Ancient Order of Hibernians: A Bridge to Irish Catholic Tradition 

By Kristin Boza 

The Ancient Order of Hibernians may sound like a super-secretive club; in fact, it was founded as one hundreds of years ago in Ireland. But today’s reality is that the Ancient Order of Hibernians are the oldest and largest Irish Catholic fraternal organization in the United States, dedicated to preserving its heritage and welcoming Irish immigrants to America.  

Today’s iteration of the AOH seeks to live out its motto of “Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity,” according to Tim Noonan, Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 59 president.  

“Founded just before the Irish famine in 1847, the Hibernians were known to protect the clergy and churches from groups that were against the newly arrived immigrants. Active across the United States, the Hibernians aid the newly arrived Irish, both socially and economically,” Noonan said. “The many Divisions and club facilities located throughout the U.S. have traditionally been among the first to welcome new Irish immigrants. Here, the Irish culture in art, dance, music, and sports are fostered and preserved. The Hibernians have been at the vanguard of issues concerning the Irish, such as immigration reform; economic incentives both here and in Ireland; the human rights issues; and a peaceful and just solution to the issues that divide Ireland, such as Brexit.” 

The idea behind the Hibernians is to establish and preserve a bridge between Irish immigrants in America and Irish Americans to Ireland itself. Two divisions of the Hibernians are in Cook County, with four throughout the rest of Illinois; the south side of Chicago is Division 59, named after John F. Kennedy. 

The Hibernians host Hibernian Talks, a series of events open to the public where they gather to discuss numerous relevant Irish topics. Recent topics include: Irish American stained-glass artist Thomas O’Shaughnessy who created the windows in Old St. Pat’s; the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscripts created by Irish monks; the Catalpa, the prison break of six Irish patriots in penal colony Australia who were brought back to the U.S., Achill Island and the enduring legacy of the men and women from the western island of Ireland’s County Mayo; and they held a Wren Day celebration on St. Stephen’s Day for a night of traditional music and dance. 

“Today, it is very difficult to keep a group like the Ancient Order of Hibernians relevant. Many have closed and are in the waning days. Yet, our division is making ourselves relevant by hosting events, thereby keeping our Irish heritage alive,” Noonan said. “As we too-often witness places of worship as targets of hate crimes, the Hibernians have experienced this in the past and believe then — as they do now — that all houses of worship should be honored and venerated. We will stand up, together, to stamp out hatred for the religious and immigrants.” 

The Hibernians regular division meetings occur on the second Weds. of the month at 8 p.m., 9701 S. Kedzie, Evergreen Park, and service opportunities occur regularly. To find out more, contact Tim Noonan, Division 59 president, 773-852-3080. 

 

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