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.

Posted by Gearóid Ó Briain

5 Comments

  1. Armagh is a city because it has cathedrals, which was originally the only basis of city status

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  2. Mary Stasia Concannon 22/04/2022 at 2:06 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article.

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  3. Crawley spent 14 yrs in prison . Only the brightest & best join the American military .

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  4. Katie McGrath 23/04/2022 at 5:49 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article about the AOH as it brought back fond memories to me.
    Every Christmas, the AOH invited the children of the Sacred Heart Home in Drumcondra in Dublin to a party at their Headquarters in Parnell Square. This party had everything a child in an orphanage could ever dream of. So much food and music and dance, and fun galore. We children were so excited just to be there and I remember the adults were so nice, encouraging and helping us to have a really good time.

    The best thing at the end of the wonderful day, we were given large brown paper bags to take back with us with the leftover food, and how we cherished that. Chocolate biscuits (which we had never seen before) and all sorts of delightful edibles. Yes the AOH Christmas Party was the best ever and I take this opportunity to thank the Association for making us children so happy.

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  5. John Powell 30/07/2022 at 3:07 am

    As noted in its Wiki (paraphrased), though classed as a medium-sized town (2011 population 14,777) Armagh was granted city status in 1994 and Lord Mayoralty status in 2012, both by Queen Elizabeth II.

    I comment as one of the 51 members of the AOH/LAOH delegation for this April 2022 trip, another fabulous experience spread across the North, and ending up in Dublin. A member of the SoCal Easter Rising Division, I serve as the AOH Freedom for All Ireland California State Committee Chair. With opportunities to meet and speak directly with legacy justice victims, and with civic and political leaders from across the spectrum and across the Island, this trip (the latest of typically two per year for me for nearly 3 decades) was the best and most educational yet.

    Armagh remains my favorite Irish town since first introduced in mid-1993 interestingly by a senior member of the RUC from Belfast as I toured ambulance, fire and police facilities across Britain and NI. We were preparing to bring the UK into our (now world’s largest) First Responder international association as its first trans-Atlantic chapter and he found out that I have in intense interest in great cathedrals. Fortunately for me, his St Patrick’s Church of Ireland was closed for a special event but I spotted my St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral across on the other hill where we were welcomed for a memorable tour, then retired for a relaxing and raucous Irish evening at Red Ned’s pub, where I’ve subsequently hoisted many a pint with countless mates. Having attended Easter Mass/Vigil at great cathedrals across the globe, this year’s Easter Mass at St Patrick’s with Archbishop Martin will forever be remembered!

    Beyond being raised by a very Irish (2nd generation American) grandfather, my introduction to The Troubles was participating in 1980/81 Hunger Strike support marches in San Francisco while at the Univ of Calif at Berkeley. To sit next to Bobby Sand’s cellmate Colm Scullion for 45 minutes as we rode a bus across the fields near Derry and talk one-on-one about his/their experiences was a highlight of the trip, as was an excursion to the abandoned priory cemetery in Greyabbey on the eastern shore of Strangford Lough where I found my great-great grandparents headstone.

    Thank you to the always friendly, gracious and welcoming Irish who greeted us at every turn, many often just pulling up a chair at a table in the local pub and joining our conversations. And OMG the music… You all are the best Ireland has to offer!

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