Loyalty to Ireland is one of the strongest attributes of the AOH and has been manifested in strengthening ties between their two nations. It is seen in such programs as support for the joint issue of postage stamps honoring prominent Irish Americans like inventor John Holland, tenor John McCormack, and White House architect James Hoban. It has been conveyed in the donation of Irish books to American libraries and American books to Irish libraries like those made to Ireland’s National Library on the Irish experience in America. Loyalty to both nations was never more evident than in the establishment of a Buy Irish committee at all levels of the Order
It was also seen in the support and management of a short-lived fleet of trans-Atlantic steamships called the U.S. Irish Line which encouraged tourism for the mutual benefit of both countries. As one AOH advertisements noted: Ireland will turn toward America for her needs in farming implements, agricultural and mining machinery and a thousand other necessities of American manufacture; in turn, Ireland will send to America vast amounts of raw materials, finished articles from her mills and thousands of tons of dairy and farming products.
In 1985, NY State President Ray Meehan read that Irish Patriot Tom Clarke had moved to Suffolk County before returning to Ireland to organize the Easter Rising. Ray assigned State Historian, Mike McCormack, to find the home-site for the purpose of erecting a memorial. With a committee consisting of Mike McKenna, Bob and Carol Mahon, they found it in Manorville. A national fund-raiser was organized and in 1987 an obelisk of Wicklow Granite carved in Ireland was erected. It has been the site of an annual memorial ceremony on Low Sunday every year since. In 1996 the name of Kathleen Daly Clarke was added to the monument by the Ladies AOH as the Historian’s office shared her biography with them outlining her significant Republican activities. As recent as June, 2018, the AOH in County Tyrone honored New York State and Suffolk County AOH for establishing and preserving the memorial to the Clarkes at their former Manorville home-site. The honors were bestowed at a special ceremony in Thomas Clarke’s hometown of Dungannon by Tyrone AOH County President Gerry McGeough who presented plaques to NY State Secretary John Manning and FFAI Chairman Martin Galvin representing AOH NY State President Victor Vogel. President McGeough said: We learned of the beautiful memorial that New York State AOH and Suffolk County have erected at his American home-site. We wanted to give special recognition to you and are grateful to your State President Victor Vogel and to you for coming and accepting these awards.
In 1989, the National Historian’s office ran a nation-wide campaign to fund a proper display at the Paterson Museum for the Fenian Ram which was the prototype for the USS Holland – America’s first working military submarine and forerunner of the greatest submarine fleet in the world – named for its inventor, John Philip Holland of Liscannor, County Clare. Holland’s first boat, the Holland I and the Fenian Ram which had been built for the Fenian Brotherhood to sink the British Navy, had been tested in the waters off Paterson, New Jersey and were in the possession of the Paterson Museum. Displayed in a public park, the Ram had been painted yellow after a Beatles tune and was removed to a shed behind the museum to protect it from vandals. The successful AOH campaign led to a donation which resulted in an exhibit of the Fenian Ram and Holland’s first sub, as well as Holland’s papers and other Holland memorabilia.
The dream of freedom and independence for Ireland, which has been the root of all the trouble in Ireland since the 16th century, never diminished in the hearts of those who founded the AOH in America nor, indeed, in the hearts of today’s members. Even the National Constitution demands attention to that principle. However, it also mandates that all attempts toward that goal be constitutional and lawful. While it prohibits support of individual politicians or political parties, it allows lobbying in support of Irish, American or religious causes. That is not to say that some members cannot share membership in other organizations more actively involved in supporting activities in Ireland, but in the halls of the AOH, all support must be apolitical and lawful and the AOH name can never be used to endorse a political candidate!.
When the British built an artificial border to imprison six of Ulster’s nine counties under Crown control, the AOH created the Anti Partition Committee to support reunification. During the 1956 Border Campaign to reclaim the six stolen counties, fund-raising activities were instigated as well as letter writing campaigns to convince American political leaders to bring pressure on Britain to abolish the border. When the campaign ended in 1974, the name of the Anti-Partition Committee changed to the Freedom for All Ireland Committee (FFAI) and a gentle Hibernian with the heart of a lion, refused to allow the dream to die. His name was Martin Higgins and he began to guide the FFAI Committee to provide funds for the people in northeast Ireland who were victims of oppression. He started a Christmas Appeal to bring hope to the disheartened families in Northern Ireland suffering discrimination. The AOH FFAI Fund has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to make life more tolerable for the families who were victims of a biased administration during the years of violent unrest. Martin expanded the donor base of FFAI with the support of Suffolk County, NY ladies Division President, Christina McCormack, who convinced the Ladies Auxiliary at County and State levels to establish their own FFAI Chairs. A National Chair soon followed. After Martin passed away, Chairman Mike Cummings began a close association with other like-minded organizations and the aid began to increase. In the early days of the troubles, the AOH National Board voted An Cumann Cabhrach and the Green Cross as its two official charities aiding the families of those interned by the British.
In 1992, Brendan Moore took the reins of the FFAI committee and expanded to include many more related charities. The annual Christmas Appeal was expanded to each Division in the Order and proved to be one of the most successful programs of the AOH/LAOH, raising hundreds of thousands for needy families. The committee also supported the besieged Holy Cross School where Loyalist fanatics had been harassing arriving young Catholic school girls and pelting them with urine-filled balloons. Monetary assistance to school administrator, Father Aidan Troy allowed him to refurbish a building located between the two communities and open it as a Community Center providing a healing influence; the harassment soon stopped. Father Troy was later chosen as a recipient of the Sean MacBride Award, given by the AOH in recognition of his significant contribution to the cause of peace.
AOH aid also helped reconciliation with support for cross community basketball programs, choral groups and the St Patrick Center in Downpatrick. The most important contribution however, was AOH support for the Good Friday Agreement which brought peace to the north. Though the peace was unstable owing to the unpredictable demands of Loyalists, the AOH continues to pressure politicians on both sides of the pond to resolve each crisis. During the negotiations, AOH National leaders met with both Loyalist and Nationalist leaders to reconcile differences. In one instance, a letter from the National Board to the IRA urging decommissioning of arms was followed two weeks later by an order from Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, to dump arms. Through it all, AOH support was continued to resettle the nationalist community in the form of vocational training and rehabilitation for former prisoners and their families who were still denied full rights. Thus came AOH support for such organizations as Father Des Wilson’s Conway Mills, Tar an All, Coiste na nIarchini, the Pat Finucane Center and Relatives for Justice. No other organization has been as steadfast and effective as the AOH in brokering the peace in Northern Ireland; the thanks for the AOH effort given by Sinn Fein is testimony to the success of that endeavor.
Ever since the terrible massacre of Irish civilians by British paratroops on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday, 1972, members of the AOH have traveled to Derry on the anniversary of that event and marched with the people of Derry demanding justice. After 38 years and one bogus report, the British finally admitted that the actions of their Army that day were unjustified and unjustifiable. The people of Derry were ecstatic with excitement and a letter was immediately sent to the National Board of the AOH in America which read, in part, Not a year passed since 1972 that AOH members from all over the U.S. didn’t congregate on our streets to demand TRUTH. Now we have it, my friends. This is a victory for you as much as for us. You are always welcome on the streets of Derry.
In spite of the victories won, the reunification of Ireland is yet to be achieved. In the interim, AOH supports Athar Saile, an Irish American organization dedicated to assisting former political prisoners who relocated to the U.S. and face extradition issues and legal fees.