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History of the

ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS IN AMERICA
by Mike McCormack, AOH National Historian

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) is the oldest Catholic lay organization in America. Officially formed in New York in 1836, it was born in anger centuries earlier in Ireland, after successive invasions by those who tried to master the Irish, and alter their Gaelic life style. Inflexible opponents like the Vikings were fought until their power was broken; others, like the Normans, were absorbed until they became as Irish as the Irish themselves. Through it all, the Irish maintained their language, traditions, and religion. But in the Sixteenth century, a concentrated attack, unswervingly focused on the most precious part of their heritage - their religion - and proved to be their greatest challenge.

Since the time of St. Patrick, the Irish had become such devoted followers, and dedicated champions of Christianity, that Ireland became known as the Isle of Saints and Scholars, sending missionary monks to the far corners of the world. In contrast, the Church on the continent became more materialistic, and protests against abuses of power by some clergy,  led to attempts by others to reform the Church. A period of Protestant Reformation swept Europe in the 1500s, marked by Royal intrigues over control of the Church's wealth. Conflicts over which religion could be practiced led to violence in many countries. In England, the Reformation made inroads from the reigns of Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, who finally declared the Church of England (Anglican) as the State religion. At the time of this declaration, Elizabeth considered Ireland part of her state, and even though the Irish didn't agree with that assessment, the Roman Catholic religion, which St. Patrick had brought them, and to which they had been faithful , was proscribed and its clergy outlawed.

The Papacy launched a counter-reformation, and Ireland became a battlefield between the two forces as the Irish, who had embraced the Roman Church, became the target of a campaign to reduce the power of Rome by converting the masses to Protestantism. Anglo Lords in Ireland provided a base from which assaults on Irish religion were launched, and in the conflict, great tracts of land were confiscated and given to Crown supporters who professed the State' religion. They became the landlords who governed the future of the native population. The Irish fought the theft of their lands, and the persistence with which they clung to their religion drove the English to extremes in repression. Penal laws disenfranchised Irish Catholics from the political, social, and economic life of their own country; with their religion outlawed and their clergy on the run, they became an underground society practicing their faith in secret. Not surprisingly, secret societies were formed to protect the values under attack. In various locales, groups with names like Whiteboys, Ribbonmen, and Defenders were identified with attacks on landlords, but each included in its avowed purpose the protection of the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy. As time passed and governments prevailed, some societies were suppressed, but most immediately reorganized under a new name for the same purpose: defense of faith and homeland.

History provides us with the names of many of these organizations, and even limited details of some. We know, for example, that the motto of the Defenders in 1565 was Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity, but the secret manner in which these societies operated left few records for modern analysts. As a result, a true history of their times may never be written. Today's AOH with its motto "Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity" is the most recent link in the evolution of these ancient societies. Organized in Ireland for the purpose of defending Gaelic values, and protecting Church and clergy, it is the successor to the secret societies of old. Although the name AOH can only be traced back to 1641, the organization can claim continuity of purpose and motto unbroken back to the Defenders of 1565. The extension of that organization to America came in much the same manner as its birth in Ireland. The rise of the Native American Party, or Know Nothings as they were called, ushered in an era of unparalleled bigotry in 19th Century America. Not only were "No Irish Need Apply" signs evident in major American cities, but legislation, reminiscent of the penal laws was sought against the immigrant population who, it was stated, diluted American principles, and professed loyalty to a foreign prince - the Pope. The massive influx of Irish, fleeing starvation and disease in their native land, and professing the Roman faith, focused Know Nothing bigotry on that unfortunate group.

After several attacks on Irish and Church property, the Irish immigrant resorted to a familiar tactic. Those, who had been members of the AOH in Ireland, banded together in this new land, and in 1836, formed an American branch of their Order. True to their purpose, they stood guard to defend Church property, and though actual attacks were few and far between, the long, cold, and lonely nights of vigil were many. The early AOH in America remained a secret society, and little is known of its activities except that it provided a monetary stipend to immigrants who arrived as members in good standing from the Irish Order, and they assisted Irish immigrants in obtaining jobs and social services. Quite naturally, the early AOH Divisions were nurseries for the preservation of Irish culture and traditions in America.

In large measure due to the significant contributions of the Irish in defending the Union during America's Civil War, it became unfashionable to be anti-Irish, and the bigoted Know Nothings faded away, taking their No Irish Need Apply signs with them. The AOH, on the other hand, grew stronger, following Irish immigrants as they worked their way across the country. As the need for militant support of their Church dwindled, the AOH shifted its purpose to charitable activities in support of the Church's missions, community service, and the promotion and preservation of their Irish cultural heritage in America. Today they stand, not only as the oldest Catholic Lay organization in America, but as the largest Irish society in the world with Divisions in Ireland, and 49 of the United States.

The AOH in America is partitioned into Divisions, County Boards, and State Boards, and is governed by a National Board elected every two years. The Division is the basic unit in the Order, and membership in a Division is membership in the Order. Even County, State, and National Officers, maintain membership in a local Division. Annual dances, concerts, and parades sponsored by all levels of the Order raise millions for charity, while providing a showcase for the positive contributions of the Irish to every walk of American life. Divisions usually support local charities within their geographic areas, while sending a portion of their monies to higher levels for support of state, national, and international charities. Subcommittees are often established to perform specific functions such as the administration of an annual Feis or Festival, the raising of a historic memorial, or providing instructions in such Irish subjects as history, bagpiping, dancing, and language.

The many Divisions and Hibernian Halls across the country have also traditionally provided a welcome for new immigrants. Here, the unique art, dance, music, and other interests of the Irish are fostered and preserved, making the AOH Hall a home away from home for many. Together, they are at the forefront of support for issues concerning the Irish, such as Emigration Reform, MacBride Legislation, and the Right to Life. They never forget their ancestral homeland either, and can always be found actively lobbying for, praying for, and working for the total independence of a united 32-county Ireland, as their constitution avows: "by all means constitutional and lawful."



 History of the
ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS IN IRELAND
by Thomas F. McGrath, Cleveland, Ohio USA, 1898

"The Ancient Order of Hibernians, as its name indicates, is a society composed exclusively of Irishmen by birth or descent, and practical Roman Catholics, organized in Ireland for the preservation of the Catholic Church and the protection of the priest and schoolmaster, who were hunted like wolves, with a price set upon their heads and those who would grant them a shelter or refuge. Of these day of persecution and suffering, Edmund burke said, that the ingenuity of the human intellect never devised an instrument so calculated to exterminate a race or degrade a nation as the system of British tyranny did to the Irish people. There has been a great deal said as to when and where the Ancient Order of Hibernians was first organized. Some authorities place it at 1642, when Pope Urban the Eighth sent his blessing to the Irish people and encouraged them in their fight for God and country. Again, it is given as 1651, in Connaught, after Cromwell's infamous edict of "To Hell or to Connaught." The History of the Ancient Order of Hibernians is practically the history of Ireland, as its members took an active part in all the struggles and efforts of the old Celtic Chiefs to throw off the hated Saxon yoke. According to such authorities as MacGeoghegan's and Mitchell's, Wright's, Leekey's, O'Holleran's, and Robinson's History of Ireland, it was organized in 1565 by one Rory Oge O'Moore in the county of Kildare, Province of Leinster, Ireland. In 1565 the Earl of Sussex issued a proclamation making the penalty death to any priest found in the Province of Leinster. It was then that Rory Oge O'Moore organized the Defenders. He made arrangements with the clergy to erect rude altars in the mountain fastnesses, and there have the people attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Without printed constitutions or a code of laws for their guidance they met together, not in gilded and upholstered halls, with rich carpets, but in the mountain fastnesses with the canopy of heaven for a shelter and the stars their only guide to the trysting place. Strong hands grasped in friendship and true hearts beat in unison, bound together by sacred ties and untied for a common purpose, they resolved to resist to the utmost every encroachment of despotism upon the liberties and rights of people and pledged eternal friendship, hallowed by their country's misfortune. Rory sent out fleet-footed and trusted men to inform the Catholics of the country where the priest would read the next Mass. He placed sentinels on the hilltops to give warning to the people of the approach of sacrilegious intruders. Those sentinels stood on the hills and mountains while the winter winds howled and moaned around them with the sleet cutting into their unprotected faces.

They found a place to shelter the hunted priest. Sometimes it would be in an isolated cabin in the mountain's glens, where he would be welcome with a Cead Mile Failte regardless of the danger incurred for a harboring a priest, but often it would be in the cold dismal caves in the mountains.

In 1577 Sir Francis Cosby, commanding Queen Elizabeth's troops in Leix (Laois) and Offaly, concocted a fiendish plot to murder the chief families of the Irish clans with the full knowledge and approval of Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland. Cosby feigned great friendship for the Irish and invited them to a grand feast in the rath of Mullaghmast. The O'Nolans, O'Kellys, O'Moores, etc responded to the invitation, and as they entered the rath they were seized and butchered by the blood-thirst Sassenach. One hundred and eighty of O'Moore's kinsmen were massacred that day. Rory tracked Cosby and his minions with a sword of vengeance, and when they least expected, he would swoop down upon them and with fire and sword and exact a terrible revenge. Cosby was slain at the Yellow Ford, near Armagh, at the bloody battle of Glenmalure, wit the red flag of England in the dust and Lord Gray de Wilton and his Saxon army flying before the terrible charge of the Irish under the command of Feach McHugh O'Bryine of Ballinacor. The avenging sword of the Defenders sought out Cosby and swiftly sent him before his God to answer for his crimes.

The annals commemorate the death of Rory Oge as follows: Rory Oge, son of Rory, son of Conall O'Moore, fell by the hand of Brian Oge, son of Brian McGilla Patrick, June 30. 1578. After the death of Rory, Donald O'Driscoll was elected chief of the Defenders, who continued to protect the priest and harass the Red coats until December 24, 1594, when with six of his men he was escorting the Rev. Father O'Connor to the trysting place near Bray, County Wicklow, where he was to celebrate the midnight Mass. They were surprised by a company of English soldiers, and, after a bloody fight, Donald and his companions were killed. Donald's head was taken across the sea and placed on a spike on the Tower of London. Thus died the founders of the Ancient Order of Hibernians - fighting for church and country. Donald was succeeded by Owen O'Moore, son of Rory Oge, who continued in the same line as his father, besides assisting the old Celtic chiefs in their efforts to drive the British tyrants out of Ireland. Owen was with Hugh O'Neil at the siege of Armagh and on August 10, 1595, the Defenders distinguished themselves by their bravery at the battle of Clontribet, and as a token of merit they were detailed by O'Neil to lay siege to Porteloise, a fort held by the English in Leix. After a five days' siege the fort surrendered. The Defenders now joined O'Neil in the attack on Portmore Castle and continued with him until he drove the English and Scotch from the north and west of Ireland. The people of the north and west enjoyed two years of peace and prosperity under O'Neil's government, but in 1601 Queen Elizabeth sent the butcher, Sir Peter Carew, to Ireland as Lord President. With the view of breaking O'Neil's power he forged letters purporting that they came from Earl Desmond, offering to betray his confederate, O'Connor. Those letters were shown to O'Connor and with and offer of friendship and a thousand pounds from Carew if he would forestall Desmond and hand him a prisoner to the English. This O'Connor did. Carew next induced Nial Garv O'Donnell and Art O'Neil to take up arms against Hugh O'Neil. Carew having the Irish divided, placed himself at the head of British troops and put man, woman and child to the sword, old and young, not even sparing the innocent babe in its mother's arms. Ireland being under the dominion of the English, once more, the Defenders took to the mountains, there defying England and her hirelings. Owen now commenced to increase the membership of his organization by uniting with other Irishmen, who like himself, refused to submit to British rule in Ireland. Branches sprung up all over the northern and western parts of the country. They were known by different names, such as Tories, Rapparees, Defenders, etc.

England offered large rewards for the capture of Owen O'Moore, dead or alive, who continued to defy them until he was captured through the treachery of a traitor, one Corney Doyle, on the night of May the 12th. Owen and Captain O'Brien were returning to their rendezvous after leaving Father O'Roarke in the cabin of a friend. They were fired upon by British soldiers, who lay in ambush awaiting their return. O'Brien was killed instantly, while Owen was dangerously wounded and taken prisoner. Two days later he was taken before a magistrate and given a hurried trial, after which he was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. He was executed on the morning of May 16, 1619, four days after his arrest. The Defenders continued under different leaders from the death of Owen until they became part of an oath-bound organization, known as the Confederation of Kilkenny. In 1641 the prelates and laymen of the church issued a proclamation calling upon all Catholics to take the oath. Sir Phelim O'Neil was appointed to the command of the old Irish, who were tall and huge of frame. Lords Gormanstown and Mountgarret have charge of the Anglo-Irish, who was weak and low of stature. The Lords of the pale or Anglo-Irish are the descendants of Strongbow and other adventurers, who invaded Ireland from 1169 and at thew time of the Reformation stood true to the Roman Catholic Church. Hence they were called the gentry of the pale. The Lords of the Pale now became convinced that their kindly feeling towards England could not protect them when their tenants on their own estates were being mobbed and murdered by the blood-thirsty demon, Coote, who could smile and become facetious when an infant was writhing on the pike of a soldier, and his barbarities in Wicklow are beyond description. His threats of not leaving a Catholic in Ireland began to gain some truth. Finglas, Clontarf and Santry were the scenes of the most wanton and brutal murders. Thus it was that the old Celtic Irish and the Lords of the Pale met on the hill of Crofty and plighted a solemn vow and swore to bury in oblivion the feuds and dissension's which had for four hundred years wasted their strength and now left them a prey to he designs and hatred of the common enemy. At the meeting in Knockcrofty, in county Meath, were present Sir Phelim O'Neil, the Earl of Fingall, Lords Slane, Neeterville, Gormanstown, Trimbleston, Mountgarret, Dunsany, Colonel Hugh McMahon, the Very Rev. Heber McMahon, Vicar General of Cogher, Sir Conor McGinnis, etc. Lord Gormanstown presided. Delegates were elected to attend the National synod in the City of Kilkenny, October 14, 1642, it being the first annual meeting of the Federation. At this meeting there were eleven spiritual and fourteen temporal peers and 226 commoners, representing the Catholics in Ireland. Lord Mountgarret was chosen president at the annual meeting and six people as delegates for each province.

FOR MUNSTER: The Viscount Roche, Edmund Fitzmaurice, Sir Daniel O'Brien, Robert Lambert, Dr. Fennell and George Comyn.

FOR ULSTER: The Archbishop of Armagh, the Bishop of Down, Colonel Hugh McMahon, Philip O'Reilly, Heber McGinnis and Turlough O'Neil.

FOR CONNAUGHT: The bishop of Clonfert, the Viscount Mayo, and the Archbishop of Tuam, Sir Lucas Dillon, Patrick Darcy and George Brown.

FOR LEINSTER: The Archbishop of Dublin, Nicholas Plunkett, Richard Belling, James Cusack, Lords Gormanstown and Mountgarret.

Those delegates represented four-fifths of the people of Ireland. They formed the National government under whose legislature the Catholics struggled for three years against bigoted and tyrannical England for the right to worship god according to their conscience. Had the Catholics abandoned all that they were taught to believe sacred and forswear it in public, there is no system of impiety, blasphemy or atheism into which they might throw themselves and profess it openly, with the sanction of the British government, provided that they abjure the roman Catholic Faith. The Catholics, however, adhered to the faith of their ancestors, taught them by the holy St. Patrick, and defied the British government of its hirelings in their prosecutions and confiscation's, and stood true to the Church of Rome. In 1642 the Defenders lost their identity as a national organizations. They became part and parcel of the Confederationists, but as an organization they continued to hold together and were assigned to the command of Phelim O'Neil. Pope Urban the Eighth sent Father Scarampi with a purse of $30,000 and his blessing to the Irish Catholics. King Charles the First now became alarmed at the action of the Irish and decided to treat with them for peace. He appointed the Marquis of Ormond as peace commissioner, urging him to use all his powers in diplomacy (treachery) to bring the Irish to terms. At the first conference held in Ormond's Camp at Sigginstown, on September 15, 1643, a compromise treaty was effected as follows:

First -- The Catholics of Ireland are to enjoy the free and public exercise of their religion.

Second -- They are to hold and have secured to them all Catholic churches not now in the hands of the Protestants.

Third -- The Catholics shall be exempt from the jurisdiction of the Protestant clergy.

Fourth -- The Catholics agree to send 10,000 men to assist King Charles at Chester. The old Celtic Chiefs were forced to accept the terms, as the Lords of the pale threatened to leave the Federation and take up arms for King Charles if the terms were rejected. Mr. Nugent Robinson, in referring to the treaty says: "The Irish by signing the treaty of Sigginstown lost their golden opportunity. The tide which set in so gloriously for the Irish independence rolled back it sobbing waves slowly and sadly toward the English coast and has never since returned with the same hopeful freedom and overpowering strength." The treaty being a compromise, as they were fighting for country and conscience. Before 1644 the English ruthlessly and dishonorably violated the treaty and the persecutions of the Catholics continued with increased vigor and hatred. October 21, 1645, John Baptist Rinuccini, the envoy of Pope Innocent the Tenth, landed in Kenmare Bay with supplies, besides #36,000, 2,000 muskets, 2,000 pike heads, etc,. Sent by Father Luke Wadding. Rinuccini sent the supplies and arms to Owen Roe O'Neil, urging him to strike another blow for God and country. O'Neil was not slow in accepting the invitation, for on June 1, 1646, he marched with 5,000 foot and 400 horse to attack General Monroe, who was then at Armagh. Monroe having a much superior force than O'Neil came forth to give battle on the morning of the fifth of June. O'Neil kept him engaged for four hours, when Monroe resolved to retreat to Armagh. Own Roe, seeing the advantage gained, gave the command to charge. With the cry of vengeance the Irish dashed down upon the enemy and after a fierce and bloody struggle the English fled, leaving 3,000 dead upon the field. Monroe fled so precipitately that he left his hat, sword and cloak upon the field. The Irish had 70 killed and 200 wounded. Thus ended the battle of Benburb, a glorious victory for church and country. Owen Roe O'Neill died suddenly at Cloughoughter Castle, County Cavan, November 6, 1649, while on his march south against Cromwell, who had landed in Ireland August 14, 1649. The murders and massacres that followed from the siege at Drogheda to Hugh Dubh O'Neil's evacuation of Clonmel were ferocious, savage and brutal. On and after September 11, 1654, rewards of five pound sterling were offered for a priest's or wolf's head. Any person giving shelter to a priest should suffer death and the loss of their property. Any person knowing the place of concealment of a priest and not disclosing it to the authorities was publicly was publicly whipped and suffered loss of both ears. Everything that the ingenuity of the human intellect could devise was resorted to crush the people and stamp out of existence the Catholic Church of Ireland.

A.M. Sullivan in his splendid work, the Story of Ireland, quoting from Cassel's History of Ireland, says: "the eighteenth century was the era of persecution in which the law did the work of the sword. Then was established as code framed with almost diabolical ingenuity to extinguish natural affection, to foster perfidy and hypocrisy, to petrify conscience, to perpetuate brutal ignorance, to facilitate the work of tyranny. By rendering the vices of slavery inherent and natural in the Irish character, and to make Protestantism almost irredeemably odious as the monstrous incarnation of all moral perversions. Having no rights or franchise; no legal protection of life or property; disqualified to handle a gun even as a common soldier or a gamekeeper; forbidden even to acquire the elements of knowledge at home or abroad; forbidden even to render to God what conscience dictated as his due; what could the Irish be but abject serfs? What nation in their circumstances could have been otherwise? Is it not amazing that any social virtue could have survived such an ordeal? That any seed of good, any roots of national greatness could have outlived such a long tempestuous winter?

In 1695 the following laws were enacted under Lord Capel: Catholic gentlemen were fined 60 pounds ($300.00) for absence from Protestant form of worship. They were forbidden to travel five miles from their houses, to keep arms, t maintain suits at law, any four justices of the peace could without further trial banish any man for life, if he refused Protestant services. Any two justices of the peace could call any man over 16 years of age before them, and if they refused to renounce the Catholic religion, they could bestow his property to his next of kin. No Catholic could employ a Catholic schoolmaster to educate his children, and if he sent his child abroad for education, he was fined 100 pounds ($500), and the child could not inherit any property either in England or Ireland. Any Catholic priest who came to the country should be hanged. Any Protestant suspecting another Protestant of holding property in trust for any Catholic, might file against the suspected trustee, and take his property from him. Any Protestant might take away the horse of a Catholic, no matter how valuable, by simply paying five pounds ($25.00). Any Catholic gentlemen's child, no matter how young, by becoming a Protestant could take possession of his father's estate and property, and have a guardian appointed.

Any Protestant seeing a Catholic tenant on a farm that in his opinion yielded one-third more than the yearly rent, could, by swearing on the same, take possession of the farm. Horses and wagons belonging to Catholics were in all cases to be seized for the use of the militia.

Those were days that tried men's souls when the sons and daughters of Erin would steal into the mountain glens and valleys under the cover of night to be present for the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there to kneel in prayer while the cold winter winds howled and shrieked around them. The Defenders stood as sentinels to give warning of the approach of the bandogs of the law who were seeking the head of a priest that they might claim the five pounds reward offered by the English government.

On one occasion a congregation of Roman Catholics were assembled in a church in Dublin to adore the living god. The Protestant justices hearing of it dispatched to the chapel a host of sacrilegious ruffians of whom, to their eternal dishonor, the leaders were the archbishop, the mayor and recorder of Dublin. They entered the chapel in them midst of divine service, dragged the priest from the altar, hacked and hewed the images and other ornaments and like common robbers purloined the crucifixes, copes and chalices and other valuables. According to Sheridan a ruffian is a brutal, boisterous, mischievous fellow, and would any but a ruffian head a licentious band of mercenary soldiers in an attack upon an unarmed and defenseless body of men, women and children in the solemn act of worshipping the living God, or deface and destroy his altars and purloin the ornaments consecrated to his worship? Were the question taken on this point among the million of candid men there would, I feel confident, be a unanimous negative vote.

Matters continued in this condition until 1745, when the Catholics were granted the right of public worship. Priests and friars went around unmolested, enjoying a freedom they were denied for over a century. Although the penalty of death for being a priest was withdrawn and the right granted to the people to worship God in public, persecutions of the Catholics continued for over a hundred years longer, as in 1847, when famine and pestilence ravaged our fair land. When tongue of the nursing child stuck to the roof of its mouth form thirst and died on its mother's breast. The base and treacherous hand of England could be seen using hunger as an instrument of torture, trying to get the unfortunate Catholic to forswear his religion and sell his birthright for a mess of pottage. The Defenders now turned their attention to the persecuted farmer, who was evicted, from his holding on every pretext that the ingenuity of the agent of an absentee landlord could devise, and the farm turned into pastureland to raise cattle for the English market. The unfortunate farmer is driven to squat upon the bogs and marshes trying to raise a crop upon the cut-away bogs, and trying to make soil by scraping down the barren rock from the mountainside. The condition of the peasantry was most pitiable. The little plots f potato ground were let at a rental of six pounds sterling per acre, but this was not paid in coin; it was worked out at the rate of six pence per day, so that for one acre of potato ground a man had to work 240 days for the landlord, leaving him on 73 days to toil for himself and family, pay the tithe to the Protestant clergyman and contribute to the support of the parish priest. The Defenders organized branches throughout the north and west of Ireland. Their object was the protection of the laborer in his wages and to prevent wherever possible the ejectment of farmers from their holdings, who were unable to pay oppressive rents and tithes, to prevent land grabbing, and the putting of farms and houses up to the highest bidder. In 1760 kindred organizations made their appearance in the south of Ireland, known as White Boys, Levelers, etc. The country was in a deplorable condition. Farmers were evicted with their families, and without industries or other resources to procure and existence. Can it be wondered at the crimes committed? Is it reasonable to expect that the Catholics could be satisfied with magistrates and landlords who acted towards them only through the medium of their prejudices and bigotry? Lord chesterfield, speaking of the unsettled state of the country, in the fifth volume of his letters, says it can be ascribed to the sentiment in every human breast, that asserts man's natural rights to liberty and good usage, and which will and ought to rebel when provoked to a certain degree.

Committees were appointed by the British parliament to inquire into the cause of Irish disturbances. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, in his book, "Causes of Irish Disturbance," at page 49 cites the evidence of an inspector of police taken before this committee: --Question. To what do you attribute the long disturbances prevailing among the lower order in Munster? Answer. I think a great deal of the disturbance has arisen about the rents. The land during the war was set very high in most parts of Ireland and in peace there was a great reduction in the price of produce and the landlords were proceeding to distress the tenantry by demanding those high rents which the produce of the land did not enable them to pay and I think that caused a number of persons to be turned out of their farms and from that arose a number of outrages from distressed tenants. Another witness is asked what was the object of these movements. Answer: - It appears that it originated from the conduct of a gentleman on the estate of Lord Countenay in the county of Limerick. He was very severe toward the tenants and the people who were in wealth previous to his coming were reduced to poverty and they thought proper to retaliate upon him and his family and upon those who took their land. Mr. Leslie Foster, a member of parliament, when asked his opinion, says: "I think the proximate cause is the extreme physical misery of the peasantry coupled with their liability to be called upon for the payment of different charges which it is often practically impossible for them to meet." The immediate cause of these disturbances I conceive to be the attempt to enforce these demands by the various processes of law. The next to be examined, who was Chief Justice Blackbourne of the Queen's Bench, who says in reverence to an eviction on the estate of Lord Stradbroke" The agent, attended by the sheriff, went upon the land and prostrated the houses leaving the people that were thus deprived of their houses on that occasion was very large. I am sure that there were about forty families, but I cannot tell you the number of individuals. They were persons of all ages and sexes and in particular an old woman almost in the extremity of death. Q. What do you conceive became of them? A. I should think they have been received from charity up and down the country.

Sir George Cornewall Lewis, in summing up the evidence, says: All the above witnesses in a remarkable manner with regard to the causes of the whiteboys disturbances. All trace them to the miserable condition of the peasantry - to their liability to certain charges, the chief of which is rent, which they are very often unable to meet, and to their anxiety to retain possession of land which is to them a necessary of life, the alternative being starvation. With the dread of this alternative before their eyes it is not to be wondered at that they make desperate efforts to avert it. That crime and disturbance should be the consequence of actual ejectment is still more natural.

The wretched condition of the mass of the Irish peasantry, their inability to obtain employment for hire and their consequent dependence on land drive them to a system of combination of self-defense against ejectment from their holding to be driven to utter destitution; to a state in which himself and family can only rely on a most precarious charity to save them from exposure to the elements, from nakedness, and from starvation. It is natural that the most improvident person should seek to struggle against such fearful consequences as these, that they should try to use some means of quieting apprehensions which would themselves be sufficient to embitter the life of the most thoughtless; and it is to afford this security that the Ribbon combinations was formed.

The Ribbonmen's association may be considered as a vast trades union for the protection of the Irish peasantry, the object being not to regulate the rate of wages or the hours of work, but to keep the actual occupant in the possession of his land and in general to regulate the relation of landlord and tenant for the benefit of the latter.

Mr. Baron Fletcher, reviewing the causes of the disturbed state of Ireland, in his address to the grand jury in the County of Wexford in 1814, said in part: Ribbonism is the product of oppression. The mere pittance, which the high rents leave the poor peasantry, is taken from them by large county assessments. Roads are frequently planned and made not the general good of the country but to suit the particular views of a neighboring landholder at the public expense. Such abuses shake the very foundation of the law. They ought to be checked. Superadded to these mischief's are the permanent and occasional absentee landlords residing in another country, not known to their tenantry but by their agents who exact the uttermost penny of the value of the lands. If the lease happens to fall they sell the farm by public auction to the highest bidder, no gratitude for past services, no preference of the fair offer, no predilection for the ancient tenantry, be they ever so deserving. But is the highest price be not acceded to, the depopulation of the entire tract of country ensues. What then is the wretched peasant to do? Chased from the spot where he had first drawn his breath, where he had first seen the light of heaven, incapable of procuring any other means of existence, vexed with those exaction's I have enumerated and harassed by the payment of tithes, can be surprised that a tenant of unenlightened mind, of uneducated habits, should rush upon the perpetuation of crime, followed by the punishment of the rope and the gibbet? Nothing remains for them thus harassed and thus destitute, but with strong hand to deter the stranger from intruding upon their farms and to extort from the weakness and terrors of their landlords (from whose gratitude or good feeling they have failed to win it), a kind of preference for the ancient tenantry.

In 1771 the Steel Boys made their appearance in the north of Ireland. They were the predecessors of the Orangemen. 1780 came the Protestant and Peep O'Day Boys. In 1795 came the Orangemen. The British government looked upon every Irish Catholic as being a rebel and treated him as such. The magistrates encouraged Orangemen in their persecutions of the Catholics, whose houses they burned, murdered the inmates, wrecked their churches and desecrated their altars. The Catholics were driven from the place of their birth, where they first saw the light of heaven, and were arrested and punished for crimes committed by the Orangemen. Such unheard of cruelty and unmitigated acts of barbarity as was practices by judges and Orangemen are without a parallel in the annals of any country in Christendom save Ireland herself in the days of Elizabeth and Cromwell. It is absurd to imagine that justice could be fairly administered when the administration of justice was in the hands of Orangemen, who were opposed to everything Roman Catholic, and are sworn to do all in their power to exterminate the Papist of Ireland, and yet the Catholics were expected to be loyal to a government which not only deprived them of their civil rights, but places the execution of the laws in the hands of their bitterest enemies. It now became necessary that the Catholics should combine for self-preservation against the common enemy. The Defenders of the north and the White Boys of the south joined hands and adopted the name Ribbonmen. They used two pieces of ribbon as the symbol of their organization - green and red. The green denoted unity, and the red blood for blood. This organization rendered valuable aid to the unfortunate Catholic, who goes to the Orange agent a few shillings short in his rent and begs for a few weeks time to make up the deficiency. This bigoted Orangeman takes the money and hurls it at the unfortunate man's head and orders him to return with the full amount in two hours or he would eject him from his holding. This insolent agent displays his bigotry by pouring invective upon the poor man's head, whose only crime is his poverty. His spirit is broken down with the struggles and sufferings of life, yet he hears his honesty impugned, his efforts ridiculed and his character blackened" There cannot be any sympathy between these men, one is the oppressor, the other the oppressed. This struggling man is told he is to have no home, no house to shelter himself, his wife and children to be turned out upon the cold world without the means to sustain their physical existence. He has sold his wheat, oats and meal at a ruinous loss to try to make up the rent to satisfy this tyrannical agent. Is it any wonder that crimes were committed? That landlords and agents were assassinated when the people had to deal with such demons as Lord Leitrim and his kind, who would drive the people to desperation and rob their daughters of their honor? One day the bailiffs and constabulary appeared near Ballymena, County Antrim, to eject a poor and feeble old woman, the Widow McGuire, from her little farm. The people from the neighboring parishes assembled and determined if possible to prevent the ejectment, but resistance was of little avail, as the bailiffs and constabulary were there in force and well armed. The bailiffs led the poor old woman out of her cabin and her feeble and trembling limbs, gray hair and miserable appearance, added to her great age, produced a strong impression upon the spectators. Next came her little grandchildren and their mother in tears. The bailiffs cast their bed and bedding with what little furniture they possessed into the road and leveled the house to the ground. Thus was evicted the Widow Mollie McGuire, whose name afterward became so famous from being signed to all threatening letters and notices sent out by the Ribbonmen and others. The Orangemen posted notices on the doors of Catholic families ordering them to leave the place. If they did not leave at the time specified on the notice they would assemble at night, burn down the houses and force the families to fly for their lives. The Orangemen, encouraged by the magistrates, continued their hellish pastime of burnings and murdering. In 1796 they either murdered or drove from their homes in the county of Armagh, 7,000 people. The wretched people had no place of shelter to fly to. Some of them took to the mountains; others were put in prison and died. The young men were packed off to the seaport and drafted on board of an English man-o'-war. Is it any wonder that the Ribbonmen held midnight meetings and devised plans by which they would protect themselves from murdered and the hirelings of a bigoted government, who advocated the extermination of the Papist by fire and sword? In 1808, during the administration of the Duke of Richmond, a party of Orangemen fired into an assemblage of Catholic men, women and children who were enjoying themselves around a garland pole at Corinshiga, a mile and a half from the town of Newry. One man by the name of McKeown was killed and several wounded. One of the magistrates, a Mr. Waring, sent the depositions of the Catholics to the officials at a Castle in Dublin, asking the government to issue a proclamation offering a reward for the apprehension of the murderers. The secretary, Mr. Traill, replied that the government declined to take any steps in the matter.

In July of the same year the Orangemen murdered the Rev. Father Duane at Mountrath. In 1809 they murdered a Mr. Kavanagh in his own house, beating out his brains in the presence of his wife and children. Again at Baliesborough in the county of Cavan, the Orangemen attacked the house of the parish priest, fired several shots and left the priest for dead. Not satisfied with this they wrecked the chapel and insulted and wounded every Catholic that they met that day. Still the government refused to take any steps to protect the Catholics or punish the guilty Orangemen. Is it any wonder that the Ribbonmen sometimes took the law into their own hands and retaliated on those miscreants who were encouraged in their acts of crime against the Catholics by the government?

Edmund Burke says the crimes of the English against the Irish people may justly be regarded one of the blackest pages in the history of persecutions. Again, in speaking of the disturbed condition of the country, he says: "these rebellions were not produced by toleration, but by persecutions. They arose not from just and mild government, but from the most unparalleled oppressions." After one hundred and sixty years of penal laws and persecutions, God, as if by miracle, preserved the faith, virtue, vitality and power of the Irish race. Branches of the Ribbonmen began to spring up in England and Scotland under the names of the Hibernians society and the Hibernia Sick and Funeral Society, as the name Ribbonmen was outlawed by the British government. In 1825 the name in Ireland changed from the Ribbonmen to that of St. Patrick's Fraternal Society. It is not to be supposed that all these changes took place in harmony, as there were a large number of the members who rebelled against those changes and withdrew from the order and continued under the name of Mollie McGuires and Ribbonmen, especially in the county Antrim.

In those days one hundred pounds were offered by the English government to any person who would give private information where a body of Ribbonmen might be found. Although the Irish were poor and crushed by the minions of England, yet there was not one among them who would be Judas enough to take the blood money offered by a blood-thirsty government. This grand and noble society cemented its members together in the bonds of friendship, unity and true Christian charity. There were no sick benefits connected with the order at that time. But the members were at all times to assist each other in every way possible when a member would arrive in England or Scotland and had a traveling card or the password and sign and if he was in distress he would receive immediate aid from the brothers he would meet. As each district pro parish master, as they were then called, had on hand a fund of money from which he would assist the members who were in distress. There was work found for the new arrival and he was made to feel that he was a member of an organization that had for its object friendship, unity and true Christian charity. The men who organized, fought and died for the Ancient Order of Hibernians are gone, but their memory still lives. Star after star sinks and leaves darker the gloom which lowers over the land of the shamrock - the country that produced a Swift, Burke, Grattan, Flood, Curran, Goldsmith, Davis, Sterne, Moore, Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Fitzgerald, Saarsfield, Montgomery, O'Connell, Mitchell, Meagher, Parnell, Biggar, Sexton, Griffin, Davitt, Daly, Sir Charles Russell, and a bright galaxy of illustrious characters. A country which has furnished almost every nation in Christendom with the statesmen and warriors, driven from their native soil by lordly despotism, rampant injustice and religious intolerance. A land which has produced the men on whom the destinies of Europe often depended in the field and in the cabinet.

The people and the peoples' leaders are passing away, but the Ancient Order of Hibernians continue to grow and assist the Catholic Church in her onward march for the salvation of mankind. Wherever the A.O.H. may be established there you will find its members as missionaries aiding the sick and those of their race when in distress. W thousands of emigrants who have emigrated to this land of liberty have been assisted in procuring employment and aided in every way possible by the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. In 1836 some of the members who had immigrated to America wished to organize a branch of order in New York City. They communicated their desires to their brothers in Ireland and in June they received the following instructions from the men in Ireland to wit:
Brothers, greetings - be it known to you and all it may concern, that we send to our brothers in New York full instructions with our authority to establish branches of our society in America. The qualification for membership must be as follows: 

First - All members must be Roman Catholic and Irish or Irish descent, and of good and moral character, and none of your members shall join in any secret societies contrary to the laws of the Catholic Church, and at all times and at all places your motto shall be: "FRIENDSHIP, UNITY AND TRUE CHRISTIAN CHARITY."

You must love without dissimulation, hating evil, cleaving good. Love one another with brotherly love, without preventing one another, let the love of brotherhood abide in you, and forget not hospitality to your emigrant brother that may land upon your shores, and we advise you, above all things, have natural charity among yourselves.

Also be it known unto you that our wish and prayer is that when you form your society, in many cities or towns, you will do all that is in your power to aid and protect your Irish sisters from all harm and temptation. As the Irish woman is known for her chastity all over the world; some of them may differ from you in religion, but, brothers, bear in mind that our good Lord died for all, therefore be it known unto you that our wish is that you do all that you can for the Irish emigrant girls, no matter who they may be, and God will reward you in your new country, and doing this you will keep up the high standing and honor of the Irish in America.

We send these instructions to you, hoping that you will carry them out to the best of your ability. Be it know unto you that you are at liberty to make such laws as will guide your workings and for the welfare of our old society, but such laws must be at all times according to the teaching of the Holy Catholic church, and the obligation that we send you, and all of your workings must be submitted to any Catholic priest, when called for. We send you these instructions, as we promised to do with a young man that works on the ship, and who called on you before. Send a copy to our late friend that you spoke of and who is now working the Pennsylvania. Hoping the bearer and this copy will land safe, and that you will treat him right, we remain your brothers in the true bonds of friendship, this 4th day of may, in the year of our Lord, 1836."


PATRICK McGUIRE, County Fermangh
JOHN REILLY County Cavan
PATRICK McKENNA County Monahan
JOHN DERKIN County Mayo
PATRICK REILLY County Derry
PATRICK BOYLE County Sligo
JOHN FARRELL County Meath
THOMAS O'RORKE County Leitrim
JAMES McMANUS County Antrim
JOHN McMAHON County Longford
PATRICK DUNN County Tyrone
PATRICK HAMILL County Westmeath
DANIEL GALLAGHER Glasgow, Scotland
JOHN MURPHY Liverpool, England



 

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