Hibernians hail 175

After a week in which it seemed as if 175 years of rain had fallen, the sun came out last Saturday as members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians gathered in Manhattan to mark 175 years of struggle, expansion, acceptance and ultimate triumph.

In what was once a neighborhood teeming with desperate Irish refugees - immigrants might have been too innocuous a term in 1836 - Hibernians led by National President Seamus Boyle lined up under flapping flags and amid the skirl of pipes.

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It was a Saturday morning, the corner of Mulberry Street, in what is now Little Italy, and Canal Street, the main thoroughfare for Chinatown.

Some people were figuring on a lie-in. Well!

To the strains of "The Minstrel Boy," "A Nation Once Again" and "The Rising of the Moon," ranks of Hibernians stepped off at 9.30 up Mulberry, past the Little Italy Discount Corner, The Canoli King and Sambuca's Café and under the watchful gaze of NYPD officers Wong and Huang.

"This is history," said AOH historian Mike McCormack.

"New York is here, Pennsylvania is here, just like it was in 1836."

Much of course has changed since 1836, not least the fact that a large assembly of Irish and Irish Americans can walk on a public street without being ambushed by mobs of bigots.

And so they walked, holding flags and banners, smiling and chatting, past Kenmare Street, around the corner onto Grand, where the only ambush was by the May morning sunshine, and finally left onto leafy Mott Street where the parade came to halt in front of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, now restored and with the exalted title of Basilica.

A concelebrated Mass was next on the list for what was a full weekend of celebration. The evening before, Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny had thrown open his residence doors for a reception in honor of the Hibernians and their storied past.

And in an address to those Hibernian leaders who attended, Kilkenny urged the members of the order to pass on its unique heritage to their children and grandchildren, while working to maintain the special connections between the Irish of America and Ireland itself.

On Sunday, after Mass at St. Peter's Church in lower Manhattan, the oldest Catholic parish in New York City, Hibernian leaders laid a wreath honoring the dead of 9/11, the heroes of that day, and those who are still suffering the after effects of the attack on America.

A second wreath laying ceremony followed at the Great Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City, a shrine to the famine dead made to look like a field in Ireland, the kind of field that might have been a last glimpse of home for those who departed Ireland's shores in the day when the word "emigration" just didn't describe what was really happening to those who would ultimately become America's Hibernians.