On This Day- Irish professional Baseball players



When twenty-one year old Belfast-born P.J. Conlon was drafted by the New York Mets in 2015 he became the first Irish-born player to be associated with a Major League Baseball franchise since Corkman Joe Cleary, nicknamed ‘Fire’, in 1945.

There was a time when there were so many Irish-born or Irish-American professional baseball players that there was a theory the Irish were ‘peculiarly adapted’ to the sport, a very Darwinian notion indeed. The ‘golden era’ for Irish baseball players was from 1870-1900, which coincided with a huge influx of Irish immigrants, and the ‘coming of age’ of the post-Famine wave of Irish migrants. In the 1880s, for example, it is reckoned that up to a third of all professional ball players were Irish or of Irish extraction

Ireland boasts a total of forty-seven officially and statistically recognised Major League Baseball players, that’s more than any other country in Europe. Only Britain, with forty-three, is even close.

One of the best was Patsy Donovan, from Cobh, although it was known as Queenstown when he made his Major League debut in 1892. He played for a number of teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals. He played in the big leagues for eleven years, before he went into management, where he took charge of the Boston Red Sox for a couple of season. After he left their organisation he spotted a kid named George who, he thought, had potential. He persuaded the Red Sox to sign George. A few years later they traded him to the New York Yankees. You might know George by his more familiar nickname, of Babe Ruth. Donovan went on to coach a high school team, St. Phillip’s Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. There, one of the young players under his charge, although no Babe Ruth, was of considerable significance. He name was also George, as it happens, George Herbert Walker Bush.

Irish ball players tended to be colourful. They had names like Curry Foley, Cyclone Ryan and Sleeper Sullivan. Or they played with one arm, like the pitcher Hugh Daily. He lost his left hand in a gun accident. He had a special pad made to cover the hand, and caught balls by trapping them between the pad and his throwing hand. He once punched his catcher for tossing a ball back to him too hard.

Then there was first baseman ‘Dirty’ Jack Doyle, from Killorglin in Kerry, who played for seventeen seasons for teams like the New York Giants (now in San Francisco), and the Chicago Cubs. He was called ‘Dirty’ because he was constantly getting caught up in fights, with opponents, umpires, fans, and even his own teammates. He regularly waded into the stands to attack fans who were abusing him, and was arrested for this on a couple of occasions. He also hit twenty-six career home runs, so he could play bit as well.


The Irish Baseball League recognises Cavanman Andy Leonard as the most accomplished Irish-born Major Leaguer. He was a member of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, America’s first professional team, and the Irish League’s Most Valuable Player Award is called after him.

By the time of the Great War Irish professional ball players had almost died out. Paddy O’Connor from Kerry was the last. He played for ten years. His final game was with the Yankees in July 1918.

Then, in 1945, the drought ended when Joe Cleary, pitched in a game for the Washington Senators, against the Boston Red Sox. It was a memorable inning. But for all the wrong reasons. Cleary came on as a relief pitcher in the fourth inning of the second game of a doubleheader.So, he was probably a lot fresher than the players around him, but it didn’t show. He holds the unenviable record of having the highest career ERA of any pitcher ever to toss a ball over home plate in Major League Baseball. I won’t even begin to explain what an ERA means, but it’s a way of measuring how good a pitcher is and it’s a bit like a golf score, the lower the better. Top baseball pitchers would be hoping for a career ERA of between three and four. Joe Cleary’s, based on a single inning, was one hundred and eighty-nine.

He gave up a total of seven runs in one third of an inning. As if that wasn’t bad enough when he was dragged from the pitcher’s mound he was replaced by a man called Bert Shepard, who only had one leg. Cleary later owned a bar in New York and to his dying day, in 2004, was never allowed to forget his five minutes of fame in the big leagues. His response was always a simple ‘at least I was there’.

Jack O’Neill, one of two brothers from Maum in Co. Galway to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, and one of forty-seven Irish-born Major League baseball players, died eighty-three years ago, on this day.

Joe Cleary store.png

On This Day – 15 June 1919 – Alcock and Brown land in Ireland



In April 1913 the Daily Mail, then a brash teenager, offered the substantial prize of £10,000 to ‘the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland’. Nowadays if you wrote something as dull and long-winded as that for the Mail you would be fired before you had lit your pipe and started into the Times crossword.

Back in 1913 aerial flight was in its infancy and thanks to the intervention of the Great War there were no takers for the prize until well after the 1918 armistice. During the conflict two British prisoners of war, John Alcock from Manchester and Arthur Whitten Brown born in Glasgow, but also a Mancunian, had plenty of time to think about that £10,000 and what they might do with it.  Alcock had come to grief in an air raid over Turkey, Brown was a guest of the Kaiser after having been shot down over Germany. Given the state of health and safety in Great War aviation, they were lucky to be alive.

Both men became involved with the Vickers corporation in the post-war competition to be the first to make a non-stop transatlantic flight. Alcock was taken on first, as a pilot. Brown was then added to the crew as navigator.  Their main rival was a team from the Handley Page company. The relationship between the two companies was of a Tony Blair-Gordon Brown character, without the spin. Spinning is not good in aviation. The Vickers crew adapted a Vimy twin-engined bomber for the race, replacing the bomb bays with additional gasoline tanks. They carried nearly nine hundred gallons of aviation fuel.

Alcock and Brown took off from Lester’s Field, Newfoundland at 1.45pm on 14 June. They flew at between sea level and twelve thousand feet, depending on weather conditions. Brown’s navigational instincts were vital for their survival as their airspeed indicator malfunctioned early on and he had to estimate the distances being covered every hour in order to avoid flying miles off course.

They made landfall after less than sixteen hours in the air, spotting what they thought was a green field near Clifden in County Galway. It turned out to be bog. Both men emerged unscathed from the experience, having covered more than three thousand kilometres in an average speed of one hundred and eighty-five kilometres per hour.  One of the first locals to greet them was reporter Tom Kenny owner of the Connaught Tribune, who grabbed an interview before the Daily Mail correspondent could reach Derrygimlagh bog and ask the two men ‘how do you feel?’ The scoop went worldwide. Kenny’s son Des later established the world-famous Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway.  News of the successful flight was relayed from the Marconi transatlantic wireless station just a few hundred yards from where Alcock and Brown had made landfall.

The pilot and navigator were feted internationally. They did well to survive the hospitality of their Clifden hosts, and within days they were knighted by King George V. Alcock did not live very long to enjoy his share of the fame and the prize money. He died the following December at an air show in France at the age of twenty-seven. Brown lived through World War Two and died in 1948 at the age of sixty-two.

They weren’t actually the first to fly the Atlantic. A fortnight beforehand the ocean had been successfully negotiated by a US navy flying boat piloted by Lt.Commander Albert Cushing Read. But that had taken twenty-three days and involved half a dozen stops, so it didn’t qualify for the Daily Mailprize.

John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown set off into the unknown, for a date with history, and crash-landed in a Clifden bog, ninety-nine years ago, on this day.


On This Day – 8.6.1845 Death of Andrew Jackson



Who do you think might have finished a speech with the following words?

‘Andrew Jackson, we thank you for your service. We honour you for your legacy. We build on your memory.’

Given that the man he was praising had once been bigamously married, had presided over the exclusion of undesirable elements from the eastern USA, had a volcanic temper, closed down the nineteenth century equivalent of the Federal Reserve, and defied the courts, you probably won’t be shocked to hear that the speaker was the forty-fifth President of the United States. One of the first things Donald Trump did when he took over the Presidency was to have a portrait of Andrew Jackson hung in the Oval Office. He even said that he was ‘looking at a book on Jackson’. Which doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that he actually went so far as to read it.

Jackson was seventh President of the USA, serving from 1829 to 1837. Had he been born just two years earlier, that would never have happened, because he would have been Irish, and therefore constitutionally ineligible to be US President. His parents, Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson were northern Presbyterians who lived in Co. Antrim. Two of Jackson’s older brothers, Hugh and Tom were actually born in Ireland. Andrew Jackson never knew his father, his namesake had died at the age of just twenty-nine as a result of an accident, three weeks before the birth of the future President. So not a great start in life, the early part of which was spent being dirt poor.

His initial fame came about as a result of his military prowess. He was one of the few American successes in the ‘Revolutionary War 2.0’ a rerun of the War of Independence fought with Britain in 1812. This resulted in the British sacking Washington, and burning the White House, but Jackson defeated a British force at New Orelans, and became an instant hero. There wasn’t a lot of competition really.

He should have become President in 1825. He won the popular vote. But then again, winning the popular vote in a US Presidential election, unlike say, France, or even Ireland, is no guarantee of the Presidency. He was essentially shafted in a dodgy deal between his two rivals, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, gifting Adams an undistinguished four years in the White House. Jackson, however, won the 1828 election. Although himself a wealthy man he campaigned against entrenched economic elites.

Sound familiar?

He guaranteed a good attendance at his inauguration by inviting everyone back to the White House afterwards. The problem was that most of them seem to have taken him up on the offer, and the building was soon swarming with his supporters. This earned him the derisive nickname ‘King Mob’.

The action for which Jackson is best remembered is the forcible removal of a number of Indian nations from their traditional homes in eastern states like Georgia, to the alien territory of Oklahoma. The US Supreme Court, under the great jurist John Marshall, effectively ruled against the removal policy, in two separate decisions in 1831 and 1832. Jackson’s alleged response was ‘John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.’ Although he probably never said it he certainly did nothing to help the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw and Seminole, who were removed across the Mississippi, with great loss of life, on the infamous Trail of Tears.

When asked what his greatest achievement was as President, Jackson is reputed to have said, ‘I killed the Bank’. This was the Second National Bank, a sort of early nineteenth century Federal Reserve, an American Central Bank. It was due to have its charter renewed in 1832. Jackson vetoed the bill, and Congress didn’t have the votes to override the veto. Result, death of bank, transfer of federal funds to other institutions, injudicious lending by those banks, and a huge financial panic in 1837. So much for the lessons of history.

The great French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of Jackson in his monumental work Democracy in America

‘Supported by a power that his predecessors never had, he tramples on his                           personal enemies, whenever they cross his path … he takes upon himself the                                    responsibility of measures that no one before him would have ventured to                          attempt. He even treats the national representatives with a disdain approaching to              insult’

Sound familiar?

Andrew Jackson, acknowledged founder of the Democratic party, and seventh President of the USA, died one hundred and seventy-three years ago, on this day.


On This Day – 1.6.1970  The death of Arkle is announced





There aren’t many animals who have a bronze statue built in their honour, whose skeleton is on permanent display, and who had a stamp minted bearing their image. But in Ireland, when that animal is a horse, it’s a little easier to understand. Not any old horse, mind you. Not a scrubber like Sir Ivor, or Nijinsky, or even an under-achiever like Dawn Run. They were good. They were very good, on the flat, and over hurdles or fences. But they weren’t Arkle.

The distinguished racing commentator Peter O’Sullevan once described the horse as a ‘freak of nature’, the like of which we would never see again. So far he hasn’t been proved wrong. Arkle was, and remains the best horse ever to jump fences for a living. That’s not just my opinion, that’s official. He has a Timeform rating of two hundred and twelve, that’s the highest ever awarded to a steeplechase horse. Only one other animal, his stable companion, the hurdler Flyingbolt, comes within twenty points of that rating.

Arkle was a Meathman, born in Ballymacoll stud near Dunboyne in 1957, and was named after a Scottish mountain that bordered an estate owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, who acquired the horse, and in whose colours he raced. He was trained by one Irish racing legend, Tom Dreaper, not far from Ashbourne,  and ridden by another, the great Pat Taafe.


I should declare an interest. I’m old enough to have seen him in action. As a child I have a clear recollection of Arkle in one of his Cheltenham Gold Cup victories. It was his third outing, in 1966. He made a mess of a fence on the first circuit and almost came a cropper. Second time around, as he approached the same fence, we wondered how he would handle it this time. He cleared it with enough room to spare to have allowed a double-decker bus to have driven underneath.

In any other National Hunt racing generation the Irish-born, English-trained, Mill House would have dominated. He looked set fair to rule the mid-1960s when he won the Gold Cup in 1963. He also beat Arkle in the Hennessy Gold Cup that year. It was the first of a number of duels between the two. Mill House was hot favourite for the 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Blue Riband of National Hunt racing. Only two other horses competed in the race that year. Which is to say that they were entered. No one could compete with Arkle and Mill House. The two great horses stayed together for almost the entire race, until Arkle pulled ahead over the closing stretch, to win by five lengths.

Those were different times. Ireland was still a relatively impoverished poor relation, independent of Britain for barely forty years, and not making a great fist of it either. Irish horses and trainers didn’t ownCheltenham the way they often do in more recent times. Arkle versus Mill House (despite the latter’s place of birth) became Ireland versus England. Arkle’s victory meant that he became a national talisman, in the way that Jack Charlton’s soccer teams of the 1990s did.

He came back twelve months later, on this occasion as favourite, and beat Mill House all over again. This time the margin was twenty lengths! He started the 1966 Gold Cup at odds of ten to one ON! In case you are not well versed in betting odds, that means you had to invest ten quid for the joy of receiving one quid of bookie’s money when he won. Which, of course, he did, by thirty lengths this time!

Outside of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, where handicapping played a role, he would often find himself carrying ridiculous weights. If Pat Taafe had just been riding Arkle he could have been tucking in to five course meals every night and still making the weight. For example, he won the 1964 Irish Grand National by only a single length. The fact that he was carrying two and a half stone more than his nearest rivals might have been a contributory factor.

But he wasn’t just a horse either. Arkle was almost human. He, allegedly, drank Guinness twice a day, and got on with people better than most other people. He was afforded the ultimate Irish accolade when he became known simply as, ‘Himself’.

His last race was the December 1966 King George VI Chase at Kempton park. He was carrying half a ton more than anyone else, fractured his pedal bone, and still almost won. After four months in plaster Dreaper and the Duchess decided enough was enough, and he never raced again. He died in 1970 at the early age of thirteen, when he might, conceivably, have still been winning races.

The death of Arkle, or just plain ‘Himself’, one of the most beloved of horses in a horse mad nation, was announced thirty-eight years ago, on this day.




On This Day- 25 May1895  Sentence is passed on Oscar Wilde



It took three trials to send Oscar Wilde to jail. He wasn’t even in the dock himself for the first one, but he might as well have been.

In the summer of 1891 Wilde, then thirty-eight years old, met, and fell in love with the twenty-two year Lord Alfred Douglas, an aspiring poet, known to have had a string of homosexual affairs while at university. Wilde showered the young man with gifts and affectionate letters. The first ‘wrinkle’ in the relationship came when Douglas gave away an old jacket, containing some of the letters, to a friend, down on his luck. They had to be bought back at a high price.


Then there was the matter of Douglas’s father, John Sholto Douglas, Eighth Marquess of Queensberry, one of the most malevolent and repulsive figures in late Victorian Britain, celebrated for devising a set of boxing rules that he had very little to do with. Queensberry was like a super-charged version of the Robert de Niro character in the Meet the Fockersmovie franchise.  He wasn’t very good at spelling either, on 18 February 1895, after having failed to disrupt the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest, he showed up at Wilde’s London club and left a note, which read ‘To Oscar Wilde, posing as a so[m]domite’. But, he spoiled the effect somewhat by spelling sodomite incorrectly.

Wilde, against the advice of friends like George Bernard Shaw and Frank Harris, and with the encouragement of Alfred Douglas, known to one and all as ‘Bosie’, sued Queensberry for libel. The eminent barrister Edward Clarke, only agreed to take the case after Wilde assured him ‘on his word as an Englishman’ that he was not guilty of the offence of sodomy or of ‘gross indecency’. The latter had been made illegal in the 1895 Criminal Amendment Act. Wilde gave his word, but must have been exercising some form of Jesuitical ‘mental reservation’ because, of course, he wasn’t an Englishman.

Famously, his former Trinity College, Dublin rival, Edward Carson, eviscerated Wilde in the witness box, most notably when asking the playwright had he ever kissed a man named Walter Grainger. Wilde denied the charge. He should have left it there, but, ill-advisedly, added that, ‘He was a peculiarly plain boy’, by way of explanation for his failure to snog the lad. Before Carson could parade a slew of defence witnesses, all prepared to testify to having had homosexual relations with Wilde, Edward Clarke withdrew the libel charge against Queensberry.

The poet’s close friends now advised him immediately to take the next train to Paris. He even got judicial help. When the police had approached a London magistrate for a warrant to arrest the playwright, the magistrate, John Bridge, had delayed acceding to the request for long enough to allow Wilde to escape the country. But, he dallied too long. He was arrested and charged with twenty-five counts of ‘gross indecency’. In the dock with him was his alleged procurer, Alfred Taylor. The most notable moment in the first criminal trial was when Wilde was asked what Douglas had meant in a letter, when he described their relationship as a ‘love that dare not speak its name’. Wilde suggested, disingenuously, that Douglas had been referring to the Platonic affection of an older man for a younger one. Clarke’s closing statement was a work of genius, and was probably sufficient to ensure that the first trial resulted in a ‘hung jury’.

After that even Wilde’s former tormentor, Edward Carson, suggested that the Liberal government of Lord Rosebery, should ‘ease up on this fellow now’. But the authorities were especially zealous in pursuit of Wilde. The reason, other than to reinforce the message of the 1895 Criminal Law Amendment Act, and make an example of such a high profile figure, may reside in the obsessive and fanatical person of Queensberry, and the alleged vulnerability of the Prime Minister. Rosebery, while Foreign Minister under William Gladstone appears, himself, to have had an affair with a Douglas, Bosie’s brother Francis. After the suspected suicide of Francis Douglas a cache of incriminating letters was said to have emerged, and these were allegedly used by Queensberry to blackmail the Prime Minister into continuing the pursuit of Wilde through the criminal courts.

At the second criminal trial the prosecution ran a tighter ship, dropping some of the more dubious witnesses against Wilde. The strategy was successful, and this time Wilde was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. His conviction unleashed a lengthy period of official and societal reaction against homosexuality, a criminal offence that had often been tolerated prior to the trials of Oscar Wilde.

Sentence was passed in the criminal trial of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde one hundred and twenty-three years ago, on this day.


OTD-11.5.1788 Birth of Henry Cooke, Firebrand Presbyterian minister.



He was the nineteenth century Ian Paisley, a powerful orator and head-turning demagogue committed to the notion of the Pope as an anti-Christ, the extirpation of secularism and Godlessness in all its pomps, and possessor of an honorary doctorate from an American university.

Henry Cooke came from a relatively humble background, with the advantage of a Presbyterian ‘mammy’ who nurtured his talents and drove him to achieve educational excellence. The pushy and adoring ‘mammy’ is far from being just an Irish Catholic phenomenon! Much of his erudition, however, may be down to his first teacher, described thus:


The teacher was . . a tall, lanky Scotchman, distinguished by an                                          enormous nose, a tow wig, a long coat of rusty black, leather tights, grey                               stockings, brogues, and a formidable hazle rod ..’


I’m sure, like me, that he got you at ‘hazel rod’. The prospect of some nasty corporal punishment may have been as influential as ‘the mammy’.

Cooke entered the University of Glasgow at an age when most Irish students would be looking ahead to their Junior Cert, and graduated from there at an age when they would be wondering how to fill out their CAO application. He was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian church by the age of twenty.

Cooke’s religious and professional life—which were one and the same thing really—were dominated by the impulse to make the Irish Presbyterian church, in essence, more Presbyterian. He wanted nothing to do with the Ulster non-conformist political radicals who had been the backbone of the United Irishmen’s rebellion in 1798. He also wanted to root out something called Arianism among dissenters. I’m not even going to get started on exactly what that was, except to say that it had something to do with a lukewarm acceptance of the Trinity, and that it was so esoteric a dispute that Jonathan Swift must have had something like it in mind when he wrote about the toxic political dispute in Lilliput over whether people should break off their breakfast egg at the ‘big end’ or the ‘little end’.

Cooke opposed the establishment of a non-denominational system of primary education in Ireland in 1831, which the British government of the day was keen to establish. Here he was, of course, ably assisted by his Roman Catholic, and Church of Ireland peers. Thanks a lot for that guys, it’s been a real boon for cross-community understanding.

He was also a determined enemy of the repeal of the Act of Union, and vigorously opposed Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association. When it was rumoured that the Liberator was coming to Belfast in 1841 to make his case, Cooke challenged him to a debate. O’Connell responded, like any good politician, by abusing his opponent, describing Cooke as ‘Bully Cooke … the Cock of the North.’ Cooke, in his turn, accused O’Connell of having skulked away from the challenge ‘beneath the meanness of a falsehood … it will pursue you like a shadow.’

When O’Connell finally did make it Belfast Cooke was the keynote speaker at a huge counter-demonstration attended by thirty-two MPs and, more worryingly, three hundred and thirty-five magistrates. A short while later grateful Ulstermen presented Cooke with a gift of £2000 (or nearly £200,000 in today’s money) for having seen off O’Connell and Repeal.


Life wasn’t all a bed of rose petals for Henry Cooke though. Anyone who has ever spent half an hour writing something, and then lost it when Word crashed, will sympathise with what happened to the poor man. For seven years, he spent every spare hour working on a book called Analytical Concordance of Scripture. With a snappy title like that it was bound to be a huge seller. Full of the joys of authorship he brought the completed manuscript—the only copy—to London to be published. Yes, you’re right, you can see where this is going. He put up at a hotel for the night before handing over the book to his publisher. As you’ve probably guessed the hotel burned down taking the manuscript with it. He never got around to re-writing it, and the world was probably denied a racy, theological classic.

One of his last public appearances was at a Belfast rally against the disestablishment of Church of Ireland (of which he was not a member). This meant that he was one of the longest words in the English language, an ‘antidisestablishmentarianist’ – it was as close as he ever got to Arianism of any kind. He had the good fortune to pass away a few months before Gladstone finally disestablished the Church of Ireland in 1869.

Henry Cooke, fiery preacher and unlucky author, was born two hundred and thirty years ago, on this day.



On This Day – 4.5.1836    The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America is founded






Molly Malone may be the best-known Molly in Irish history, folklore or music, but despite her entrepreneurial spirit and wide wheelbarrow, she wasn’t nearly as important, influential, or reviled as Molly Maguire. Whether or not either of these iconic women actually existed, is a moot point, but in the case of Ms. Maguire the organization with which her name was associated, was a force to be reckoned with in Irish and Irish-American political life for much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

One critic, a unionist, referred to the Ancient Order of Hibernians (often known as The Mollies) as ‘a bitterly sectarian and secret society with a long dark and cruel history’. You might respond, ‘well he was probably a member of the Orange Order, so what would expect him to say?’ But the distinguished nationalist MP William O’Brien referred to the Hibernians as a Frankenstein, and the Roman Catholic Cardinal Logue described it as ‘‘a pest, a cruel tyranny, and an organised system of blackguardism’, although his beef was as much to do with late night drinking and dancing, than politics

So, what was the nature of this monster, or fraternal Catholic organisation, depending on your point of view. Initially it was primarily an American Catholic body, which emerged at a time of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment in the USA. This was exemplified by the activities of the nativist and anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party, and attacks on churches and church property across the US east coast cities. Founded in New York in 1836 the Hibernians quickly moved into machine politics, and became an arm of the Democratic party, in organisations like Tammany Hall in New York city.


In the coal and anthracite regions of Pennsylvania its lodges or chapters were associated with the secretive militant labour group, the Molly Maguires, called after an Irish agrarian movement of tenant farmers, better known for shooting landlords, than ploughing or milking. In 1884, as Brendan Behan could have predicted, there was a split in the organisation – the reasons are far too tedious to rehearse and don’t really matter anyway as they kissed and made up again in 1898. At that stage, there were just under two hundred thousand Americans affiliated to the AOH.


In the late nineteenth century, the Ancient Order of Hibernians was imported from the USA and began to take hold in Ulster, where it was seen as a political and cultural counterweight to the loyalist Orange Order, and was organised along similar lines. Around this time, it acquired its eminence grise, in the form of the West Belfast Irish Parliamentary Party MP Joseph Devlin. Devlin was the archetypal party boss. If he had moved to the USA he probably would have become Mayor or Governor of New York, or ‘Boss’ of the corrupt but mightily effective Tammany Hall machine.


Instead he used the pietistic and nationalistic AOH as a power base for his dominance of Ulster nationalism and wielded a huge influence on the Irish Parliamentary Party, while it was under the leadership of John Redmond. So powerful was Devlin that not even the Sinn Fein landslide of 1918 could shift him. Almost all of the few surviving nationalist MPs were in Ulster, clinging on largely thanks to Devlin’s popularity and capable management.

The Irish and American branches of the organisation formally merged in 1902. Between then, and the outbreak of the Great War, the Irish section of the AOH grew from about five thousand members, mostly in Ulster lodges, to just short of one hundred thousand throughout the thirty-two counties.

The AOH was never a radical organisation, although it could often be relied upon to resort to strong-arm tactics against loyalist or rival nationalist groups. It opposed Larkin and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union during the 1913 lockout. Larkin blamed the AOH for helping to prolong the strike. In the 1930s there was a strong Hibernian presence in the ranks of O’Duffy’s Blueshirts, and many Hibernians joined the Irish Brigade which fought for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. For a century and a half, until 1993, the AOH ran the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade with a rod of iron, ensuring that, for example, gay and lesbian groups were not allowed to parade.

On the plus side, it served as an effective protective force against American nativism, and has contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds and dollars to charitable causes.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, in many ways a mirror image of the Orange Order, was founded in the notorious Five Points neighbourhood in New York, one hundred and eighty-two years ago, on this day.