AOH History

The AOH is a Catholic, Irish-American fraternal organization founded in New York City in 1836. The Order can trace its roots back to a parent organization, of the same name, which has existed in Ireland for over 300 years. While both share a common thread, the North American AOH is a separate and much larger organization.

The Order evolved from a need in the early 1600's to protect the lives of priests who risked immediate death to keep the Catholic Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the reign of Henry VIII.  When England implemented its dreaded Penal Laws in Ireland, various secret societies were formed across the country to aid and comfort the people by whatever means available.

Similarly, the AOH in America was founded May 4, 1836 at St. James Church in New York to protect the clergy and Church property from the "Know Nothings" and their followers. Anti-immigrant sentiment was high at that time and the Irish would soon be arriving in peak numbers, escaping the Great Hunger and other persecution in their native land.  Many Irish social societies sprung up and grew during this period, but the largest was, and continues to be, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Active across the US, the Order, along with the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, have traditionally been among the first to welcome new Irish immigrants. Here, the Irish culture - art, dance, music, and sport are fostered and preserved. Newcomers can meet some of "their own" and are introduced to the social atmosphere of the Irish American community.  The AOH has been at the political forefront for issues concerning the Irish such as: Immigration Reform; economic incentives - both here and in Ireland; human rights as addressed in the MacBride legislation; Right-To-Life; and a peaceful and just solution to the issues that divide Ireland.

Divisions now come together to better understand who they are as Irish-Americans and to live out the motto of Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity.

Facts about the Ancient Order of Hibernians

  • The AOH is the oldest lay Catholic ethnic organization operating in the United States.
  • The Hibernians represent the most broadly based Irish-American organization with over 46,000 members in 46 States, Canada and Ireland.
  • The twin constitutional goals of the Irish and Catholic membership is to assist in the re-unification of Ireland, support the church and its mission and promote Irish culture.
  • Support the raising of monuments to famed Irish or Irish-Americans (Commodore Barry, Robert Emmett) and memorials to events like the Great Hunger or the slaughter of abortion which are in every major American city, ie: Mobile, AL (Fr Abram Ryan), Washington, DC (Nuns of the Battlefield), Valley Forge, PA (Medal of Honor grove), and Chicago, IL (Mt Olivet Cemetery).
  • The history of the AOH lies not just in big cities but tracks America’s expansion West along the Lewis and Clark Trail (St Anne’s, Great Falls, MT), along the Cherokee trail (Sacred Heart, Pueblo, CO) and along side the Central Pacific Railroad from Ogden, UT (St. Joseph’s) to Sacramento, CA (Old Cathedral).
  • The march of the AOH across the continent stretches from first stop on the National Road (St Patrick’s, Cumberland, MD) to Seattle, WA (St James Cathedral) with lesser known stops along the way that have all but vanished…Hinckletown IA; Snoddy’s Mill, IN; Kalo, IA; Forty Fort, PA; Irwin, GA and Iron Mountain, MO.
  • Early history and growth of Hibernians is linked to mining for gold (Yreka, CA), copper and silver (Butte & Anaconda, MT), iron ore in Escanaba, MI (St Patrick’s) and Mt Pleasant, PA (St Joseph’s), hard rock mining (St Peter’s, Rutland, VT) and coal in Schuylkill Co, PA. where the infamous Molly Maguire trials were held
  • Hibernians shared meeting halls with other fraternal societies like the Foresters, Odd Fellows, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Pythias, and the GAR but were bitter opponents of the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish Know-Nothings who burned and attacked Catholic churches throughout the country.
  • Members of the AOH have included labor leaders Terrence Powderly and John Sweeney, Bishops John Lennon and Fulton Sheen, and John Cardinal O’Connor, astronaut James McDevitt, President John F. Kennedy, insurance industry leader Bill Flynn, actor Pat O’Brien, Civil War General Thomas Francis Meagher, and recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor