Founded on May 4, 1836, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) was established to bring together Irish Catholic communities to fight the bigotry put upon the Irish and Catholics in America; especially in New York and Pennsylvania. The early AOH in America remained a defensive, yet secret, society, and while little is known of its specific activities, it is known that it assisted Irish immigrants in obtaining jobs and social services. Membership was well-guarded and restricted to Irish-born. Even minutes books used member numbers instead of names to protect identities. The first national conventions of the Order were held in New York, but as the Order grew, other jurisdictions began seeking the honor, with Boston becoming the site of the first non-NY gathering. Other controversial issues of the early Order included opening membership to Irish Americans so that American-born sons of immigrants could join and the right of the AOH in Ireland to speak for the Order when they were still dominated by the Crown. At the same time, the militant Fenian Brotherhood began to infiltrate the AOH and run their people for top AOH offices. 

Through many years of division within the Organization, the AOH has withstood these divisions to become a prominiant International Organization looking to defend Irish and Catholic values anywhere it is found. Today, the AOH have done many things to support many charities while providing a showcase for the positive contributions the Irish have made in every walk of American life. Divisions and Hibernian Halls across the country have traditionally provided a welcome for new immigrants. Here, the unique art, dance, music, and other interests of the Irish are fostered and preserved, making the AOH a home away from home for many. They are at the forefront of support for issues concerning the Irish such as Immigration Reform, MacBride Legislation, and the Right to Life. They serve their Church well, yet, they never forget their ancestral homeland, and can always be found lobbying, praying, and working for the total independence of a united 32-county Ireland –– as their constitution avows: “by all means constitutional and lawful”.

The initials AOH may tell the story best. Those who say it means Add One Hour are describing the easygoing, no rush attitude of many of its members, while America’s Only Hope has been used to define the loyalty of the Irish to the principles of their adopted land. In any case, its members are best described by the statement, “To be Irish is a Blessing, To be a Hibernian is an Honor”.

For more information, please check out the National AOH website.