Ancient Order of Hibernians

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Ancient Order of Hibernians

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) of the United States is a benevolent association founded in New YorkCity in 1836. There was a parent association in Ireland which probably had its origins among the secret societies of the eighteenth century, but the early history of the order in Ireland is largely unknown. The AOH itself was never a secret society, though it did have some secret procedures similar to those in Freemasonry and Orangeism. The secret Molly Maguires, who sought to improve Pennsylvania coalminers' conditions through violence during the 1870s, operated within the AOH but were soon disclaimed; the "Mollies" remained as a pejorative nickname for the order in Ireland. At their heights around 1910 the U.S. order had 100,000 members and the Irish order 60,000. The organizational unit was the division, which elected representatives to county/state and national bodies. Membership at first was restricted to Catholics of Irish parentage, then broadened to include those of Irish descent. Initially proscribed by Catholic Church authorities, the AOH later won their acceptance, although some leading Irish clergy never liked the existence of such a specifically Catholic organization under lay control.

Though linked historically, and by an agreement to accept the transfer cards of migrating members, the orders in Ireland and the United States were independent. The U.S. order was split during the years 1884 to 1898, mainly over the predominance of the New York City divisions and rivalry between the factions of leaders John Devoy and Alexander Sullivan. The Irish order was small until the moderate nationalist Joseph Devlin (1871–1934) developed it as a political machine to stiffen the declining United Irish League. His movement benefited from recognition of the AOH as an approved society by the United Kingdom's National Insurance Act of 1911. Under Devlin's influence the U.S. order favored constitutional nationalism for Ireland in the years 1902 to 1906 and 1910 to 1914; at other times it supported revolution. The main purpose of both orders was mutual support among emigrant and minority communities, underpinned by an appeal based on parades and nostalgia. It was thus stronger in divided Ulster and in Britain than in southern Ireland. After 1918 its political importance waned: In Britain it delivered Irish support to the Labour Party, whereas in Northern Ireland it acquired a "green Tory" image. By the 1980s it had about 20,000 members in the United States and a smaller number in Ireland.

SEE ALSO Orange Order: Since 1800; Roman Catholic Church: 1829 to 1891; Roman Catholic Church: Since 1891; Sodalities and Confraternities


Funchion, Michael F., ed. "The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America." Dictionary of Irish-American Organizations. 1983.

Hepburn, A. C. A Past Apart: Studies in the History of Catholic Belfast. 1996.

A. C. Hepburn

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Ancient Order of Hibernians