Peggy Cooney’s Keynote Speech (100 year history) April 8, 2006
The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded in New York City in 1836. It functioned for the following 50 plus years as a “Secret” fraternal brotherhood of Irishmen and Irish-American men of Roman Catholic faith sworn to protect the church and each other. By the last decade of the nineteenth century the immigration from, Ireland was at an all time high. It became quite obvious to the founding members of the AOH that an organization or sisterhood of Irish and Irish American Catholic Women was very badly needed primarily to protect the young immigrants Irish girls coming to the United States. At the AOH National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska in May 1894, the “Daughters of Erin” was founded. The primary purpose of the organization was to protect the young immigrant girl from Ireland, assist them in securing employment, to give them the opportunity to be with their own kind, and to keep them from becoming homesick and discouraged. Several Divisions of the newly formed order began to spring up in many of the major cities and it was at this time that Allegheny Co. Division 1 was founded. They met at the Sacred Heart Parish in Shadyside.
The new organization was growing under the tutelage of some of the finest female minds this country had to offer. It wasn’t long before the leadership of this newly formed Irish American Sisterhood, petitioned to be self-governing and legislated by its own National Board of officers. In 1906 at the AOH National Convention in Sarasota, New York this goal came to fruition. For this new beginning the name of our organization was changed to “Ladies Auxiliary to the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America” national officers were elected and serving as the first National LAAOH President was Anna Melia from Scranton, PA.
Once these women returned to their hometowns the organization’s membership multiplied tenfold. In Pittsburgh each Roman Catholic Parish in the City, that was not ethnically established, had an AOH and LAAOH Chapter. In the ten years since the founding of Our Order Pittsburgh boasted 30 LAAOH Divisions. As was the custom at the time, as each new Division was being formed the next available number was assigned, hence Division Eleven was born in May of 1906, organizing in the Oakland section of the City. Most of the women forming the new division hailed from the South Oakland or Soho areas of the Pittsburgh.
During the early years of the Division, meetings were held in the homes of the officers with the agenda focusing on charitable works. Also at this time the members worked for the War effort and made and rolled bandages, sent care packages as well as homemade cards and notes of encouragement and thanks to the lonely soldier over seas. By the mid 1920’s meetings were being held at St. Agnes Parish on Fifth Ave. in Oakland, and the common goal of the Order at this time was the erection and dedication of a monument to the various orders of nuns who served on the battlefield as nurses during the Civil War. The idea to honor those sisters was that of LAAOH National President, Ellen Ryan Jolly, whose thesis for her PhD was the identification and contributions of these same Religious Sisters. Division Eleven worked diligently raising funds for this national project, they did sewing projects, held bake sales and sponsored luncheons and card parties. The magnificent monument, unveiled in Washington DC on September 20, 1924 was the first ever dedicated to women in the Nations capital.
The 1930’s arrived with a Great Depression enveloping this land. There was financial distress and generalized hopelessness. The Monthly meetings of Division Eleven provided an escape from the grimness of daily life. They shared stories and jokes and sang Irish songs, they enjoyed a treat of tea and simple cakes, served on a linen tablecloths and porcelain tea services. At the end of the meeting they would pray for each other and if able provide help to those less fortunate than themselves. It was during this period that Pope Pius XI asked the National Board of the LAAOH to adopt the Columban Fathers as our National Missionary. Once again Division Eleven was one of the leading contributors in Allegheny County to this mission. They gave generously in spite of their own financial destitution. Division Eleven remains, today, one of the top contributors in not only Allegheny County but also in the State of Pennsylvania.
With the arrival of the 1940’s the world was once again at war. The members of Eleven worked toward the war effort, much the same as their mothers had done before them. With most of the men overseas, socialization was primarily done with friends and family, and these women became the guardians of their faith and traditions. By the end of the decade, peace and growth marked the new America, looking forward to the last part of the century. Changes had also occurred to Division Eleven meetings were now being held in the clubrooms of the Div. 9 AOH in Oakland on Oakland Ave. Prosperity and the baby boom helped membership to grow. Many of our members were wives, daughters and sisters to Div. 9 members.
The 50’s were a rollicking time in this country and with the Oakland Irish. Dances, Christmas Parties for the children complete with beautiful gifts and candy from Santa. Irish Dance Lessons, Song Fests, Plays and always the Fund Raiser for one of our charities. In 1956 President Sara Madigan sponsored a dance with the proceeds aimed at replacing the roof on the church her mother was baptized in, in County Galway Ireland There is a plague in the back of that church till this day commemorating the generous donation. A joint effort between the AOH and LAAOH sponsored an annual Irish Picnic in Kennywood Park. Future Division Eleven President Mae O’Grady was in charge of the children from St. Paul’s’ Orphanage, she provided each child with tickets for rides and a wonderful picnic lunch. This lady was always known for her kindness and empathy. Many of our members today remember attending many of these events as children thus planting the seeds of our Hiberianism
With the Sixties came civil strife and political change in this country. During this period the AOH Clubroom was sold due to a sharp decline in membership. Once again the women met at St. Agnes Parish, unfortunately the membership for the LAAOH was following suit with the men and active membership had drastically declined. During this difficult period, when many Divisions from all over the nation folded, a dedicated handful of women from Division Eleven held on. They refused to see their efforts to maintain the principals of our Noble Order and the goals of Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity be put asunder.
Along came the Seventies kicking and screaming, trying its best to once again establish peace and tranquility in this country. Finally by mid decade America was looking forward to a brighter and progressive future. Division Eleven’s meetings had once again changed venues and now were being held at the Community Room of the Pittsburgh National Bank at the corner of Fifth Ave and Craig Street. The change was necessary because the meeting room was much smaller and better able to accommodate the small membership turnout during these years. But Lo and behold the children of the Fifties and Sixties are now grown and ready to assume their responsibilities as Hibernians.
The fabulous Eighties arrive and membership has taken a dramatic upswing. It is now obvious that the Community Room at PNB will no longer hold us. Naturally we look back to St. Agnes for a meeting place, we are joined there by our brothers from AOH Div 9, Father Ronan Deegan TOR is the pastor of St Agnes Parish as well as a fellow Hibernian, and he welcomes us home. Division Eleven begins a period of growth and involvement that hadn’t been seen in many years. Together with the officers of Division 9 AOH we establish that our meetings occur on the same Second Wednesday of every month at St Agnes Church Hall each meeting-taking place separately in different sections of the Hall, but a joint social always followed. These monthly socials were always great and many ideas for projects shared by both organizations were proposed and discussed. . Division Eleven was the first Pittsburgh Irish Organization that held a mass for the men on Hunger Strike in Northern Ireland in May of 1981 this event prompted media attention and informed the citizens of Pittsburgh of the atrocities occurring everyday to the Political Prisoners in Northern Ireland.
We established our annual Irish Dance fundraiser; we sponsored the finest of Irish Bands and Groups from New York to Ireland. This event was a source of big revenue for our Division but even more importantly each year the attendance grew and people looked foreword to the Dance held by “ Oakland Ladies”
In 1985 State President Sara Madigan turned over the gavel of leadership of the PA LAAOH to her daughter. This was the first time in the history of the Order that this had occurred on such a high level as the State. Both of these women were Division Eleven. Later in the year of 1985 our name was changed to the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians in America. We had finally realized our dream to be a self-governing independent Catholic Irish Womens Organization. Ironically the Constitution legalizing the New Name was signed in Oct 1985 at the AOH Presidents Testimonial Dinner in Pittsburgh Pa and there are several women in this room this evening that were present for the signing of that document.
Many of our members worked with the Allegheny County Board to re-establish the Degree Team. In 1985.
By 1986 Division Eleven had adopted our St. Patrick’s Day Parade Uniform that has become a familiar sight in each subsequent parade over the years that of the Green Blazer White Blouse Navy skirt and Navy stockings we have had a few variations but the original idea is still there. It was also at this time that we established our after parade party which started as a family venue in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel but this as well has gone thru a few variations with the original idea still there.
This was a very busy decade, we together with Division 9 sponsored annual Christmas Parties, and Annual Picnics held in Schenley Park each summer. Our members attended every State and National Convention and also served as officers on both the State and National Levels of our Order.
As the Nineties arrived many changes were in store for Division Eleven Unfortunately St. Agnes Parish was experiencing the decline in membership that was being felt by most inner city parishes. It was with great sadness that we were present for the closing of this great old church and the home that had always welcomed us. We needed to find a new meeting room and we were fortunate to be able to settle right back into our previous schedule at Laseks Banquet Hall on Bates Street. For the most part our membership continued to grow and we were able to precede working for our Missions and Charities and well as continuing to have a really good time.
I think never before had we stood together more united as sisters than on that solemn spring-like morning in February of 1995 as the funeral procession of our beloved President Patricia Conroy, slowly wound its way through Calvary Cemetery making its final turn, there with the sun shining on their green blazers and navy blue skirts were 50 of her sisters making sure she found her final resting place.
During the nineties we held several Fashion Shows at the Blarney Stone Restaurant with the proceeds earmarked for our charities Support Our Aging Religious and the Columban Fathers.
But once again we had to deal with changes. Laseks had been sold and the plan for its future was uncertain. Once again we needed to find a new meeting spot. It was very difficult to find anything in Oakland the atmosphere had become that of a college town. With great reluctance to leave Oakland, we moved to our next meeting room at Mitchell’s in Downtown Pittsburgh. We remained at Mitchell’s for 1year when the opportunity to returned to Oakland presented itself with the re-opening of Laseks under new Management now known as Jameson’s and it was from there that we welcomed the new century as well as the new millennium
In 2002 once again we found ourselves homeless. We knew we needed to find something permanent, although our members are resilient we were getting less attendance at monthly meetings I don’t think they knew where to find us! We became aware that there were plans for a new Irish restaurant/pub to be opening on the North Shore of Pittsburgh We made an appointment to meet with the owner who is out of Philadelphia and a Hibernian. Finnegan’s was still under construction when we met with Michael Driscoll a friendly, religious and somewhat superstitious Irishman, who welcomed us by saying “ Division Eleven! You won’t believe this but eleven is my lucky number “And he has become our lucky charm. We now have a home and this is our fourth year of meeting at the Quiet Man Pub in Finnegans.
In this time of instant telecommunication, we are able to get our newsletters with the aid of a computer, we send off e-mails to our membership almost on a weekly basis, we can get a hold of each other immediately by cell phones and beepers at meetings we see our sisters using palm pilots and blackberries
. Can you imagine what those first Division Eleven women would be thinking!!
But with all these changes what has not changed is our dedication to the goals of our Order and the belief in our Motto.
Division Eleven will continue to work for the next one hundred years for the same purpose our mothers and grandmothers did before us. To foster the ideals and perpetuate the history and traditions of the Irish people and promote Irish culture Would Division Eleven members please stand. Thank you Ladies for a job well done.