded by Michael Collins to join the pro-Treaty side and he voted for the Treaty, while his brother voted against it.  In June, 1922, Sean was elected to the new Dail as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin candidate.  Then, during the tragic Civil War, Michael Collins was killed in ambush on 22 August throwing both sides into a senseless frenzy of tit-for-tat revenge killings.  After Collins’ death, the Free State government declared that the Irregular IRA was conducting an unlawful rebellion against the legitimate Irish government and that martial law was the only way to end the violence.  On September 27, 1922, the Free State enacted legislation to set up military courts allowing for the execution of men captured bearing arms against the state.  

On 17 November, five Irregulars who had been captured with arms in Co. Wicklow were shot by firing squad in Dublin.  On November 19, three more Irregulars were executed. On 24 November, Robert Erskine Childers, acclaimed author and secretary to the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations that had created the Irish Free State, was executed.  He had been captured on November 10 in possession of a pistol, which ironically had been given to him by Michael Collins before the split in the movement.  To many, this at last demonstrated the senselessness of the hostilities  In response to the executions, on November 30, Liam Lynch, Chief of Staff of the Irregular IRA, ordered that any member of the Dail who had voted for the "murder legislation" be shot on sight. 

On 6 December 1922, Sean Hales was shot and killed by Irregulars as he left the Dáil and another TD (Teachta Dála - Assembly Delegate) Pádraic O’Máille was badly wounded.  Hales’ killing was declared to be in reprisal for the Free State's execution of anti-treaty prisoners.  In revenge for Hales' killing then, four republican leaders, whom the Free State held in custody, were selected to be executed.  On December 8th, 1922, Rory O’Connor and three other republicans (Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey) captured with the fall of the Four Courts, were executed by firing squad in reprisal for the killing of Free State TD Sean Hales. The execution order was given by Kevin O'Higgins, who less than a year earlier had Rory O'Connor in his wedding party.  When O’Connor was to be searched upon his capture at the Four Courts, he hid a treasured souvenir which he later had sewn into the hem of his pants and which was eventually buried with him.  It was the gold souvenir coin given to him by Kevin O’Higgins for being his Best Man!  Such was the irony and the bitterness of the division that the Treaty caused.  Brother Hibernian Rory O'Connor and the other executed republicans were subsequently seen as martyrs by the Republican Movement.  

It took years for the rift to heal and today, from the distance of all the years in between, we can understand the differences held by the belligerents who walked their own roads toward the common goal of a free and united Ireland.  And, in December, 1922, a number of Irish patriots – bitter rivals, though former comrades – met once more in Tir na n’Og.




​November 2014​​


THE MANCHESTER MARTYRS

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

After the failure of the Young Ireland rising in 1848, two men, John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny, who escaped to America joined the AOH.  Ten years later they founded the Fenian Brotherhood in America to support another rising in Ireland.  It, became  a world-wide organization; in Ireland it was called the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  Plagued by spies and informers, a planned uprising in Ireland in 1867 failed miserably.  However, again two men escaped.  This time it was Thomas Kelly and Timothy Deasy and they went to England to reorganize the Fenians there and start once more.  Both had been officers in America’s Civil War and had key roles in the Clan na Gael, the American branch of the Fenian Brotherhood.  Kelly had been declared Head of the Irish Republic and Deasy, a member of Lawrence, MA AOH Div. 8, had led a Fenian brigade.  On 11 September 1867, they were arrested in London and on the 18th they were bound for Belle Vue Jail in a locked police van escorted by 12 mounted police.  As the van passed under a railway arch, about 35 men leaped over a wall at the side of the road, surrounded the van and seized the horses.  The unarmed police fled.  The rescuers called on Sergeant Brett, inside the van, to open the locked door.  Brett refused, so one of the rescuers placed his revolver at the keyhole of the van to blow the lock unaware that Brett just bent over to look through the keyhole to see what was happening outside.  The bullet killed him instantly.  The door was unlocked with keys taken from Sergeant Brett's pocket by another prisoner in the van.  The van was opened and Kelly and Deasy were free.

British police invaded Manchester's Irish section and brought in dozens of suspects arbitrarily selected in raids that were described as a ‘reign of terror.’  Of those apprehended, 26 were sent for trial on 28 October for murder, felony, and misdemeanor.  It was decided to charge five, selected at random, as the principal offenders – William Allen, Michael Larkin, Michael O'Brien, Edward Condon and Thomas Maguire – despite none of them having fired the fatal shot. The vengeful jury returned a verdict of guilty for each of the five.  When asked if they had anything to say, Allen stated his innocence and Larkin said ‘I forgive all who have sworn my life away.’  O'Brien claimed that all the evidence given against him was false and that, as an American citizen, he should not be facing trial in a British court.  Condon admitted to organizing the attack as a leader of the movement, but claimed that he was never even at the scene.  At the end of his testimony he shouted, ‘God save Ireland!’  The cry was taken up by his companions in the dock.  Allen, Larkin, O'Brien, Maguire and Condon were all sentenced to death by hanging and each man, after sentence was pronounced, shouted ‘God save Ireland’.

  The trial took place in a climate of anti-Irish hysteria.  The weekly Reynold's Newspaper called it a ‘deep and everlasting disgrace to the English government, the product of an ignoble panic which seized the governing classes. A yell of vengeance had issued from every aristocratic organ, and that before any evidence had been obtained, the prisoners' guilt was assumed and their executions demanded.’  In Maguire's case the witnesses who testified that Maguire was in the forefront of the attack had their evidence disproved.  An appeal resulted and Maguire was granted a pardon.  Many believed that the others would also be saved since they had been convicted on evidence by the same witnesses who perjured themselves against Maguire.  Condon was pardoned on the eve of his execution, but Allen, Larkin and O’Brien were not as fortunate.

  Throughout Manchester, silent congregations with tear-stained faces attended an early Mass for the souls the three  innocent Irishmen doomed to die the morning of 23 November outside the New Bailey prison.  To make matters worse, the executioner was incompetent and mis-calculated the correct length of rope required to break the neck of each victim.  When the trap floor was released, Allen died almost instantly from a broken neck, but Larkin and O'Brien did not.  A local priest in attendance, Father Gadd, reported that the other two ropes, were stretched tight and tense by their still breathing, twisting burdens. The hangman had bungled the job!  He then descended below the scaffold and there finished what he could not accomplish from above; he pulled on Larkin’s legs to hasten death and in that way killed him.  Father Gadd refused to allow the hangman to kill O'Brien the same way, and for three-quarters of an hour the priest knelt, holding the dying man's hands within his own, reciting the prayers for the dying while O’Brien twisted and turned in agony.  He did O’Brien no favor!

  Although the Daily Telegraph described Sergeant Brett's death as ‘a dastardly murder’, they also found enough ink to write: ‘we may hang convicted Fenians with good conscience, but we should also thoroughly redress those evils distinctly due to English policy still supported by English power in Ireland’.  The government banned all demonstrations for the Manchester Martyrs, as they were now called, but funeral processions were held throughout Ireland, America and England during the weeks following the executions, attracting crowds of thousands.  T.D. Sullivan wrote the last words of the martyrs into a song that became the anthem of the Fenians, God Save Ireland, although many who sing the lyrics today – High upon the gallows tree swung the noble-hearted three, by the vengeful tyrant stricken in their bloom – have no idea who the noble-hearted three actually were, but now you know.  The song and the demonstrations gave rise to an intense groundswell of anti-British sentiment among Irish communities around the world.  The militant approach to achieving Irish independence was beginning to find new converts and within 50 years would reach fruition in the Easter Rising of 1916. 

Ancient Order of Hibernians Thomas J. Clarke 
Div. 8, Selden, NY