THE IRISH IN IOWA

FAMOUS IRISH SOCIETIES

The Glories of Ireland; Edited by Joseph Dunn & P.J. Lennox; Phoenix
Limited; Washington, D.C.: 1914

Famous Irish Societies
By John O'Dea
National Historian, A.O.H.


     In the social organization of no nation of antiquity were societies of
greater influence than in pagan Ireland. During many centuries these
societies, composed of the bards, ollamhs, brehons, druids and knights,
contended for precedence. In no country did the literary societies display
greater vigor and exercise a more beneficent power than in pagan Ireland.
Although the Hebrews and other Asiatic nations has societies organized from
among the professions, yet in Ireland along these societies seem to have
been constructed with a patriotic purpose, and in Ireland alone they seem to
have had ceremonies of initiation, with constitutions and laws. These
societies existed from the earliest times until after the coming of St.
Patrick. Traces of them are visible during all the centuries from the
conversion of Ireland down to the Anglo-Norman epoch, and it is apparent
that the clan system and the introduction of a feudal system by the English
failed to eliminate completely their influence.
     When the Irish emigration flowed towards the American colonies in the
eighteenth century, the social instinct early found expression in societies.
One of the earliest of these was founded in Boston, where, in 1737,
twenty-six "gentlemen merchants and others, natives of Ireland or of Irish
extraction", organized the Charitable Irish Society. In Pennsylvania, where
the Irish emigration had been larger than in any other colony, the Hibernian
Fire Company was organized in 1751. The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick was
founded in Philadelphia in 1771, and about that time societies bearing this
name were founded in Boston and New York, as convival clubs welcoming Irish
emigrants to their festive boards. These societies were formed upon the
model of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick, which had existed in Dublin
and other Irish cities a generation before, and was well and favorably known
throughout Ireland.
     The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia
contained some of the most prominent merchants and leading citizens of the
city, and in 1780 they subscribed 103,000, or one-third of the sum
collected, to supply the Continental army with food. Among its members were
Commodore Barry, the Father of the American Navy; General Stephen Moylan;
General Anthony Wayne; and the great merchants, Blair McClenachan, Thomas
Fitzsimons, and Robert Morris. Washington, who was an honorary member,
described it "as a society distinguished for the firm adherence of its
members to the glorious cause in which we are embarked." Whether upon the
field or upon the sea, in council or in the sacrifice of their wealth, their
names are foremost in the crisis of the Revolution.
The Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland was
founded in Philadelphia on March 3, 1700. Other Hibernian Societies, with
the same title and organized for the same purpose, were founded in other
cities along the Atlantic coast in the early years of the nineteenth
century, but the Philadelphia Hibernian Society was, from the character of
its members, the extent of beneficence, and the length of its existence, the
most famous. The emigrants from Ireland during the eighteenth century had
pushed on to the frontier, or, in some instances, remained in the cities and
engaged successfully in mercantile pursuits. The emigration which came after
the Revolution was, however, in great part composed of families almost
without means. Unable to subsist while clearing farms in the virgin forest,
thousands were congested in the cities. The Hibernian Society extended a
ready and strong hand to these helpless people, and not only aided the
emigrants with gifts of money, but also secured for them employment,
disseminated among them useful information, and provided them with medical
attendance. While the Hibernian Society was regarded as the successor of the
Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, yet the two societies, which contained largely
a membership roll bearing the same names, flourished, in the work of
patriotism, side by side. The first officers of the Hibernian Society for
the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland were: President, Chief Justice Thomas
McKean; Vice-President, General Walter Stewart; Secretary, Matthew Carey,
the historian; Treasurer, John Taylor. It was said that no other society in
America contained so many men distinguished in civil, military, and official
life as the Hibernian Society. In almost every city whre the Friendly Sons
of St. Patrick and the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants were
found, there was a close and intimate connection between them, which
ultimately resulted in amalgamation.
     The Ancient Order of Hibernians traces its origin to those orders which
flourished in pagan Ireland, and which exercised so potent an influence upon
the history of the Celtic race. The order of knighthood was the first of
these orders to be founded. It existed from the earliest times, and is
visible in the annals of the nation, until the Anglo-Normans invaded the
land in the twelfth century. In pagan Ireland the knightly orders became
provincial standing armies, and there are many glorious pages describing the
feats of the Clanna Deagha of Munster, the Clanna Morna of Connacht, the
Feni of Leinster and the Knights of the Red Branch of Ulster. When the
island was Christianized, these knightly orders were among the staunchest
supporters of the missionary priests, and were consecrated to the service of
the church in the sixth century, assuming the cross as their distinctive
emblem, and becoming the defenders of religion.
     Among the names which are upon the rolls of the ancient orders of
knighthood are those of most of the kings, bards, saints, and statesmen, and
in the long list there was no family of greater renown than that of Roderick
the Great, to which belonged Conall Cearnach and Lugaidh, who, according to
MacGeoghegan and others, were the direct ancestors of the O'Mores of Leix.
In this family the ancient splendor of the knightly orders was a tradition
which survived for centuries, and they were in almost continual rebellion
against the English, from the siege of Dublin by Roderick O'Connor until the
rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, led by Rory Oge, the sagacious and
statesmanlike Rory O'More, revived the ancient orders in the Catholic
Confederation of Kilkenny in 1642. A grandson of Rory O'More, Patrick
Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan was the most distinguished commander of Irish
armies who opposed, in Ireland, the forces of William of Orange.
     There is no stranger story in all of history than the intimate
connection of the O'More family with the annals of the Ancient Order of
Hibernians. The lineage of this family furnishes the links connecting the
ancient orders of pagan Ireland through the centuries with the Ancient Order
in modern times. Under the names of Rapparees, Whiteboys, Defenders,
Ribbonmen, etc., the Confederation of Kilkenny was carried on through the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries until the nineteenth. At various times
the duties of these organizations were subject to local conditions. Thus the
Defenders were occupied protecting themselves and their priests against the
hostility of the Penal Laws, engaging in armed conflict with the Orangemen
in the north, while the Whiteboys were waging war against the atrocities of
landlordism in the south. Between these two organizations there was a secret
code, which operated until they were combined, under the name of Ribbonmen,
in the early nineteenth century. The contentions of the Whiteboys regarding
Irish landlordism have since been acknowledged to be just, and have been
enacted into statutes. The Defenders joined with Wolf Tone in  the formation
of the United Irishmen.
     About 1825 the Ribbonmen changed their name to St. Patrick's Fraternal
Society, and branches were established in England and Scotland under the
name of the Hibernian Funeral Society. In 1836 a charter was received by
members in New York City, and in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. The
headquarters were for some years in Pennsylvania, but in 1851, a charter was
granted to the New York Divisions under the name of "The Ancient Order of
Hibernians." New York thus became the American headquarters. National
conventions were held there until 1878, since which year they have been held
in many other cities biennially. Many of the most distinguished leaders of
the Irish race in America have been members of the Order, and from a humble
beginning, with a few emigrants gathered together in a strange land, the
membership has grown to 200,000. General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel
Michael Doheny, General Michael Corcoran, and Colonel John O'Mahony were
among the members in the late '50s.
   Among the organizations which have sprung from the ranks of the A.O.H.
were the powerful Fenian Brotherhood, the Emmet Monument Association, and
scores of smaller associations in all sections of the United States and
Canada. During the Know Nothing riots, the Order furnished armed defenders
for the Catholic churches in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, and it
has ever been foremost in preserving its position as the hereditary defender
of the faith. In 1894, the Ladies' Auxiliary was founded, and this body of
women numbered in 1914 over 63,000 and had donated great sums to charity,
education, and religion. The A.O.H. had, in 1914, assets of $2,230,000. It
pays annually, for charity, sick and death benefits, and maintenance, over
$1,000,000, and during its existence in America has donated nearly
$20,000,000 to works of beneficence. One of the most celebrated of the gifts
of the Order was the endowment of the Chair of Celtic in the Catholic
University of America, and one of its greatest gifts to charity was its
contribution of $40,000 to the sufferers of the San Francisco earthquake.
     The Clan-na-Gael is a society organized to secure the independence of
Ireland by armed revolution. Its organization is secret and it is a
successor of the Irish revolutionary Brotherhood, called in America the
Fenian Brotherhood, which promoted many daring raids and uprisings in
Ireland in 1867. The I.R.B. was perfected by James Stephens in Ireland and
by John O'Mahony in America, from 1857 to 1867. An invasion of Canada was
made in great force under the general direction of Colonel William R
Roberts, president of the Fenian Brotherhood, but was unsuccessful owing to
the attitude of the United States Government, which declared that the
Fenians were violating the principles of neutrality. After the
disorganization of the Fenian Brotherhood, the idea of a revolution
languished until revived by the founding of the Clan-na-Gael by Jerome J.
Collins in 1869, and the membership during the twenty years from 1880 to
1900 included almost fifty thousand of the flower of the men of Irish blood
in America. The principle of revolution ws first given organized public
expression in America through the formation in 1848 of the Irish Republican
Union, which was succeeded by the Emmet Monument Association, these
societies influencing the creation of the Sixty-Ninth and the Seventy-Fifth
Regiments of the New York State Militia, and the Ninth Massachusetts, which
became so famous for valor during the Civil War. Although not putting forth
all its strength, so as to allow full scope to the parliamentary efforts to
ameliorate the state of the Irish people, the Clan-na-Gael is as vigorous a
section as ever of the forces organized for the service of patriotism.
     The Land League, founded in Ireland in 1879, was transplanted to
America in 1880, when the first branch was established in New York City
through the efforts of Patrick Ford, John Boyle O'Reilly, John Devoy and
others. Michael Davitt soon after came to America and travelled through the
country founding branches of the League. In a few years the whole American
continent was organized, and in this organization Michael Davitt declared
that the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Clan-na-Gael
were everywhere foremost. To the enormous sums collected by the League in
this country, and to the magnificent labors of Parnell, Davitt, Redmond,
Ferguson, Dillon, Kettle, Webb, and others in Ireland, is due in a large
measure the present state of the people, resulting from the sacrifices made
by those who supported this greatest of leagues devoted to the amelioration
of unbearable economic conditions. A Ladies's Auxiliary to the Land League
was established by the sisters of Parnell, and was for some years a
brilliant vindication of the power and justice of feminine participation in
public questions.
     The Land League, the name of which was changed to the Irish National
League in the early '80's, having prepared the path to eventual victory,
declined in potency after the political movement was divided into
Parnellites and Anti-Parnellites in 1890. The elements comprising these
rival parties were, through the initiative of William O'Brien, M.P., and in
commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the United Irishmen of
Wolfe Tones' day, joined in 1898 under the name of the United Irish League,
John E. Redmond becoming the first president and also the chairman of the
Parliamentary Party which had been instrumental in uniting. This
organization is now a living, vital force in the affairs of Ireland on both
sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Redmond being still its head, with Michael J.
Ryan, of Philadelphia, as president of the American branch.
   The Knights of Columbus were organized in 1881 by Rev. Michael
McGivney, in New Haven, Connecticut, and a charter was granted by the
Connecticut Legislature on March 29, 1882. At first the activity of the
organization was confined to Connecticut, but the time was ripe for its
mission, and it soon spread throughout New England. In 1896 it began to
attract the attention of Catholic young men in other parts of the nation,
and during the next few years its appeal was made irresistibly in almost
every State. It now exists in all the States of the Union, the Dominion of
Canada, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Panama, Porto Rico, Mexico, Cuba and the
Phillipine Islands, with total membership of 328,000, of whom 108,000 are
insurance members and 220,000 associate members. Its mortuary reserve fund
is $4,500,000, being over $1,000,000 more than is required by law. It is one
of the most successful fraternal societies ever organized, and the
Irish-American Catholics have given to it the full strength of their
enthusiasm and purpose.
     The temperance movement among Catholics was, from the visit of Father
Mathew in 1849, largely Irish. The societies first formed were united by no
bond until 1871, when the Connecticut societies formed a State Union. Other
states formed unions and a national convention in Baltimore in 1872 created
a National Union. In 1878 there were 90,000 priests, laymen, women, and
children in the Catholic Total Abstinence Benevolent Union. In 1883 the
Union was introduced into Canada, and in 1895 there were 150,000 members on
the American continent. From the C.T.A.B.U. were formed the Knights of
Father Mathew, a total abstinence and semi-military body, first instituted
in St. Louis in 1872.
   The Catholic Knights of America, with a membership chiefly
Irish-American, were organized in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1877, and the
advantages offered for insurance soon attracted 20,000 members. The decade
of the '70s was prolific of Irish Catholic associations. The Catholic
Benevolent Legion was founded in 1873, shortly followed by the Catholic
Mutual Benevolent Union, and the Society of the Holy Name, which latter,
although tracing its origin to Lisbon in 1432, is yet dominately Irish in
America.
     In the large industrial centres there are scores of Irish county and
other societies composed of Irishmen and Irish-Americans, organized for the
service of country and faith, beneficence and education, and all dedicated
to the uplifting of humanity and to the progress of civilization. The
ancient genius for organization has not been lost, the spirit of brotherhood
pulsates strongly in the Irish heart, and through its powerful societies the
race retains it place in the advance of mankind.

References:
     John M. Campbell: History of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and
Hibernian Society; Maguire: The Irish in America; McGee: Irish Settlers in
America; John O'Dea: History of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the
Ladies' Auxiliary in America; Michael Davitt: The Fall of Feudalism in
Ireland; Cashman: Life of Michael Davitt; T.P. O'Connor: The Parnell
Movement; Joseph Denieffe: Recollections of the Irish Revolutionary
Brotherhood; Articles in the Catholic Encyclopedia; Report of the Knights of
Columbus, 1914; The Tidings, Los Angeles, 7th annual edition.



 

 


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2001 Cathy Joynt Labath