Freedom for all Ireland (FFAI) grants totaling almost $100,000 were handed out last month to seventeen applicants by the American Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH.) Leading figures from each grant recipient, then joined in a zoom webinar conference on September 19th, telling Hibernians from across the United States, about each group’s work and how much they count on American financial help. The grant checks were personally delivered in Belfast, Derry, Tyrone and Down by recently deported AOH member Malachy McAllister.
Each year the AOH-LAOH make a Christmas Appeal to award grants to groups working for complete and absolute independence, peace and unity for all Ireland. The categories include (a)supporting former Republican political prisoners, (b) truth and justice groups, (c) cross-community initiatives,(d) Irish culture, heritage and language,(e) preserving Irish Republican history, and (f) cross border programs. Groups applying for donations from the FFAI Christmas Appeal, must submit applications that include a question on how they promote freedom for all Ireland.
This year grants were awarded to Relatives for Justice, Belfast National Graves, Pat Finucane Centre, Museum of Free Derry, Passionate Peace Centre-Holy Cross Ardoyne, EALU center for
Tyrone Republican ex-political prisoners, Green Cross, Tyrone National Graves, Ballymurphy Massacre Families, Greater New Lodge Commemoration Committee, Conway Mill Trust, Cairde Strabane, St. Patrick Centre, Duchas Oiriall-South Armagh, Bridges beyond Boxing, Down Patriot Graves, Omagh Basketball, Omagh Choir, and the Witness Project.
HISTORY MAKING FIRST
Previous years’ presentations were only seen by Hibernian officers and members able to travel to Ireland. In what AOH National President Danny O’Connell termed a “history making first” Hibernians across America watched speakers representing 17 grant recipients explain their work and why American help is needed. About half of the speakers assembled at the Felon’s Club in Belfast, while others spoke from locations around the six counties.
Danny O’Connell opened the program, noting the long commitment of the AOH-LAOH to this work followed by LAOH President Karen Keane who said “promoting freedom for all Ireland is one of the core reasons why the AOH and LAOH exist”. Groups were introduced in turn by the respective Presidents and FFAI Chairs Martin Galvin and Dolores Desch.
Mark Thompson, on behalf of Relatives for Justice said:
“I have been on tours for the AOH-LAOH and seen the work and dedication behind these donations. The FFAI grants help fund RfJ reports into collusion and British killings and bring legacy justice and truth to families who have been fighting for decades. The donations come alongside the vital political and solidarity work which you do.”
Brendan Bik McFarlane speaking for Belfast National Graves called AOH-LAOH help “absolutely crucial to the work of honoring the graves, legacy and memory of Ireland’s patriot dead.”
John Kelly of the Bloody Sunday Families and Museum for Free Derry spoke of how badly the museum was hurt by being unable to open for visitors this year because of Covid restrictions, and how welcome American help is at this time saying “America was always with the Bloody Sunday families and without you we would not be where we are today”.
Frankie Quinn of EALU, the Republican ex-prisoners center in East Tyrone, described the special needs of former pows, in Tyrone and surrounding counties and the special programs provided for them.
Brian McKee, speaking for Fr. Gary Donegan and the Passionate Centre at Holy Cross Ardoyne, described their work healing the legacy of conflict. John Teggart of the Ballymurphy Massacre Families, spoke of the approaching inquest verdict into the massacre, and plans to mark the 50th anniversary with a special memorial. Sinead Walsh of Green Cross, explained the special help the group provides to the families who lost loved ones in the war and acknowledged the work of Bobby Storey. Sean Murray of the Witness Project discussed the impact of his film “UNQUIET GRAVES” broadcast on RTE television, and the need to allow people to tell their own stories about victimization under British rule.
Other representatives were Brian Cawley of Tyrone National Graves, Fiona Johnston of Down Patriot Graves, Daryl Simpson of the Omagh Choir, Dr.Tim Campbell of the St. Patrick Centre, Jarlath McNulty of Cairdre Strabane, Pearse McGeough of Duchas Oriall, John O’Hagan of Greater New Lodge, Eamon Daly of Omagh Thunder Basketball and Joe Lowe of Bridges Beyond Boxing.
Malachy McAllister, who delivered the checks, noted that seeing the work done by these groups first hand gave him a “deeper appreciation of the work done by these groups and importance of continued American help”. LAOH FFAI Chair Dolores Desch, thanked everyone noting that FFAI was becoming increasingly important to members of the LAOH and ”events like this were another step in building an even greater interest and desire to help”. AOH Vice-President Sean Pender said he took “great pride in what the AOH-LAOH did while he served as FFAI Chair and was proud of the FFAI work we continue to accomplish together.”
AOH Freedom for All Ireland Chair Martin Galvin concluded by saying to the Irish grant recipients:
“These contributions are made because Americans are inspired by you and your work for freedom for all Ireland. The AOH-LAOH are with you. We want to support you, and we take pride and satisfaction in being a small part of your tremendous efforts.”
“We know that the coming year will present unprecedented problems for us in funding grants and in our political work for you, but our members are determined not to let you down.”