Tag Archives: Ancient Order of Hibernians

Irish nationalism’s “troublesome men,” Part 2 of 2

This two-part post explores the late 19th century feud among Irish nationalists in America. The 1895 Chicago convention of the Irish National Alliance is well recorded, but the divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania leading to it, and the ouster of the Pittsburgh delegation, is a lost story of this period. This account is based on letters to exiled nationalist John Devoy, held at the National Library of Ireland, contemporary newspaper coverage, and other sources. Read Part 1MH

View of Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

Newspapers across America reported the August 1895 Irish nationalists rally in Pittsburgh, including its criticism of the upcoming Chicago convention. In London, The Times carried a Reuters dispatch that attracted the attention of Andrew Carnegie.1 It “had naturally an unusual interest for me,” the industrialist wrote to the establishment newspaper from Cluny Castle in Scotland’s central Highlands. He lamented that “the Irish question is not exclusively a British, but, also, unfortunately, an American question, casting over our politics its baneful influence.”2

Carnegie certainly didn’t want more unrest in Pittsburgh, the city where he made his fortune. Only three years had passed since the bloody strike at his Homestead steel plant. Three months ahead, he would return to the city to open a new library, museum and art gallery “to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light.”3

His letter to the Times was not his first about Ireland to a prominent newspaper.4 In 1885, the businessman wrote to The New York Times in lieu of accepting an invitation to address the Irish League of Pittsburgh.

Andrew Carnegie

“I am indeed a friend to Ireland,” Carnegie penned from his summer home in Cresson, Pennsylvania, a mountain resort 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. “All that the wildest Irish patriot has urged against English rule is warranted. ‘The sacred right of rebellion’ cannot be denied to the Irish people. Resistance to English rule is a solemn duty.”5

Carnegie advocated an American-style federalist system, with Ireland “as a state of the British union, equal with England and Scotland.” An Irish republic of 5 million people “would be ridiculous,” he said. “I am as determined an opponent of secession in Britain as I am in America.”6

Chicago convention

As the opening of the Irish National Alliance convention in Chicago neared, more opposition to it surfaced beyond the Pittsburgh rally. In Philadelphia, the Ancient Order of Hibernians passed a resolution that accused the INA of trying to “forge to the front as politicians to further their own interests.”7 Altoona’s Robert Emmett Literary Society declared the Chicago meeting was only “to serve the selfish ends of certain persons, and not as avowed, to do any good for Ireland.”8

Irishmen gathered Sept. 20, 1895, at Pittsburgh’s city hall passed a second resolution to bolster their statement from the August rally. It said the Chicago organizers should be “watched with jealous care and attention” because “hundreds of thousands of dollars of hard earned money of Irish American servant girls and men of our race, in the mills, mines and factories of this broad land have been squandered by American politicians.” To keep an eye on the proceedings, the group selected Paul Sheedy, John Madden and Humphrey Lynch as delegates to the Chicago convention.9

Four days later, the Irish National Alliance convention opened inside a YMCA auditorium in Chicago. Portraits of Irish nationalist heroes decorated the hall, including Robert Emmet, executed in 1803 for treason after leading a failed rebellion against Britain, and the Manchester martyrs. Banners of the coat of arms for each of Ireland’s four provinces hung over the stage.10

Divisions among Irish nationalists were as noticeable as the decorations. “For over a year there have been mutterings of discontent among a large portion of the Irish race in this country,” The Pittsburgh Press reported. While “Irish societies of all kinds, political, social, beneficial and literary” were invited to the convention, the offer was “antagonized by an element of the race on the ground that it was more the forerunner of an Irish American political movement than a genuine effort on behalf of the mother isle.”11

Attention was turning to the 1896 U.S. presidential election as the nation remained mired in an economic depression that began a few years earlier. In Western Pennsylvania, basic industries remained hard hit, and mills and mines were either closed or worked only part time.12 High unemployment sparked frequent labor unrest.

At the same time, “a significant percentage” of Irish Americans had become integrated into the middle classes and were more concerned about acting as political spokesmen for the Catholic community than having anything to do with Ireland.13 Some of the Chicago convention leaders had ties to the U.S. Republican Party, which would nominate and elect William McKinley as president in 1896. The Irish National Alliance attracted lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians and businessmen primarily from the Midwest, South and Western states. Most East Coast Irish remained indifferent or hostile to the effort.14

Several Western Pennsylvania individuals and Irish organizations wired supportive telegrams to the convention, including John J. O’Donnell of Homestead; John Kellon and Phillip Duke of Irwin; Patrick McCarthy of Sharon; T. G. Herbert of Altoona, and a half dozen well wishers from Erie.15 About 50 men from Pennsylvania attended in person.16

The Philadelphia contingent included city son James Talbot O’Callahan, owner of a silk badge and banner firm;17  Henry Boylan, a County Fermanagh-born liquor wholesaler;18 Dublin native Martin P. Moroney;19 and Patrick O’Neill, referenced earlier as an enemy of John Devoy. Altoona’s Thomas Greevy and John O’Toole traveled to Chicago. The Western Pennsylvania delegation included Homestead councilman John J. Rattigan; County Kerry native and Pittsburgh hotel operator Cornelius Horgan; and John Flannery, a former miners’ organizer who became editor of the Pittsburgh-based Irish Pennsylvanian newspaper,20 as well as Madden, Sheedy and Lynch.

Chicago in the 1890s.

Troublesome men

The convention’s credentials committee, chaired by Philadelphia’s Moroney, denied Sheedy and Madden access to the hall. “These credentials were presented on behalf of some association of the AOH on a small piece of paper by somebody,” scoffed a Montana delegate. “We thought if we accepted such a thing as that we might have the whole of Chicago in.”21

Convention Secretary M. F. Fanning of Chicago was more blunt: “You can go to ____, but you can’t go into the convention.”22

Lynch and Flannery challenged the ruling. Flannery noted that he attended the Pittsburgh meeting that selected Lynch, Madden and Sheedy. “I think it is a disgrace that we should not be treated with some justice,” he said.23

An 1895 Chicago newspaper illustration of Madden and Sheedy.

Madden and Sheedy issued a protest statement, which pointed out that Lynch “was elected in precisely the same way, and was admitted on credentials exactly similar to ours.”24 They blamed their exclusion on William Lyman, the Sullivan ally they challenged the previous fall.

“There are plain indications of fraud in the methods of making up the convention, and that fraud is in the interest of the men whose action in the past has brought disgrace and shame to the national cause,” their statement said. “We warn all true Nationalists of the danger that confronts our cause, and ask them to take the proper steps to avert it.”25

Word quickly reached Pittsburgh that Madden and Sheedy were expelled from the convention. An emergency meeting of the city’s Irish groups was convened in the Wilkinsburg neighborhood.26 Carrick read a letter from Madden, dated a few days earlier, which predicted the rebuke. Others made “bitter speeches” and “roundly denounced” the convention.

The group sent a telegram to Chicago on behalf of “Irish citizens of Allegheny County, Pa., [to] demand the reasons for the rejection.” Another telegram to Madden and Sheedy said “the Irish organizations of Allegheny County are with you to a man.”27

Lynch attributed his colleagues’ rejection to their role in the Pittsburgh rally the previous month. When Lynch asked a convention official if the telegram from Pittsburgh was received, he received a curt reply: “It may have come, but if it has not it makes no difference.”28

The Chicago Tribune named two other Allegheny County delegates as having their credentials denied at the convention, and “the four men were excluded.”29 No reporting of two other men being ousted from the meeting appears in Pittsburgh newspaper coverage, however, and it is not mentioned in the convention’s official report, only Madden and Sheedy.

The wire service account of their rejection from the convention was widely published in U.S. newspapers, including the quote that they were “troublesome men.” The Los Angeles Times carried a brief about the hometown reaction headlined “Disgruntled Pittsburghers.”30 Most of the newspaper coverage focused on the militant rhetoric of John Finerty, a former Illinois Congressman and the convention chairman. “We’ll circle England with a wall of fire, which shall never be extinguished until Ireland is free.”31

The ouster of Madden and Sheedy was absent in Irish and British newspaper coverage of the convention, and the London press waved off Finerty’s speeches. The Pall Mall Gazette said his “threats only stiffen our back and dull our hearing.” The Times discerned the domestic political effort “to muster as many Irish societies as they can beneath the banner of their presidential candidate.”32

The aftermath

On Oct. 8, 1895, about 50 Irishmen gathered again at Pittsburgh’s city hall to voice their “indignation” about the Chicago convention. Some Irish National Alliance supporters also attended, creating a spirited atmosphere.33

Sheedy alleged the convention was packed with “ward heelers,” truck drivers and “men from the stockyards” who were paid to sit in place of prominent Irish businessmen who never set foot in the hall. He suggested many of the supportive telegrams also were bogus. “The convention was a fiasco and the movement it inaugurated was a farce,” he declared.34

A few weeks later, Sheedy and Madden traveled to Philadelphia to address the pro-Devoy United Irish Societies, which also condemned the Chicago convention.35 Madden ridiculed the idea that the U.S. government would allow any domestic organization to recruit an army to invade England for the purpose of liberating Ireland, as suggested in Chicago. “But there is no fear of the alliance ever amounting to anything,” he said.36

Privately, Madden wrote to Devoy that the Chicago organizers were “show patriots” who “made us appear ridiculous in the eyes of the American people.” He added: “I am proud that my section was not caught in the trap.”37

Sheedy informed Devoy that Flannery, the Irish Pennsylvanian editor who supported him and Madden in the credentials fight, had turned against them in a column published in the Chicago Citizen, an Irish newspaper owned by Finerty, the convention chairman. “I suspect [Flannery] was paid by Lyman to do his dirty work. He is ready to do anything for a dollar.”38

John Devoy

Devoy tasked Sheedy with mailing “circulars” to the presidents of 500 U.S. and Canadian AOH groups about an upcoming meeting. “It is pretty tedious work,” the doctor complained. “You are the choice of the men here, but I told them I did not think you could come.”39

Sheedy continued writing to Devoy into 1896. He inquired about Devoy’s health, opined about political developments in Ireland, and recommended potential new Clan “camps” in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Wheeling, West Virginia. He also invited Devoy to a 5 August Irish event he was organizing at Calhoun Park, near Homestead.40

“We meet in auspicious times, and no man in whose veins flows Celtic blood need be ashamed,” Sheedy said in a speech to about 2,000 people. “Ireland has had a great, but painful history; she is destined to a magnificent future.”41 

Five months later, he died of pneumonia, not yet 30. John Sheedy had his younger brother’s body returned to Altoona for the wake at his house. Rev. Sheedy presided at the funeral Mass, attended by delegations from several Irish groups.42

Devoy continued to work behind the scenes. By Sheedy’s January 1897 burial, his loyalists in the Clan na Gael had more than doubled to nearly 10,000 nationwide from about 4,000 in 1894.43 Madden, Lynch and other Irish nationalists in Western Pennsylvania lived to see Devoy reestablish control of the group as the rival Irish National Alliance faded into obscurity.

Pittsburgh’s “troublesome men” had picked the right side.

(Footnotes in this post are 47 – 90 of the full piece. They are listed 1 -43 here because the citation plugin code cannot account for the piece being divided into two parts. See Part 1.)

Photo feature: Old St. Patrick’s, Pittsburgh

By coincidence, my travels this month have allowed me to revisit two historic St. Patrick’s churches. Here’s my earlier photo feature on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

My August essay, “An Irish … American … Catholic … tragedy“, mentioned that the Ancient Order of Hibernians would dedicate a new outdoor statute of Ireland’s patron saint at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Pittsburgh, the oldest parish in my home city. The dedication happened 13 October 2018.

For years, AOH Division 9 of Allegheny County has collected and spent tens of thousands of dollars and many volunteer hours to repair the 1936 church and maintain the beautiful landscaping of the front Monastery Garden, a green oasis in the city’s gritty warehouse district. The new statue replaced one that was badly aged, moved inside for now.

More work remains to done at Old St. Patrick’s, and Division 9 has a new mission: prepare the church for the 2022 opening of the AOH’s national convention in Pittsburgh. If you can help, contact the group.

The new St. Patrick statue was dedicated Oct. 13, 2018.

About 50 people extended their hands in blessing.

The old statue of St. Patrick has been moved inside the church.

The new statue.

Pittsburgh Ancient Order of Hibernians records available for review

A large trove of records from Pittsburgh area divisions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians are now available for viewing at the Senator John Heinz History Center. The Irish-Catholic fraternal organization was founded in 1836 to fight anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice.

During a recent visit to the Heinz Center I was able to find meeting minutes recording the 1914 acceptance and induction of my grandfather, Willie Diggins, into the AOH. He joined Division 15 in the city’s Hazelwood section nine months after his emigration from Kerry. The record states:

The application of Wm Diggins, age 20 years of 63 Almeda St. was reported favorable. The ballot being found favorable the candidate was duly elected.

I also read the group’s June 26, 1921, discussion about “the critical situation in Irish affairs.” Division 15 membership opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty “in which the leaders in Ireland were apparently being jockeyed into negotiations which could not end in anything more than a compromise and a sacrifice of the time-honored principals of a united and independent Ireland.”

AOH shield

There is a critical gap in the Division 15 meeting minutes from 1925 to 1935. This period would have included the group’s discussion of the 1928 candidacy of Al Smith, the nation’s first Irish-Catholic presidential nominee, as well as potential details about my grandfather’s February 1935 streetcar accident.

Separate membership dues ledgers show that Willie made his last $1 monthly payment to the organization about the time of the accident. He was “dropped” from the group on July 1, 1935, after 22 years of membership. He was $15 in arrears.

Willie’s failure to continue paying membership dues after his streetcar accident suggests he might not have received any support from the group, which helped members in times of hardship. Other ethnic associations provided similar benefits to their members. With a wife and six daughters to support on his streetcar motorman’s salary, Willie’s money was tight and his family ranked as a higher priority than the AOH.

As the Great Depression lingered, other AOH members nationwide also were drifting from the organization, according to Jay P. Dolan in his book, “The Irish Americans: A History.” By 1935, U.S. circulation of the National Hibernian magazine declined by nearly two thirds of its pre-Depression readership. The fervor of Irish nationalism waned more than a decade after the revolutionary period of 1913-1923.

By the mid-1930s the Irish community and the Catholic Church had recovered from the prejudice and indignities of Smith’s 1928 election defeat. As a demographic group and as individuals they asserted their place in America as the country trudged through the economic downturn and soon marched into World War II.

Willie died 10 days after the Pearl Harbor attack, a month before his 48th birthday. A few weeks later Division 15 of the AOH passed a motion endorsing President Roosevelt and agreeing to purchase defense bonds to support the war effort.

Is the term paddy wagon offensive? (Yes)

In Tampa, at least one local Irishman is offended by the name of a new bar, The PaddyWagon Irish Pub, and he has written to the mayor with his complaint, the Tampa Bay Times reports:

“Your Honour, I fail to understand why your administration granted a license to The Paddy Wagon since this uniquely American perjorative term was instigated by the Know Nothings in the 19th century to denigrate Irish-Catholics.”
So begins a recent letter to the mayor from Séamus S. ÓhEarcáin of Sun City Center, where he is president of the Hillsborough County division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.

Known locally as James J. Harkins IV, the letter writer is a historian, lecturer and author who specializes in the history of Irish monks in medieval Europe. He blogs at The Irish Mastryoshka.

The origins of paddy wagon are muddled, though it is generally agreed the term was pejorative when first used in the 19th century. Some say it first appeared during the New York City draft riots of July 1863. Many of the men protesting Union conscription were Irish or Irish-Americans. So were many of the police officers charged with arresting them. The term “paddy” is also said to refer to the initials P.D., or Police Department, on the side of prisoner transport vans.

Still other sources say the term “Paddy” is a shortening of Patrick, which is Padraig in Irish.

Paddy Wagon

Of course, using the term paddy for a drinking establishment just perpetuates the stereotype of “the drunken Irish.” St. Patrick’s Day has become so associated with inebriation, Irish and non-Irish, that a growing number of heritage groups have created Sober St. Patrick’s Day events.

Tampa’s Mayor Bob Buckhorn, an Irish-American who has formalized the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration by ordering the Hillsborough River dyed green each year, said he isn’t offended by the pub name. “I would have chosen another name, but it’s not my restaurant and it’s not my job to pick the names,” he told the Times.

The city’s written response to Harkins said local government can’t regulate business names (although I can easily imagine the city would find a way to block businesses that used more direct ethnic slurs against other groups).

Tampa officials suggested Harkins contact the pub’s owners, Linksters Management Group of Sarasota. For those who want to voice their protest, or support, here’s a link to the company’s online contact page and telephone number.

Buckhorn said “at some point political correctness can be taken too far.” Or is the The Paddy Wagon pub the still-hurtful vestige of once virulent American prejudice against Irish Catholics?

Personally, I’m with Harkins. I say walk past this new place and visit Four Green Fields, Tampa’s authentic thatched-roof Irish pub.

(Image above from Irish Central, which picked up the Times story.)

Willie’s emigration centennial: Day 7 of 12

AMERICA…

The Baltic arrived in New York Harbor on May 10, 1913, eight days after leaving Queenstown. Willie Diggin, his friend John Stack and the other third-class passengers from Ireland were transferred to barges and shuttled to the immigrant processing station at Ellis Island.

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An immigrant ship in New York Harbor, circa 1900-1920, with Statue of Liberty at left and Ellis Island at right. Library of Congress

There, the first stop was a medical examination to determine whether the immigrants had any physical ailments or mental illness. Those who passed were funneled into the registry room, a massive hall with a 56-foot-high vaulted ceiling and giant American flags hanging from the walls. Some 16,000 people were turned away in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1913. Another 838,000 were allowed to enter America.

Willie and John packed into another barge for the trip back to Manhattan. On their way to the sprawling Pennsylvania Station they caught sight of the nearly 800-foot-tall Woolworth Building, which opened three weeks earlier as the world’s tallest office tower. Architect Cass Gilbert told the newspapers:

The building and the success of its owner shows that this is the land of equal opportunities, that a man may start with nothing and accomplish everything. It is not true that strife and unrest is the way to achieve, but that man prospers by the good old virtues – thrift, industry and honesty.

The Pennsylvania Railroad offered around-the-clock departures to Pittsburgh for about $8. The journey took 11 hours, allowing Willie and John to reach their destination the following day. 

The weather the Sunday of their arrival was fair and warm. It was Whitsunday, or Pentecost, the Christian feast of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles as tongues of fire. It also marked the celebration of a new secular holiday: Mother’s Day.

Pittsburgh was a center of America’s growing industrial might. Nearly 558,000 people lived in the smoke-choked city, almost four times the population of County Kerry. The city’s skyline was modest compared to New York, its tallest buildings towering only about 300 feet above the crowded streets. But the scene was dramatically different than Ballybunion.

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Above, the “point” at Pittsburgh, circa 1910-1920. Below, the city skyline during the same period. Library of Congress.

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Willie settled in the city’s 15th Ward about six miles east of downtown Pittsburgh, a growing immigrant enclave on the north bank of the Monongahela River known by the names of its adjoining neighborhoods, Glenwood and Hazelwood. Willie boarded with his cousin, William Driscoll, at 65 Almeda Street. John Stack moved in with his brother, Bartholomew, a block away at 54 Almeda Street. 

In addition to his sister, uncle and cousins, Willie kept connected to other Kerry immigrants through informal Irish county associations, which reunited people from each of Ireland’s 32 counties. He also joined the Hazelwood division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a fraternal organization established in America in 1836 to protect immigrants from anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry and violence.

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Exposition Hall, probably a few years before Willie’s arrival in 1913. Library of Congress.

Two weeks before Willie’s arrival the AOH initiated 1,100 new members inside Pittsburgh’s Exposition Hall. Another 2,000 enrolled at the same location on June 8, 1913, “an incentive to all other cities throughout the country,” suggested one of the many Irish-American newspapers of the period.

Willie had made the crossing. He connected with family and other Irish immigrants. His new life in America was just getting started.

Tomorrow: STREETCAR MOTORMAN and CITIZEN