The Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish in all of us

Sandy Vasko

    In 1836, the year Will County was formed, a group of Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania founded an organization called the Ancient Order of Hibernians, mainly in response to bigotry against both the Irish and the Catholics.
    By 1874 the Irish coal miners of Braidwood had formed a very active Braidwood Division. Today we set the way-back machine to Aug. 15, 1879 when Braidwood was the center of Hibernian activity.
    The Irish, with the Scots, the Welsh and the English, were among the first of the ethnic groups to mine coal in Braidwood. The Ancient Order of Hibernians certainly was the most active of the ethnic societies. Dances, balls and parties were held monthly, and prominent Irish figures were celebrated.
    We read on March 17, 1879, “The 101st anniversary of the birth of Robert Emmet, the Irish patriot and martyr, was celebrated on Tuesday evening in Braidwood by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, division No. 1, of Will County.  The programme consisted of vocal and instrumental music and an eloquent and soul stirring address by Hon. W. J. Hynes, of Chicago.”    
    The Irish community was not well covered in the Wilmington paper, but the Joliet Signal had a Braidwood correspondent, who, though living in Joliet, visited Braidwood frequently. The following is a description from that newspaper of a Hibernian celebration in Braidwood.
    “Friday, August 15th, was celebrated by the Ancient Order of Hibernians of Will County at Braidwood. Divisions two, three, and four of Joliet, five of Wilmington and six of Lockport arrived on the noon train where they were met by division one of Braidwood in full regalia and the miners' brass band.”
    “The procession was preceded by John T. Donahoe and P. H. McSherry in carriages, and made a very fine appearance as it passed up Main Street, and thence to the grounds which were located just north of the city.”
    “Arriving at the grounds, dinner was at once served to the visiting members which, by the way, was a fine one and received ample justice. Old Sol had not yet put in appearance and on account of the threatening appearance of rain, the speaking was dispensed with.”
    “The dancing platform being in readiness, the young folks made their way in that direction and were soon entangled in the mazy waltz.”
    “At 2 p.m. the races were announced and the crowd wended their way in the direction of the grand stand, which was occupied by P. Kelley, Chas O'Connell, Thos. Hayden of Florence, E. Cushing, and last but not least, P. J. Graham of Joliet.”
    “The first race was 200 yards and was won by Long of Braidwood, next came a four-mile walking match, after which followed a horse race best three in five mile heat. Considerable excitement was manifested in the race. It was hotly contested and won by WM. Fitzgerald's horse of Custer.
    “Athletic sports too numerous to mention too place between heats. Watches were now consulted, and train time announced. The roll of the drums was heard in the distance summoning the different divisions to their respective place when a double-quick march was played and the depot soon reached, and home sweet home was seen in the near future.
    “In conclusion, suffice it to say that the A.O.H. of Will County had a celebration worthy of the name. And division one should feel proud to know that the day's pleasure in their charge passed off enjoyable to all.”
    As late as 1915 the August picnic of the A.O.H. was a feature of Braidwood social life. We read on Aug. 20, “The annual Hibernian picnic held at Braidwood Monday last was well attended. The main feature of the event was horse racing, with results as follows: Free-for-all Trot or Pace - Bobby D, James McEvilly, Minooka; second, Molly B, Biddle, Wilmington; third, Pasco Boy, Joe Mercer, Kankakee. Gent's Drive - Kelly, Cooper, Lorenzo; second, Shamrock, Young, Gardner. The Braidwood Lincoln Macs Baseball team winning both games played that day.”
    If interested in Irish history in Will County, you can contact the Irish American Society of Will County, they are very active and will welcome your inquiries.