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Ancient Order of Hibernians in Belfast and Derry visit

(Seán P Feeney, Irelandclick.com)

Representatives of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the United States visited Belfast and Derry at the weekend to present donations to numerous charitable organisations and also to attend the Bloody Sunday commemorations, writes Seán P Feeney.

Dave Burke, National Director of the AOH, past National AOH President George Clough Jr, and Bob Collins of the National AOH Board attended various meetings, including an annual function at the Felons Club on Friday.

"For those of us on the National Board, like George, Bob and myself, it's really not a socialising trip. Because of the positions we hold and the offices we hold we have a great degree of responsibility. We are here to get the latest information and attend important meetings," said Dave Burke.

"It was because of George Clough that we started this and we give money to about six or seven organisations, such as the Green Cross and the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry."

The AOH has been giving money to help the dependants of prisoners since 1972.

"In 1990 George and I owned gift shops and used to come over to the trade show at the RDS in Dublin. So we said why don't we hand-carry the cheques over. A few years later we thought, why don't we go to Belfast as well?

"So for the last 14 years we've been coming to Belfast and we go to a function at the Felons Club and we've been very privileged to give a little talk on the campaign for human rights. We usually get anywhere from 100 to 200 people, and a senior official of Sinn Féin usually holds an educational presentation."

George Clough said that the campaign has expanded now that most republican prisoners have been released.

"Initially, for the first ten years it was to help the dependants of the people in Long Kesh. The money is substantial. We have raised well over a quarter of a million dollars in the past 15 years, maybe more."

Bob Collins said that this money comes from various projects that the AOH runs throughout the year in the States.

"Dave has started a 'Ten Club', where every member gives ten dollars apiece throughout the country. We've raised quite a bit of money that way and every year during the month of December our National Chairman, Brendan Moore, does the AOH Christmas Appeal for political prisoners. We ask people to give a voluntary donation and whatever we raise we then disperse to the coordinating bodies over here."

The American representatives of the AOH met with the members of the AOH in Derry on Saturday. Their National Chaplain, Father Patrick Sullivan, held a Mass at the AOH Club in Derry on Saturday.

AOH members from the States also flew over to march in the Bloody Sunday commemoration.

"We try and use it as an educational campaign and bring our members over here and have a few lectures and go to the Bloody Sunday march."

Dave said there is one main project that the AOH is working on for the next ten years.

"I introduced a resolution at a convention last year to have advance planning for the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. We don't want the thing to be hijacked, we want it to be educational and of substance. We are hoping to have negotiations with the Irish government so that a full course is introduced on 1916 in all the schools."

Past projects to which the AOH have made large donations include the 1798 Wolfe Tone Memorial in Kildare and the St Brigid's Shrine in Dundalk.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, formed in New York in 1836, is the oldest Catholic lay organisation in the United States.

Today they are the largest Irish ethnic society in the world with Divisions across the United States, and close ties with the AOH in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

Annual dances, concerts and parades sponsored at all levels of the Order raise millions for charity while providing a showcase for the positive contributions the Irish have made in every walk of American life.

February 13, 2006

This article appeared first on the Irelandclick.com web site on DATE, 2006.