Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

The Ancient Order of Hibernians

In the second of our two part series on local institutions, the Telegraph today takes an in depth look at the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Sometimes dubbed 'the Green Orangemen' the AOH has survived over the past five centuries, with the Derry District Number One by far the largest this side of Ireland.

Sometimes dubbed 'the Green Orangemen' the AOH has survived over the past five centuries, with the Derry District Number One by far the largest this side of Ireland.

At present there are around 500 members of the Order who meet each week behind the quiet facade of their Foyle Street base.

Here in the deceptively large three floors, the members and thousands of other local visitors help keep alive some of the trademark Irish traditions passed down over time, as well as offering more modern recreational activities such as ladies' keep fit and bingo and skills-based training for local adults.

They also have three full length pool tables with a team in the Premier League and weekly entertainment.

Each week sees ceili dancing, Gaelige language classes and a host of other events taking place in Foyle Street.

By nature and by its inception the Ancient Order of Hibernians has always remained a rather hidden organisation.

Today, Danny Ealing, Secretary of the Derry branch, speaks about how and why the Order was started, and how it has changed over the years.

To those within the Order, its roots and its foundations are everything, and the motto has for centuries remained unchanged: Friendship, Unity and True Christian Charity.


A history of those green Orangemen

Our Order in various forms goes back several hundred years.

Formed for the protection of the Catholic peasantry, it also acted as bodyguards for the priests.

Some claim that our Order dates back to 1565 but there would be no reliable evidence to support this and certainly nothing in writing, as secrecy was their only assurance of survival.

From the year 1641, the historians would be on surer ground.

In that year, Sir William Parsons and Sir John Borlace were appointed by the British Crown as Lord Justices for the government of Ireland.

Shortly after their appointment, at a banquet in Dublin, Sir William Parsons declared: "In 12 months from this date, there will not be a single Catholic left in Ireland."

This statement gave great impetus to the Hibernians, or Defenders, as they were then known, and whose declared purpose was for the defence of Faith and Fatherland; its motto familiar to all present day members -friendship, unity and true Christian charity.

The 1641 Rising was led by a Defender, Rory (Roger) O'Moore.

The Defenders were mainly organised in Connaught and the North of Ireland, and as their name implies, they defended the peasantry from such as the Oak Boys who were seldom called to account for their murderous attacks on Catholics.

The Government mainly turned a blind eye to their activities, and indeed often encouraged them.

The Defenders later joined with the Whiteboys who operated in the south and the combined body worked under the name Ribbonmen.

Branches of the Ribbonmen were organised in many counties in Ireland under many different names.

In England and Scotland, divisions were formed under the name Hibernia Funeral Society while in several counties in Ireland the name Molly Maguires was used.

The Ribbonmen were, of course, condemned by the government as an unlawful association - the same government which aided and abetted organisations such as the Oak Boys.

It is said that history repeats itself and it would appear that it does.

In 1825, the Ribbonmen became the St Patrick's Fraternity, a Society which was also known as St Patrick's Boys.

The executive sanctioned this change in the name of the organisation as the Ribbonmen had incurred the censure of the church.

The Ribbonmen may have been guilty of deeds which the church could not sanction, but it was, however, in response to tyranny and aggression.

Under the name of St Patrick's Fraternity Society, much charity work was done for the Irish people in the large cities of England and Scotland.

The Order set up several societies to carry out this charitable work.

Among these was the Widows and Orphans Society. This was quite a change in emphasis for an organisation which had previously used violence to protect the Catholic peasantry.

Members of the Order who had emigrated to the United States sought permission from the governing body in Ireland to organise in America.

This was granted on May 4, 1834 and the first Division in America was formed in New York.

The name was changed to the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the late 1830s and this has now become the largest Irish-American organisation in the world.

As can be clearly seen, in this article on the Order, we are an Irish organisation.

We are not a branch of a foreign organisation, such as the Foresters who were originally part of Foresters in Europe.

They later became the Irish National Foresters.

With people such as Sir William Parsons in authority in Ireland, there was certainly a need for our Order and that entitles it to take some credit for the fact that there are still Catholics in Ireland, despite his boast in 1641.

The standing of the Order was recognised by Michael Davitt, who described it as "the most powerful pro-Celtic organisation in the world".

This was quite a tribute by a great Irishman.


A helping hand

Anyone walking through Foyle Street on a Saturday afternoon recently may have heard the faint sound of Irish traditional music floating from a jukebox.

It's quite a low key attempt to sell tickets for the annual charity Christmas draw, and in its nature and deed, sums up the AOH's unobtrusive yet very real local input.

In fact the OAH from the shadows has managed to help shape Derry in everything from the religious statues at the Long Tower Church to the new Foyle Search and Rescue boat.

They have also been instrumental in aiding local charities and helping organisations such as the Bogside Artists.

"We gave them the room upstairs as an artist studio place for a while so they could paint away. Then they did some paintings for us," said Danny Ealing, secretary of the Derry branch.

Few people know that the ornate Calvary sculputres at Long Tower Church were also donated by the AOH back in 1904.

One of the Order's proudest days came when they raised enough to secure a new boat for the Foyle Search and Rescue.

Mr Ealing said: "An American Division had been visiting at the time and they had seen the good work this charity was doing on the river.

"They went back and raised $$500 because the charity were looking for a new, smaller boat to get in closer along the river.

"The representatives from the four christian denominations did a joint blessing as the ship was taken into the Foyle and then everybody came back here for a celebration night afterwards."

Back to back charity nights are also a frequent feature at the OAH offices on Foyle Street and this year the organisation will be running a limited draw of 1,000 tickets for a Christmas draw.

Each ticket costs £50 with cash prizes totalling £40,000 up for grabs.

"There is a lot going on. There always has been and it looks like that will continue for thre foreseeable future," Mr Ealing said.

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