Local History by Seán Beattie


Clonmany AOH drum

At the genealogy exhibition in Clonmany, as part of the Seamus Grant Weekend, an AOH drum was on display. It first came to light in a photo of the AOH band taken outside the hall in Ballyliffin in 1912. It was subsequently traced to an attic in Clonmany from where it was taken to Sandy Row in Belfast for restoration. An excellent job of work with sensitive use of colour, with white rope binding and gold lettering. The existence of an AOH band in the parish is evidence of the strong convictions of residents of Clonmany and district in regard to Home Rule. (The Third Home Rule Bill was passed in 1912).  The Isle of Doagh was another strong AOH base. By contrast the Donegal Loyalist Association was equally strong in Moville on the other side of the peninsula.

The origins of the AOH can be traced to eighteenth century Ribbonism, which was denounced by Bishop McGinn of Derry. The name AOH was first used in 1838 as the Tithe War ended and the Poor Law was in preparation. As the Orange Order grew in strength, the AOH developed alongside as a mirror image, on either side of the Home Rule debate. By 1909 it had 60,000 members in Ireland which acted as foot soldiers of the Independent Irish Party in Westminister which in 1900 had a total of 81 seats. The leader was Joseph Devlin, a Belfast barman turned MP who was Grand Master of its governing body, the Board of Erin. He had the active backing of Bishop O’Donnell of Raphoe. The AOH worked closely with the United Irish League, the Freeman’s Journal and John Dillon to promote the position of John Redmond. Their real power was in America where they had 350,000 members.

Frank Hugh O’Donnell, MP described them as “a body of men of great individual respectability and great collective power. They devote themselves to much practical beneficence towards poor and disabled Irish people. They have fostered the Gaelic Revival from its commencement. Their parades, banquets, picnics and festivities are a prominent feature in the social life of America.” (1910)

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