Armagh for those not familiar is a quaint town (no urban area with a population of 10,000 should be described as a city), the reported burial place of Brian Boru. The seat of the Primate of All Ireland, the county town of Ard Mhacha, it serves as a poignant and culturally significant fulcrum point in Irish history – the fact that the Armagh City Hotel overlooked the British Army barracks in Armagh was an ever present reminder as to what State laid claim to the jurisdiction and guaranteed its functioning.
Not lost on the AOH and LAOH (Ancient Order and the Ladies’ Ancient Order of the Hibernians respectively) was the significance of hosting at Armagh following the threats against Irish politicians by Loyalists and the counter-threats by republicans against Loyalist leaders at an Easter address. Led by the indomitable Martin Galvin, the Hibernians hosted two notable speakers: Gerry McGeough and John Crawley.
Galvin opened the event by stating the importance of the continued activity and public presence of the AOH, particularly given the destabilising actions of loyalist gangs in recent weeks and months. The Hibernians continue to raise tens of thousands for charitable causes, for former prisoners and the victims of Loyalist and British forces.
McGeough, and should be a household name to any Irish nationalist, captivated the audience with natural charisma and spoke to the gathered about his involvement with Bobby Sands’ successful election campaign and the transition (of the Republican Movement broadly) from spoiling ballots or simply not voting, to seeking to have members elected. I would not do justice to his history by recounting his speech in full here, but the vivid commentary, the stories of heroism and selflessness displayed by the Irish, the determination in the community including a woman bedridden for years insisting she be brought to cast her ballot, and the gifting of a Tricolour draped on the coffin of a young volunteer by his mother to the campaign, all of these things brought home to us just how total and all-encompassing the sense of community was, in a community under siege within living memory.
The second speaker was John Crawley, who by his own admission was referred to by other volunteers as ‘the Yank’ owing to his accent from having been raised in America by two Irish parents. Crawley’s story is one which could be considered an allegory of Irish America – bound by blood and identity to the homeland. Crawley spent four years in the US Marine Corp and on his discharge from the military flew same day to Ireland to join the struggle. Involved in various campaigns, the attempted importation of arms from America, and the attempted destruction of portions of Southern England’s electricity grid, Crawley would spend fourteen years in prisons for his commitment to the physical force tradition. I personally look forward to reading Crawley’s autobiography when it is released in September, available for preorder on Amazon.
The AOH and Irish America retain an active interest in the affairs of Ireland, and while no longer as vibrant as it once was, Irish America must be remembered by Irish nationalists, it’s survival guaranteed by encouraging Irish emigrants (if we must have emigration, though we rather not) to bring fresh faces and blood with them to North America.