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Hibernians in the West

On behalf of the Montana Divisions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians,
the Thomas Francis Meagher Division wishes you:

For more about our Organization...

The primary purpose of the Organization is briefly set forth in the preamble of the National Constitution:

  1. To promote Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity among its members.
  2. To uphold and sustain loyalty to the government of the United States of America by the members of this organization living here in America, or whatever government under which its members may be citizens.
  3. To aid and advance by all legitimate means, the aspirations and endeavors of the Irish people to complete and absolute independence.
  4. To foster the ideals and cultivate the history and traditions of the Irish race throughout the world.

Originally, the Hibernian movement was founded by laymen in 16th century Ireland to protect clergy of the Catholic faith from persecution by the English monarchy. This protection extended for several centuries and included teachers as well. The priestswould say mass for their people in secluded areas on “Mass Rocks”, while the teachers would become known as “Hedgerow Schoolmasters”as they secretly taught behind the protection of hedgerows. In both cases safekeeping was supplied by Hibernians.

By the 19th century, the organization was extended to America to promote the interests and welfare of Irish immigrants in the newworld. Beginning on the east coast in 1806, the spirit and organizing abilities of the Ancient Order of Hibernians moved across the continent, just as the Irish did, to offer aid and comfort to those in need. The Hibernians provided social and religious gatherings as well as assistance for the needy. They also helped these Irish to maintain their Celtic identity and culture.

Initially the American Hibernians formally established themselves in New York in 1836 to protect the Catholic clergy and church property from anti-Catholic forces.  At the same time a large influx of Irish immigrants fleeing famine in Ireland in the late 1840s prompted the growth of Irish societies on the eastern seaboard. The Ancient Order of Hibernians being the most prominent.  The development of railroads, the growth of mining, and the search for farming country brought the Irish west.  Wherever they gathered, AOH organizations were set up, the intent being to aid newcomers with counsel and assistance, helping them to feel comfortable in their surroundings. Additionally, they could meet some of “their own” and maintain their culture so that art, dance, music, and sports would be fostered and preserved.  The order also provided a bridge with Ireland for those generations removed from the Motherland.


In the West, due to a large influx of Irish mining men, Divisions of the AOH soon became part of the Montana Territory.  In fact, the birthplace of Hibernianism in Montana, probably in 1880, was a mining camp near Helena called Vestal, long since a ghost town.  But Butte and Anaconda, with their great numbers of miners and smeltermen became focal points for Hibernian activity.  Butte had its first Division in 1877 and grew eventually to three Divisions with its own Hibernia Hall.  Anaconda followed in 1885.  Never going beyond one division, the Anaconda organization grew to 250 members, and in 1899 built a grand, two story building that lasted until 1979.

Other Montana Divisions around the turn of the 19th century were Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, Townsend, Miles City, and Boulder, for a total of ten divisions in the state, with membership of well over a thousand in 1902.  Two years later the feminine side of Hibernianism evolved when a division of the Daughters of Erin was founded, forerunner of the Ladies AOH. These groups provided for social and religious gatherings, as well a assistance for the needy, helping to maintain Irish identity and culture, and dedicated to helping Ireland in its struggle to become a free and independent nation. 

By the end of WW I, the Irish in America were becoming more Americanized so for many Irish organizations were losing appeal, especially to the second and third generations. The dissolution of organizations like the Hibernians followed.  By 1917, the AOH in Helena ceased to exist.  Over succeeding decades all Montana divisions dropped out, save for the Anaconda group, which has survived up to the present day.

Although there were many Divisions of the AOH in Montana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for those people who came west and into our state, the movement declined with the Americanization of the Irish until only one Division remained, that of Anaconda, which survived up to the present day.

A revival of Hibernianism began in Helena in 1982 with a new unit named the Thomas Francis Meagher Division, which soon had 120 members. Subsequently, five more Montana units sprang to life, until now the spirit and dedication of the Hibernian concept has a strong foothold. Within that time, new or revived divisions arose in Butte, Kalispell, Missoula, Great Falls, and Billings for a total of seven statewide, numbering over 600 members.  Meanwhile, a state board was created to govern the membership.  Today in Montana, Hibernianism is strong and healthy.

The Helena Hibernians dedicated themselves, among other things, to reviewing the biography of Meagher for truth and honesty regarding his presence in Montana’s history, a story intentionally and badly distorted over the decades after his death.

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Thomas Francis Meagher Division of AOH
P.O. Box 1916
Helena, Montana 59624

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