The Ancient Order Of Hibernians is a Catholic, Irish American Fraternal Organization founded in New York City in May of 1836. The Order can trace it's roots back to a parent organization of the same name which has existed in Ireland for over 300 years. However while the organizations share the same common thread, the North American AOH is a separate and much larger organization.
The Order evolved from a need in the early sixteen hundreds to protect the lives of priests who risked immediate death to keep the Catholic Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the reign of England's King Henry VIII. When England implemented its dreaded Penal Laws in Ireland, various secret social societies were formed across the country. These groups worked to aid and comfort the people by whatever means availible. Similarly, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded May 4th,1836 at New York's St. James Church to protect the clergy, and Church property from the " Know Nothings " and their followers. At the same time the vast influx of Irish immigrants fleeing famine issues in Ireland in the late 1940's prompted a growth of various social societies in the U.S.A.- the largest of which was, and continues to be, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Active across the United States, the Order seeks to aid the newly arrived Irish, both socially and politically. The many Divisions and club facilities located throughout the U.S. traditionally have been among the first to welcome new Irish Americans. Here, the Irish culture--art, dance, music, and sports are fostered and preserved.The newcomers can meet some of " their own " and are introduced to the social atmosphere of the Irish-American community. The AOH has been at the political forefront for issues concerning the Irish, such as; immigration reform, economic incentives both here and in Ireland, the human rights issues addressed in the MacBride Legislation, Right-To-Life, and a peaceful and just solution to the issues that divide Ireland.
The Order has also provided a continuing bridge with Ireland for those Irish Americans who are generations removed from their country of origin. Many A.O.H. Divisions bring children from the North of Ireland under Project Children or other programs. The Order sponsors many programs associated with promoting our Irish Heritage, such as , one year overseas study scholorshps at Irish universities and the Irish Way Program. Irish Studies programs at American universities and scholorships at universities , like Notre Dame, are also sponsored by the Order.
This Organization grew up gradually among the Catholics of Ireland owing to the dreadful hardships and persecutions to which they were subjected. It is impossible to give the exact date of the foundation of the Order in Ireland. Some authorities contend that the first impulse towards forming such an organization was due to the publication of an edict against the Catholic religion by the Earl Of Sussex ( Thomas Radcliffe ) , who was made Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1562. He prohibited all monks and Catholic priests from either eating or sleeping in Dublin, and ordered the head of each family to attend Protestant services every Sunday under the penalty of a fine. Not only did the English begin a bitter persecution of the Catholics, they also confiscated the property of the Irish nobles. The prince Rory O'Moore with his companions took up the cause of religion and the protection of the priesthood as well as the defense of their dominions. Through their assistance the priests said Mass on the mountains and in the valleys and glens while " The Defenders " as they were called, acted as faithful sentinels to guard them from danger. The principality ruled over by Rory O'Moore was called Leix. It covered the greater part of Queens County and part of County Kildare. The O'Moore's belonged to the Clan Rory of the Province of Ulster and were descended from the celebrated hero Conall Cearnach, who was the chieftain of the Red Branch Knights at the beginning of the Christian Era. This famous Rory O'Moore was victorious over the English forces in many battles during the reigns of Queen Mary and Elizabeth and in consequence recovered the principality of Leix, which had been the property of his forefathers and which he governed until his death in 1578.
It is claimed that this Rory Oge O'Moore organized and founded Hibernianism in the year 1565, in the County of Kildare, in the Province of Leinster, and gave to his followers the name of " The Defenders ". After the death of Rory, "The Defenders" rallied around the chieftains, and after many glorious battles betook themselves to the mountains and defied the tyranny of England. In the course of time branches sprang up among the descendants in opposition to the Protestant organizations, such as the " Hearts-Of-Steel ", the " Oak Boys ", the Peep O'Day-Boys, the " Protestant-Boys ", the " Wreckers ", and finally the " Orangemen ". The principal Catholic organizations were the " White-Boys ", so called for wearing a white shirt, the " Rapparees ", who recieved this designation on account of a half pike which they carried, and the " Ribbon-Men ", so called because their badge was 2 pieces of green and red ribbon. In due time there arose also the " Terry-Alts ", and the " Fenians ". The sprit of these organizations gave rise to what is known in Ireland as the Ancient Order Of Hibernians. Anyone familiar with the history of Ireland under English and Protestant domination will recognize that it was natural enough for such organizations to be formed among Irish Catholics. When the laws were made against the interests of the great mass of the people, it was necessary to erect a barrier of defense. No doubt, some abuses were occasionally connected with the operations of these societies, but, in the main, they defended the religious and civil liberties of the Irish people.
While we have no authentic information as to when the Ancient Order of Hibernians was formally established under that title in Ireland, we know that in 1836, certain Irishmen in New York, who desired to establish a branch of the organization in America, communicated with their brethren in Ireland and recieved the following reply: Brothers, Greeting: Be it known that to you and to all whom it may concern that we send to our few brothers in New York full instructions with our authority to establish branches of our society in America. The qualifications for membership must be as follows: All the members must be good Catholics, and Irish or of Irish descent, and of good and moral character. None of your members shall join any secret societies contrary to the laws of the Catholic Church, and all times and at all places your motto shall be " Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity". This letter concluded with the date "This fourth day of May,in the year of our lord, 1836" and it was signed by 14 officers representing the organization in Ireland, Scotland, and England.
The motto of this Order is Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity. Friendship shall consist of helping one another and in assisting each other to the best of our power. Unity, in combining together for mutual support in sickness and distress. Christian Charity, in loving one another and doing to all men as we would wish that they should do unto us.