Niagara Gazette — Now that the hoopla has subsided and the “wearin’ of the green” is over for another year, I decided to write some history of our local Irish heritage organizations. I recently met Kathleen Florence and she passed along some facts for me about the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians.
The AOH in Niagara Falls has a long and proud history as the first chapter was formed on Sept. 16, 1892. They met in the Main Street area for many years as most of the Irish settlers resided in the north end of the city. The original division as they were referred to was incorporated on March 17, 1892, but ceased operations in 1955 as its membership decreased.
Following a St. Patrick’s Day party on March 17, 1970, at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Third Street, a new division was organized. Several men contributed $1 each to begin what is the present day Ancient Order of Hibernians. Seventy-three members were part of the original charter on May 16, 1970. After meeting at various locations during their first year, the Rev. James J. Browne, pastor of Sacred Heart Church on South Avenue and 11th Street, offered space in a classroom for a permanent clubhouse. He became a valued member of the organization and the division was named after him following his passing in 1985.
The division became the standard bearer for the annual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Niagara Falls in 1983. Its main purpose is to celebrate and promote Irish culture and heritage. St. Patrick’s Day began in Ireland as a Catholic holiday, but over the years, it has become a festival as much as a holy day. I read a travel blog which stated: “to the Irish in Ireland, the day is first a feast and holy day, celebrated with a week-long tradition of festivities. Mass on St. Patrick’s Day is an obligation, and if one stops at a pub for a pint or two afterward, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. But there’s no influence to drink more because of the holiday. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is treated like any other saint’s day.” Though the first parades in the United States were begun by Irish immigrants to fight for equal rights, the St. Patrick’s Day parades one sees today in Ireland are as a result of American influence. Same goes for the special meal, corned beef and cabbage is an American tradition; in Ireland, you’d more likely find succulent, pink bacon or a savory roast chicken on the table.