Ancient Order of Hibernians History:
The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) is the oldest Catholic fraternal organization officially formed in New York’s St. James Church in 1836.
Since the time of St. Patrick, the Irish had become such devoted followers, and dedicated champions of Christianity, that Ireland became known as the Isle of Saints and Scholars, sending missionary monks to the far corners of the world.
Today’s AOH with its motto “Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity” is the most recent link in the evolution of ancient societies. Organized in Ireland for the purpose of defending Gaelic values, and protecting Church and clergy, it is the successor to the secret societies of old. Although the name AOH can only be traced back to 1641, the organization can claim continuity of purpose and motto unbroken back to the Defenders of 1565. The extension of that organization to America came in much the same manner as its birth in Ireland.
After several attacks on Irish and church property, the Irish immigrant resorted to a familiar tactic. Those, who had been members of the AOH in Ireland, banded together in this new land, and in 1836, formed an American branch of their Order. True to their purpose, they stood guard to defend Church property, and though actual attacks were few and far between, the long, cold, and lonely nights of vigil were many. The early AOH in America remained a secret society, and little is known of its activities. Quite naturally, the early AOH Divisions were nurseries for the preservation of Irish culture and traditions in America.
As the need for militant support of their Church dwindled, the AOH shifted its purpose to charitable activities in support of the Church’s missions, community service, and the promotion and preservation of their Irish cultural heritage in America. Today they stand, not only as the oldest Catholic fraternal organization in America, but as the largest Irish society in the world with Divisions in Ireland and 49 of the United States.
The many AOH Divisions across the country have traditionally provided unique art, dance, music, and other interests of the Irish are fostered and preserved, making the AOH a home away from home.