Ancient Irish order preserves ties of faith, country
By Nissa LaPoint
One ancient order of Irish men in Colorado is working to keep their Catholic faith alive while preserving their culture.
Ancient Order of Hibernians
The Hibernians are a Catholic, Irish American fraternal organization founded in New York City in 1836. Membership is confined to men 16 years and older who are practicing Roman Catholics of Irish birth or descent and are United States citizens. The order strives to foster and preserve Irish culture—art, dance, music and sports—and provides a continuing bridge with Ireland for those who are generations removed.
Ladies Ancient Order of the Hibernians, Denver
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternal organization, is striving to spread knowledge of St. Patrick and foster their faith among brothers.
“What we try to do now is provide a charitable aspect to our organization, to give back to the community, but also to preserve our Catholic faith,” said Michael O’Toole, president of the Father Joseph Carrigan Division.
The organization, which has the Carrigan Division and Michael Collins Division plus a sister order called the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, traces its roots to 1836 in New York.
The order began new efforts last year to raise awareness of St. Patrick—the patron saint of Ireland—by continuing to sponsor an archdiocesan-wide coloring contest at Catholic schools. Students in grades kindergarten through fourth color an image of the saint holding a shamrock and staff. Three winners selected from each grade are invited to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 16.
“We’re taking what was a faithful religious holiday that is now secular and we’re trying to bring our Catholic faith back into it,” said Bob Tiedemann, vice president of the Carrigan Division and parishioner of Our Lady of the Pines Parish.
St. Patrick is known for spreading the Gospel among the primitive pagans of Ireland in the fifth century. He is often depicted with a shamrock, a three-leafed clover, which legend says he used to explain the Trinity.
The Carrigan Division launched in January 2012 to foster old traditions and start new ones. With the assistance of the archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, the division is striving to grow its faith community with monthly Sash Masses at Our Lady of Pines Parish in Conifer. Members wear green sashes, symbolizing their commitment to the Church, and assist with the Mass. Members gather for fellowship afterward over brunch.
The order also organizes an outdoor Mass at the annual Colorado Irish Festival in July, and is present at events like the Living the Catholic Faith Conference.
In its early days, the Hibernians were founded amidst the brutal Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the 1600s. Oliver Cromwell led an army to take over the country for the English Parliament and a series of penal laws were passed against Catholics. Land was confiscated and priests were killed.
“The Hibernians would take the priests underground and move him village to village to keep them safe,” O’Toole said.
The order later came to the United States and became a welcoming group and advocate for poor and disadvantaged Irish immigrants. The order in Colorado wants to continue this tradition by serving the poor in Denver.
On the second Saturday of the month, members provide meal service at Catholic Charities’ Samaritan House in Denver.
A portion of funds raised through the Carrigan Division’s events are sent to support St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
For men, the order is a way to show pride in their heritage while developing their faith.
“It really excited me that the two were tied together—that my Irish heritage and Catholic heritage was the same,” Tiedemann said.
He became more involved in the order after his faith took a greater part of his life, he said. The group makes it possible to deepen his Catholicism in a way he and other Irish men enjoy.
“Its just living the faith and being in love with the faith and trying to find a group of guys who feel the same way,” he said.
A short history of the Irish in Colorado
Irish immigrants settled in the working class neighborhoods of northeast and northwest Denver, congregating near the Catholic parishes of St. Patrick’s in north Denver and the now closed St. Leo’s in Auraria. They opened saloons, became merchants, policemen and politicians, formed social and political clubs, started newspapers and held Denver’s first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 1868.
The first waves of Irish immigrants arrived in Colorado with the discovery of gold near Central City in the late 1850s. Most Irish immigrants came to Colorado as miners or railroad workers who called themselves “terriers.” They settled in the mining camps of Central City and in Denver itself seeking a better life and freedom from the discrimination they experienced in eastern cities. By the early 1860s the Irish comprised Denver’s second largest, and most visible, immigrant group.
Source: The Ancient Order of Hiberniansfor one hour following 8 a.m. Mass