Patriotism to America was manifested in AOH recognition of Irish contributors to America, even before its existence, such as Patrick Carr, shot in the Boston Massacre; the 22 Irishmen who died at Lexington and Concord; Washington’s spy-master, Hercules Mulligan and many others. Support was given by monuments from Timothy Murphy who turned the tide at the Battle of Saratoga to Commodore John Barry, first flag officer of the US Navy. They also supported the erection of a Celtic Cross over the grave of Colonel William Thompson, first officer of the new US Army who led Pennsylvania’s Line of Ireland in the American Revolution. The AOH sponsored research and writings on the Irish involvement in American historic milestones from the American Revolution to the War of 1812 and the defense of the Alamo. But they were especially diligent in promoting activities that Hibernians were involved in like the number of our members in the ranks of the Fighting 69th Regiment of New York. When the AOH was less than 25 years old, the American Civil War erupted and many members went to fight for the part of America that they had adopted – both north and south. In some cases, entire Hibernian Divisions went off to war and sadly were often in the companies or regiments that faced each other on the battlefield. The legendary Irish Brigade had many Hibernians, not only from New York, but from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as well. In remembering their fallen brothers, the AOH has helped to erect memorials at most major battlefields of that war, including the last one allowed at Antietam. It stands at the end of Bloody Lane and memorializes not only the Irish Brigade, but their commanding general, whose likeness adorns the memorial. Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, who led the Irish Brigade, was a member of the AOH and is also honored in a 2009 memorial erected by the Montana AOH at Fort Benton, where Meagher met his untimely death while serving his adopted country as acting Governor of the Montana Territory.
Another particular Hibernian hero was Donegal-born Medal of Honor recipient Michael Dougherty who enlisted in the Union army at the early age of 16. He was captured and spent 23 months in Southern prisons. After his release, he was homeward bound on the steamship Sultana when the ship’s boiler exploded. Of 2000 passengers, he was one of only 900 to survive. Finally, after 4 years of trauma, the weary 21- year-old Union Veteran reached his hometown of Bristol, PA. where he started a new Division of the AOH and where a memorial statue was erected to his memory.
When General Sherman threatened to burn Atlanta to the ground in his march through Georgia, he was confronted by Cavan-born Father Thomas O’Reilly. The courageous priest told Sherman that if the churches of Atlanta weren’t spared, he would instigate a mutiny by the Irish Catholic soldiers in Sherman’s command and back them up with a local division of the Hibernian Rifles. At first Sherman wanted to have Fr. Tom shot, but reconsidered. He reluctantly spared all five churches and the City Hall, with all its records, which happened to be in the center of the church district. A memorial to Fr. Reilly as the savior of Atlanta is the focus of an AOH wreath-laying ceremony in Atlanta every St. Patrick’s Day. In a small room below Atlanta’s Church of The Immaculate Conception are museum-style glass cases with artifacts of the Church’s history. In one of those cases, beside a portrait of Father O’Reilly, lies his membership ribbon from Atlanta AOHDivision 1.
Once given, Irish loyalty is steadfast. The Irish who had given that loyalty to the southern cause in the American Civil War contributed greatly to their adopted states. The AOH-funded memorial to Lt. Dick Dowling is evidence of that. Dowling, with 44 mostly Irish men held off a Union Navy flotilla of 5,000 men attempting to invade Texas and captured 350 of them. His monument in Houston’s Herrman Park has been the focus of a wreath laying ceremony each year by the AOH on St. Patrick’s Day. It is only one of the many such memorials so honored.
AOH Loyalty reached a pinnacle at the Freedom Foundation’s Park at Valley Forge, PA, where 7-foot, 7-inch high fiber-glass replicas of the Washington Monument were erected in one-acre Medal of Honor Groves for each state, Puerto Rico and Washington DC with medal recipients from that jurisdiction engraved thereon. It was learned that 150 men from 14 countries were not listed anywhere since their records were lost or they were signed up right off the boat and never established residence. Not surprisingly, most were of Irish birth. After several organizations were unsuccessfully solicited for support, the AOH volunteered to erect an obelisk not only to the forgotten Irish, but all the previously forgotten heroes not listed elsewhere. A nation-wide fund-raising campaign ensued and on August 24, 1985, the AOH Tara Pipe Band of Massapequa, NY led a parade of dignitaries into a new one-acre grove at the park entrance. The US Marine color guard posted the Irish and American colors as the US Navy Band played the anthems of both nations and a seven-foot obelisk of Wicklow Granite, donated by Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey and shipped and erected by the AOH, was unveiled before a tearful assembly in what will always be known as the Irish Grove. The ladies also joined in paying tribute to the 150 unheralded Medal of Honor recipients for to view the memorial comfortably, one may rest on the concrete benches on either side provided by the LAAOH.
Through all America’s wars and troubled times, the AOH was always in the front lines of America’s defense from those in the military to the Hibernian men and women on the home front who bought and sold the war bonds to those who worked in the factories building the machines to support the fighting men. There were also men like Andrew Jackson Higgins who designed and built the landing craft known as the Higgins Boat. General Eisenhower noted that, Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us. … If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.
One of the most emotional symbols of America’s history is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery which contains the remains of American soldiers from WWI, WWII and Korea. Each was awarded the Medal of Honor which are on display inside the Memorial Amphitheater at the rear of the Tomb. Also on display in that amphitheater is a large wooden shamrock on which a plaque reads: A TRIBUTE TO THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER by the ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS IN AMERICA. In 2010, the AOH again demonstrated its loyalty when the Medal of Honor Groves at the Freedom’s Foundation were found to have suffered 25 years of neglect due to budget restraints and was left in disgraceful condition according to local officials. The AOH again offered its time and resources to restore not just its own Irish Grove, but the entire park to its pristine condition. A commitment was made and a nationwide effort for fund-raising and labor ensued. The amount of work necessary was considerable and AOH past National President, Seamus Boyle, committed that the entire park will be maintained in perpetuity to insure that the memorials to America’s Medal of Honor recipients will never again fall into disrepair.