AT the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) biannual convention in New Orleans last weekend, Pennsylvania man and active national vice president Seamus Boyle was elected the Irish-Catholic fraternal organizations 35th national president by a resounding three to one majority.Boyle, 66 replaced Massachusetts native Jack Meehan, who served just two years - one term - as president. Two terms in office is the norm for the position. Speaking to the Irish Voice from his home in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning, Boyle said it was the ultimate honor to be voted in as national president of the Hibernians, an organization he has belonged to since 1972. "Following in the footsteps of some of the past presidents and to be held in the same esteem as they have been is definitely an honor," said Boyle, a retired carpenter. Ned McGinley, two-term predecessor to Meehan, formally presented Boyle to the convention as Meehan's challenger to over 2,000 Hibernian men and women, 900 of whom were eligible to vote, at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel on Canal Street. This was the third AOH convention in New Orleans in 116 years. The first was in 1882 and again a century later the Hibernians convened in the Big Easy in 1992. Joining Boyle at the convention was his Co. Armagh-born wife Bernadette, his son Michael and his two daughters, Tara and Bronagh. Boyle, who visits Ireland about two or three times a year, said he ran for president of the largest Irish organization in the U.S. because, he said, "I thought the organization needed a change in leadership." Boyle served as an officer in his local AOH Division 39 for 30 years, before being elected as an officer onto the Philadelphia county board. From there he moved quickly up through the ranks, serving as both vice president and president on the state board. He also served as an elected officer on the National Board for 10 years before becoming vice president in 2006. Boyle, who was born in Co. Armagh and spent years living in Louth before coming to the U.S. with his family in 1954, said his first and foremost priority as president of the AOH is to deal with the pressing issue of immigration affecting thousands of Irish living in the U.S. "Immigration is one of my main priorities right now," he said. "We will be trying to work with the different organizations in getting the Irish immigrants here legalized," he added, admitting it's an issue that he is very close to and would like to see a resolution sooner rather than later. Vice Chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), Ciaran Staunton spoke at the convention about the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the U.S. and asked the Hibernians to make it their top priority in the coming year to help ILIR and other immigration groups that lobby on behalf of the undocumented in finding a resolution to the problem. AOH National Chairman of Immigration Michael Glass and members of the Immigration Committee, Pete Coyle and Matt Reilly, both of New York, submitted a motion in support of ILIR before the Resolution Committee on Thursday and it was passed. It is now a requirement of the officers and members of the Hibernians that "all state and county boards, all Hibernian divisions around the United States, and all Hibernian members will actively support and redouble our efforts to support the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) in its quest for fair and equitable reform of the immigration laws of the United States." Keeping in alignment with the AOH's mission, Boyle, whose mother's family in Ireland was very involved with the Hibernians, said he would ensure that the AOH's charitable drive would carry on to feed the hungry and the veterans. On the religious end, Boyle said the organization would continue to fund seminarians going to school through the organization's St. Patrick's project. "It costs a lot of money, and even if they do get a scholarship they still have a lot of expenses for gas or insurance on their car and stuff like that," he said. "We usually try to give them at least $20,000 or $30,000 every year to seminarians according to how much we raise." Boyle is also an active supporter of the Northern Ireland peace process, and told the Irish Voice he would love to see an end to conflict. "Although we have peace in Ireland right now in the North we also still have an awful lot of issues that need to be cleaned up," he added. "Going back as far as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, we need to find out who was involved and what exactly happened. The British have to give us some answers." Speaking about the convention weekend, Boyle said a lot of important business was put to bed. "The host committee made up of Jimmy McKay and Terry Kelleher did a tremendous job," he said."I was at a lot of conventions with the AOH and the Carpenters Union, but I've never been to any convention anywhere that has ever come close to that. Some of the events were just fantastic." He described the final night of the convention as a "scene from a movie." The newly elected officers were led into and around the ballroom of the fifth floor of the Shearton by a parade of sheriffs on motorcycles with blaring sirens, followed by a band. "It was just something so amazing," recalled Boyle.
The Irish pub that became home base for 9/11 ground zero rescuers