About the Ancient Order of Hibernians, The National Organization
The AOH is a Catholic, Irish-American fraternal organization founded in New York City in 1836. The Order can trace its roots back to a parent organization, of the same name, which has existed in Ireland for over 300 years. While both share a common thread, the North American AOH is a separate and much larger organization. The Order evolved from a need in the early 1600’s to protect the lives of priests who risked immediate death to keep the Catholic Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the reign of Henry VIII. When England implemented its dreaded Penal Laws in Ireland, various secret societies were formed across the country to aid and comfort the people by whatever means available.
Similarly, the AOH in America was founded May 4, 1836 at St. James Church in New York to protect the clergy and Church property from the “Know Nothings” and their followers. Anti-immigrant sentiment was high at that time and the Irish would soon be arriving in peak numbers, escaping the Great Hunger and other persecution in their native land. Many Irish social societies sprung up and grew during this period, but the largest was, and continues to be, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Active across the US, the Order, along with the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, have traditionally been among the first to welcome new Irish immigrants. Here, the Irish culture – art, dance, music, and sport are fostered and preserved. 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; human rights as addressed in the MacBride legislation; Right-To-Life; and a peaceful and just solution to the issues that divide Ireland.
Divisions now come together to better understand who they are as Irish-Americans and to live out the motto of Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity. The Biennial AOH/LAOH National Convention is a highlight for many, when Hibernians from around the country gather in a major US or Irish city to elect national officers and share ideas for promoting Irish culture and heritage and other Hibernian causes. Louisville has hosted three National Conventions: one in 1888 (at that convention they voted to allow those of Irish descent into the Order) in 1994, and recently in 2018. All three were held at the Galt House and it was reported that all had a good time! In fact, many across the country believe that the Louisville Division has thrown there most favored Conventions.
A Capsule History of the AOH in Louisville by Paul Whitty, Esq.
Although the Irish came to Kentucky long before 1836 (e.g. Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton) when the order was established in New York City, a Division was not formed in Kentucky’s largest city until May 31, 1874. According to city directories, there were as many as six AOH divisions in existence by the late 19th century. Divisions had their own halls or used other organizations’ facilities in various parts of town including Portland, the oldest western area; centrally at the Odd Fellow’s Hall and at St. Louis Bertrand Church serving the Limerick neighborhood near the railroad yards; and at what was then the eastern most precinct at St. Brigid Church in what is now called the “original Highlands.” A county board was established which refereed various internecine disputes and organized the amalgamation of the various divisions as the AOH eventually contracted.
… Minutes from 1895 to 1917 amply describe the activities of the AOH during the period: “There were frequent euchre parties and dances, and in later years, the divisions rented movie theatres and charged admission on “Hibernian Night.” Irish movies – those that have Irish-American themes and characters, were shown whenever theatre managers could get them. Before the days of silent movies, some Divisions staged plays such as the popular “Coleen Bawn.” In 1896, Division Six presented a drama honoring Robert Emmett, and in 1898 Division Two gave a gramophone concert. Each July, the Divisions combined ranks for a big picnic, usually at Phoenix Hill Park and beer garden. River steamers were chartered for moonlight excursions. Besides sponsoring social and cultural functions, the AOH was a benevolent society. Each member was entitles to $5 per week sick benefits, which was a sufficient sum at the time, and a deceased member’s family received a $50 death benefit plus some funeral expenses. Each Division mainitained an “employment committee” pledged to find jobs for brothers out of work, as many were in those days. When a family could not meet expenses, the Division frequently contributed groceries, and coal in the winter…
The AOH in Portland… material gathered by Doris Batliner.. CJ 3/17/06
In the mid 1870’s, the AOH in Portland built a three story hall at 18th and Portland. The first floor contained offices and a 3-room apartment for a caretaker, the second floor was used for meeting space, and the third floor was a ballroom for parties and dances. Each year, the men would lead the St. Patrick’s Day procession (which also included the Sons of Erin and the St. Vincent dePaul Society) into St. Patrick’s Church for Mass (now a local landmark). Afterwards, they would proceed to the clubhouse to continue the festivities.
In 1875, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed… according to the first secretary, Rose McCouen, Doris Batliner’s great-great-aunt, they decided to sit together inside the church in their white dresses and hats and green AOH ribbons (they were not allowed to process in with the men) and then walk with the men back to the house. Outside the church, they were joined by a boys’ school-band which played “The Wearin’ o’ the Green” and neighbors along Market St., despite the driving wet snow, all came out to watch… there is some speculation that this was Louisville’s first St. Patrick’s Parade!
Meriam-Webster defines a Hibernian:
(noun) of, relating to, or characteristic of Ireland or the Irish
First Known Use: 1632
Hibernia as a national personification representing Ireland appeared in numerous illustrations and drawings, especially in the nineteenth century.
Hibernia is the Classical Latin name for the island of Ireland. The name Hibernia was taken from Greek geographical accounts. During his exploration of northwest Europe (c. 320 BC), Pytheas of Massilia called the island Ierne (written Ἰέρνη). Claudius Ptolemaeus (“Ptolemy”) called the island Iouernia (written Ἰουερνία) in his book Geographia (c. 150 AD). Iouernia was a Greek alteration of the Q-Celtic name *Īweriū from which eventually arose the Irish names Ériu and Éire. The original meaning of the name is thought to be “abundant land”.
It is likely that the Romans saw a connection between these historical names and the Latin word hibernus meaning wintry. In any case, the Roman historian Tacitus, in his book Agricola (c. 98 AD), uses the name Hibernia.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians is America’s oldest Irish Catholic Fraternal Organization founded concurrently in the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania and New York City in May,1836. Learn more about the history of our organization here