The Ancient Order of Hibernians in Columbus
By: J. Michael Finn, Division and State Historian
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America
The Ancient Order of Hibernians is the oldest Catholic lay organization in the United States. The fraternal Order traces its roots back to a parent organization that has existed in Ireland for over 400 years. Although the name Ancient Order of Hibernians can only be traced back to 1641, the Order claims continuity of membership and motto unbroken to the Defenders of 1565. The Order evolved from a need in the late 1500s to protect the lives of Catholic priests. These priests faced immediate death for keeping the Catholic faith and sacraments alive in British occupied Ireland during the reign of English Kings and Queens. The early Hibernians served as guards, protecting priests who were forced to celebrate Mass in secret in the Irish glens and mountains in violation of the English law. Through the efforts of the Hibernians, the Catholic faith was preserved and Ireland remained a Catholic nation.
As the Irish sought their freedom in America in the 1800's, the Order was again called upon to defend the Church from attack. The nativist Know-Nothing Party was attacking Catholic priests and burning Catholic Churches. The Irish in America recognized a familiar enemy and they resorted to a familiar tactic. They banded together in unity in their adopted land to protect the Catholic Church and their fellow Irish Immigrants.
On May 4, 1836 at St. James Church in New York City, they founded a new American organization. This organization was known as the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, and true to their Irish heritage, they stood together to defend the Church, often at the risk of their own lives. The organization soon spread westward across the United States.
The Early History of the AOH in Columbus, Ohio
It was in the autumn of 1875 when a small but determined group of Irishmen moved to Columbus, Ohio from Sharon and Wheatland, Pennsylvania. They settled in the part of Columbus known as “Flytown,” which was located in the northwest section of Ohio's capital city. These men decided to bring the Ancient Order of Hibernians to Columbus. After several preliminary meetings, many of them “held under the shade of the trees in Goodale Park,” the first division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in Franklin County, was organized in March 1876.
The Ohio State President, Peter Dumphey of Cincinnati, came to Columbus to install the division and its officers. The installation meeting was held in the Sessions Building located at 118-120 North High Street on the southeast corner of Long and High Sts in Columbus. (the building, known as the Sessions Bank Block, was torn down in 1923).
The new division grew and prospered thanks in large part to Columbus Bishop Sylvester H. Rosecrans who, in April 1876, was asked for his opinion regarding the new Division. He replied, “A few weeks ago we noticed the organization in this city of a branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The members composing the division here we found to be honest, upright, intelligent, and good practical Catholics, who regarded their faith more than their own heart’s blood, and would not knowingly be guilty of a breach of the laws of the Church.”
The Division made its first public appearance on July 4, 1876 when it marched as a unit in the parade commemorating the Centennial Celebration of American Independence.
In December of 1877 the Division donated a stained-glass window to St. Patrick’s Church in Columbus as part of a remodeling that was going on at the church. The window exists today and depicts St. Patrick Explaining the Holy Trinity. In 1889 Division #4 was founded at the new Holy Family Church in Columbus. This division donated a window depicting St. Phillip and St. James the Less to the new west-side church.
Membership in the division grew as prominent Irish-American citizens of Columbus joined the group. Men such as, Michael Burns, Police Commissioner; Thomas J. Dundon, Police Commissioner, business leader, as well as, future National Treasurer of the Ancient Order of Hibernians; Jerry O'Shaughnessy, Columbus Water Commissioner and political leader; Patrick A. Egan, Columbus Coroner; James T. Carroll, Columbus printer and Catholic news editor, who would serve as National Secretary of the Order. The Hibernians quickly became the dominant Irish group in Columbus and each year organized the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
So fast was the growth of the Hibernians in Columbus that soon there were a total of five divisions, each serving a geographical area of the Capital City. In addition, in 1900 James T. Carroll founded Company A of the Hibernian Rifles, a military division of the Order. Their first appearance as a unit was St. Patrick’s Day 1901. The Hibernian Rifles were recognized for their volunteer efforts by the Mayor of Columbus for their assistance in opening a bridge across the Scioto River during the tragic 1913 flood in Columbus, facilitating rescue and relief efforts on the West Side.
Times changed, however, in the late 1920s and early 1930s the Hibernians began to die out in Columbus. The many divisions and units began collapsing with the last division in early Columbus being known as the Amalgamated A.O.H. Division. However, the Irish spirit of the “founding fathers” of the Hibernians in Columbus was never completely extinguished.
A New Division Comes to Columbus
Forty years ago, on May 5, 1979 an article appeared in the Columbus Dispatch. It read: “The Ancient Order of Hibernians is out to form a Columbus chapter and will hold a meeting for Catholics who are Irish by birth or descent at 8 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus hall, 555 East Broad Street.”
After years of hard work by A.O.H. National Director Michael Coogan of Dayton, Ohio and Michael Muldowney of Bridgeport, Ohio, sufficient men were found in Columbus to allow a return of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. On Wednesday, July 11, 1979 a new division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians was formally organized in Columbus. The installation program began with Mass in St. Patrick's Church offered by Father William T. O'Shaughnessy, O.P.
Following the Mass, the A.O.H. Degree Team from Dayton administered the Degree of the Motto in St. Patrick’s Social Hall. State President John A. Keaton, Jr. and National Director Michael Coogan installed the division. Michael Muldowney was toastmaster for the evening's ceremonies and the reception that followed the Mass. The new division was named for Patrick H. Pearse, poet, author, educator and commander-in-chief of the Irish Republican forces in the 1916 Irish Rebellion. The Charter Members of the Patrick Pearse Division were as follows:
Robert L. Black Thomas McNally
Richard Bolton James T. Moore
James P. Comer Patrick R. Moran
Msgr. John T. Ditto John C. O’Connor
Ronald Eaton William O’Reilly
Timothy Feeney Robert E. O’Shaughnessy, Jr.
David Hartigan Kevin J. Talty
William M. Malone George Ryan
The Patrick Pearse Division officers installed on July 22, 1979 were as follows:
Father William T. O’Shaughnessy, O.P., Chaplain
Terence O'Shaughnessy, President
James P. Comer, Vice-President
Kevin Talty, Recording Secretary
William Leahy, Financial Secretary
Drew Connor, Treasurer
John Delaney, Chairman of the Standing Committee
Paul Lynch, Marshall
Dave Schafhausen, Sentinel
The Patrick H. Pearse Division grew in size and strength. Meetings were held wherever space could be found. This “noble band of tinkers” was without a permanent home. This situation soon changed when in 1988 when the division took up residence at St. Patrick's Social Hall in Columbus. They named the hall “Tara Hall” after the ancient coronation site of Irish kings.
Having a home allowed the division to grow and add new members. The division became active and influential in both the state and national A.O.H. organizations. In 1997 the division reached the level of 300 members, making it the largest division in the State of Ohio.
The National Organization of the AOH has adopted many programs initiated by the Patrick Pearse Division, including the flag alteration ceremony, a membership incentive drive known as “300 Men and 3 Men” and a campaign that raised funds to benefit St. Paul's Parish in Belfast. This initiative collected over $70,000 to aid the struggling parish and their parish center in the north of Ireland.
In April 1999, faced with the loss of its adopted home, the division was forced to leave St. Patrick's Social Hall and seek other quarters. A period of homelessness and legal battles followed. Eventually, in early February 2003 the legal storm clouds were removed and the division set its sights on a return to the basic work of the Order. Much like the mythical phoenix, the Division reestablished itself as an active and vital force in the Columbus Irish Catholic Community.
The Patrick Pearse Division once again was forced to rely on the kindness of others as we returned to our roots as a “noble band on tinkers.” During this period the division met at the Shamrock Club and at Zeno's Bar in Columbus. A gracious offer of assistance was received from our friends in the Germania Society of Columbus and the division shared their meeting space at their hall in German Village from 2007 until 2009.
In March 2009 the division purchased its own building, also christened “Tara Hall,” at 274 East Innis Avenue in the south end of Columbus. Through the hard work of our members and friends we once again had a permanent home in Columbus. The first division meeting was held in the new Tara Hall on March 12, 2009. The Division has gradually upgraded our home and has purchased two pieces of adjacent property, expanding our footprint in the neighborhood.
As the members of the Patrick Pearse Division work to build a stronger foundation in the City of Columbus, they look forward to the future of continuing contributions to the Columbus Irish Community. With God's help and blessings the Patrick Pearse Division will continue to operate under the precepts that have governed the Ancient Order of Hibernians for over 400 years. These precepts are set forth in the motto of the A.O.H. - Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.
History Updated: June 27, 2019
Note: This history is respectfully dedicated to the memory of A.O.H. brother John Joseph Cook (1851-1940), the first Vice-President of Division #1 in 1876. Brother Cook was the last surviving charter member of the original 1876 Columbus division. Without his diligent efforts, much of our early Hibernian history in Columbus would have been lost.
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