Thompson Division of AOH makes papers on Saint Patrick’s Day

The following story appeared on March 17 in the Carlisle Sentinel. Their was one misquote which this editor has corrected…

Local chapter of The Ancient Order of Hibernians hope to dispel St. Patrick’s Day myths

Photo by Jason Malmont, Carlisle Sentinel Ancient Order Of Hibernians local president Tom Kane, left, and recording secretary Bill Irwin, right, display one of their mayoral proclamation naming March as Irish American Heritage Month for the Borough Of Carlisle. The grave site of Brigadier General William Thompson, first Colonel of the U.S. Army, is seen in the background and is located at the Old Town Cemetery, Carlisle.

By Lauren McLane, Sentinel Reporter The Sentinel –

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone likes to pretend to be Irish. They think that wearing green attire, aping an Irish brogue, and drinking copious amounts of alcohol makes them Irish.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, AOH or Hibernians for short, is working hard to dispel those myths.

“We’re fighting stereotypes. We call those people ‘plastic Paddies.’ Getting drunk is not Irish. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a holy day,” Tom Kane, president of the local chapter of Hibernians, said.

Hibernians The Hibernians are an organization committed to their Catholic faith, religious tolerance, Irish heritage and charitable service. Their motto is “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity,” Kane said.

The Hibernians are an all-male, Irish-only fraternal organization, but membership is open to any Catholic of Irish descent. In addition to the Carlisle chapter, there is also the Michael Collins Division 1 chapter of AOH, which meets in Lower Allen Township in the West Shore area of Cumberland County.

For those who aren’t Irish, but wish they were, the Hibernians offer an associate membership in the club, which is open to any person of any faith or ethnicity.

Locally, there are about 20 to 25 men in the Hibernian chapter, “but those 25 guys do a lot. We’re not a drinking club,” Kane stressed.

Originally founded to protect Catholic priests from persecution by English Christians in Ireland, the secretive organization’s mission was to protect — by arms and to the death, if necessary — the Catholic Church and the priests who were offering masses in secret.

When the Irish began immigrating in large waves to American in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, the group shifted its focus slightly, continuing to protect Catholic churches from anti-Catholic forces and to assist Irish Catholic immigrants.

Today, it continues that mission.

“There are large retail markets that are promoting the Irish as drunks,” Kane said. “The TV show ‘Family Guy,’ attacked Catholics. If it had been any other religion, they wouldn’t have been allowed to do that, but for Catholics, it’s OK? With the criticism of Catholics, we have to join together and say, ‘If you’re anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, we’re going to boycott you.’ We’re trying to make people aware of the discrimination. We’re not going to allow that. The Irish worked too hard to form this country to be insulted.”


Local Irish history dates back before the Revolutionary War, Kane said.

Brig. Gen. William Thompson, for whom the Cumberland County division of the AOH is named, was born in County Meath, Ireland, served as a cavalry officer in the French and Indian War and was a personal friend of George Washington.

A resident of Carlisle, he recognized the need for expert marksmen in the Continental Army and formed a unit of riflemen, primarily Irish, who became known as Thompson’s Rifles, then the Pennsylvania Rifles or the 1st Pennsylvania Militia.

Thompson led his Rifles to Bunker Hill and then to the Battle of New York, where he provided fire cover that allowed Washington and his army to escape.

According to Kane, the shot that ended the Revolutionary War was fired by one of the Pennsylvania Rifles, who had fought in almost every major battle of the war, always led by Irish generals.

Nearly 100 years later, during the American Civil War, Irish brigades from New York were key to the Union army’s successes, including at the Battle of Gettysburg, where, having recovered several hundred of their injured from Fredericksburg, they were able to field nearly 600 men. Several historians, including the late Shelby Foote, have credited their actions in the Wheatfield under the command of Col. Kelly as the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division of the II Corps, under Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, as being crucial to the battle being won by the North. The brigade has a monument on the Loop on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Still fighting

“In America, there’s freedom of religion for everyone but Catholics,” Kane said. “The Know-Nothing Party was considered Catholic, with ties to the pope.” …SEE CORRECTED COMMENT BELOW>>>>

(“In America there was freedom of religion for everyone but Catholics,” Kane said. “in politics in the 1800’s there was the Know-Nothing party, who was against the the Irish and Catholics and would not support any Irish canditate thinking all Irish and Catholoics had direct ties to the Pope.”)

“While thankfully much of the open discrimination and hatred of Catholics has passed, there remains a viable purpose for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in preserving their Irish Heritage and the contributions of the Irish and Catholic beliefs and practices they hold so dear. The AOH of today provides patriotic and charitable support to the community and promotes other Christian principles. The AOH supports the Right to Life and charitable causes and opposes government interference with the free exercise of religion and religious principles,” he added.

Recently, the group took on President Obama and the executive order that would have required Catholic institutions and other religious employers to provide birth-control pills to employees through their insurance packages, even though the official church stance opposes contraception in any form.

“We’ve been fighting that, and it seems to be working,” Kane said. “The president seems to have backed off a little.”


Much of what the Hibernians do is charitable work, including assisting families who have lost children; those who are fighting cancer and the expenses related to it; and providing baby supplies, cribs, car seats and other baby items to mothers and organizations supporting mothers in Dauphin and Cumberland counties. They also support local church and community events like Lenten fish dinners, international events, parades and ceremonies.

The Hibernians hold an annual recognition of Our Lady of Knock, whose feast day is Aug. 21, a Mass to commemorate their dead members and members of their family and attend monthly Masses in honor of various Irish Saints. They have formed an honor guard which serves at funerals and wakes, church and civic events and other special events.

And this year, everyone in Carlisle can be Irish by association. By official mayoral proclamation, on Feb. 9, Bill Kronenberg declared March “Irish American Heritage Month” in Carlisle.

“Carlisle is rich in the Gaelic culture, having been settled by Irish immigrants who lived in Carlisle and farmed the Cumberland Valley,” Kronenberg wrote in his proclamation.


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