The Ancient Order of Hibernians is a Catholic group with the motto “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.” All who are willing to follow these tenets may join, if they are Irish or have Irish roots. The organization has divisions throughout the United States, but its presence in New York is big and especially so in Suffolk County. Suffolk County has the largest membership of Hibernians in New York in both men’s and ladies’ divisions, and New York in turn has the largest membership in the country.
Mike McCormack, who presented the Hennessy–McCormack trophy in honor of his late wife Tena, was a national Hibernian officer in the past and has great feelings of loyalty for the organization. “I can’t praise the Hibernians enough for what they do – mostly cultural,” he says. “Each division has a cultural event as its centrepiece, and ours is the feis.”
“It’s a family affair,” he adds. “Hibernians and their families.”
Margaret Hennessy is Ladies National Vice President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Wearing a white, green and orange “Long Island Feis” t-shirt, she sits at the feis welcoming table with other committee members, working all day. “I’ve gained an insight into my heritage and I’ve met a tremendous amount of people,” she says. “It’s a tremendous support.” Hennessy has been a member of the ladies’ Hibernians for 25 years.
Mens’ and womens’ divisions are separate, but they help each other out and function in the same way, Hennessy explains. “We promote our culture, our religion,” she says. “We do a lot for charity.”
Prospective members of the Hibernians undergo an initiation before gaining full membership. What the initiation involves is secret, Hennessy says, and she cannot disclose it, but it “reinforces your culture and your heritage.”
One feis organizer joked that many Hibernians are becoming progressively more ancient and they’re not as able as they used to be to do the heavy feis tasks. But the Hibernians are working to remedy that. Separate boys’ and girls’ divisions have started up locally, and younger adults are joining too, and Hennessy says, “We’re seeing a lot of younger moms and dads join because of the dancing.”
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