By JAMES CULLEN
AUSTIN – The Ancient Order of Hibernians in Austin, TX reached a major milestone Saturday, Feb. 7, as representatives of the National Board of the oldest and largest Irish Catholic group in the United States installed the Travis County Division #1.
The Hon. James F. McKay III of New Orleans, Vice President of the National Board, was accompanied by board member Greg Seán Canning of Kissimmee, FL, and New York State District Director John D. McAvoy of Watervliet, NY, to St. Austin’s Church for the installation of the new division and election and swearing in of local officers, including President Michael Joyce, Vice President Kevin Buechler, Sentinel Nolan Maloney, Marshall Greg Hannan, Treasurer Thomas Miner, Financial Secretary John Broderick, Recording Secretary Kelly Newlin and the Division Chaplain, Fr. Peter Walsh, CSC.
“It’s been a long time coming and I’m honored to be with you today and humbled by the service you’ve given to the Division so far,” Joyce told the newly installed division, which starts with 14 members and at least three others interested in joining in the mission of promoting Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity. Joyce had been working for approximately two years to revive the local division. “I wanted to have the ability to be Irish and serve my community,” Joyce said after the meeting. Of the past year, he said, “It’s been a long time coming to get the division to this day, but we have a great core group of guys who have the staying power to make the AOH in Austin a dependable part of the Irish-American and Catholic community as a whole.”
An earlier incarnation of AOH in Austin was the Michael O’Shaughnessy Division, which had 77 members in the 1980s and early ’90s before several of its leaders had passed away or moved out of town and the division evaporated, according to Kevin O’Connell, who joined AOH in New York 1956 and was one of the leaders of the organizational effort in Austin after he retired from the New York Police Department and moved to Austin in 1979.
O’Connell continued as a member of the San Antonio Division, the other AOH division in Texas, and he helped Joyce bring together some of the old AOH members as well as new recruits, many of them transplants from the East Coast and the Midwest but including at least two native Texans.
McKay, who also is Chief Judge of Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, said it was important to establish the division in Austin because it’s the capital of Texas and the home of a lot of Irish Catholics. (The 2010 Census counted more than 68,000 people of Irish ancestry in greater Austin.) McKay also noted, “The Irish government thought enough of the importance of Austin to send a consul general to the capital city passing over Dallas and Houston.” In October 2014, the Irish government opened a consulate in Austin — the sixth consulate in the US — with Adrian Farrell as Consul General.
Canning, a native of Derry City in Northern Ireland, noted, “It takes an awful lot of ground work to find Irish Catholics that have an interest in, first, serving their community but also learning more about the culture and traditions of the Irish, and who have an interest in Ireland and her history. ”
Canning is chairman of the national board’s Freedom For All Ireland committee, which works to support the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the peace accord between the Irish and British governments and eight major political parties in Northern Ireland, which is working to reconcile the nationalist and pro-British factions, which largely break down along Catholic and Protestant lines. Other issues of national importance include giving to Catholic charities, forwarding Pro-Life issues, supporting the Church’s call for religious vocations, and veteran’s affairs.
Locally, the Travis County Division already has established relationships with the Celtic Cultural Center of Texas, Celtic Cowboys, Gaelic League of Austin, and Irish Consul Farrell.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was formed in 1836 by Irish immigrant groups in New York and Pennsylvania to provide community and opportunity for those newly arriving Irish-American citizens as well as protect Catholic churches and clergy from persecution and violence. As the Irish settled west, so did the AOH, which privately provided social welfare benefits for members and stood guard over the Catholic Church. Today, Christian fraternity and charitable works occupy the time of local divisions across the country where you will see Hibernians frying fish during Lent or marching in the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“The AOH has approximately 380 divisions and more than 60,000 members,” McKay said. “All committed to their faith, family, friends, and community.”