I’ve been fortunate this year to visit three Irish/Irish-American archives:
In March, I visited Quinnipiac University’s An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) archive and museum in Hamden, Conn.
In September, I viewed the Allegheny County Ancient Order of Hibernians archive at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.
And now in December, I’ve spent a few hours at the Fenian Brotherhood/O’Donovan Rossa collection at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Timothy J. Meagher, curator and archivist at The American Catholic History Research Center & University Archivist, and his staff were most helpful during my brief visit. Meagher has written extensively about Irish America.
Among the items that caught my eye was a pamphlet by Rev. C. F. O’Leary reflecting his October 1884 lecture in New York titled, “The Church and Irish Revolution.” In the speech the priest worried that efforts by the hierarchy to suppress grassroots Irish nationalism would “leave the people without hope and tyrants without restraint.” Fr. O’Leary also dismissed church criticism of the agrarian and republican secret societies associated with the land war of the period.
In conclusion, he said:
The Church does not condemn the bonding together in secret societies for a true and just cause. … Secrecy is necessary to success in Irish revolution; and, even if that secrecy is oath-bound it is not thereby sinful. No Irish revolutionist swears to anything not based on truth, justice and judgement. He swears to nothing that is not already defined. He but swears to what every Irishman swears in his heart, that he would be willing to strike for Ireland.
Thus do we stand before the Church and the world claiming in sight of high Heaven our long-lost rights, and having but the one elevated and avowed aim to give our country her rightful place among the nations of the earth. Thus do we stand, as we have stood for centuries, determined to fight the battle over again for freedom and right –– resolved that on the cause must go, emanating from the nation’s will.