The Ancient Order of Hibernians of Danbury, Connecticut
The Ancient Order of Hibernians is a fraternal organization whose motto is “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.” The A.O.H. originated in Ireland to protect the Catholic Faith and preserve the traditions of the Irish people. The A.O.H. spread to the United States in the year l836 when a division was founded in Manhattan. After being established in the United States, the A.O.H. expanded its original purposes by becoming a support group for each wave of immigration arriving from Ireland. During the nineteenth century, the A.O.H spread throughout the United States. In the year l869, Bridgeport became the first Connecticut city to establish an A. O. H. Division. The A.O.H. came to Danbury when Division 1 was founded on May 28, 1873. The first President of Division 1. was William Costello. The longest-serving President of Division 1 was Cornelius Delury a local funeral director and businessman who served as President from 1887 to 1912. Colonial Delury, as he was called, was also 2nd in command of the state-wide Hibernian Rifle Regiment which was the military wing of the AOH. Company “C” was the Danbury representative in the Hibernian Rifles and was commanded by Capt. Thomas F. O’Rourke who had at one time represented Danbury in the Connecticut General Assembly. For a brief period of time, Company “C” existed as a separate AOH Division and was chartered as Military Division No 2. Another notable Hibernian from that era was the Rev. John D. Kennedy the first pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Danbury. Father Kennedy was a very popular man and served as Local, State and National Chaplain of the AOH. Division 1 reached its peak in Danbury in the two decades prior to World War I, when the Hibernian St. Patrick’s Day Ball was one of the premier social events in Danbury when as many as 800 people were in attendance. Division 1 became defunct during the Depression and is best remembered today by the Stain Glass window of St. Patrick located over the main altar in St. Joseph’s Church.
The AOH was revived in Danbury in January of 1959 when the present Division was founded. Initially the Division was named after Martin J. Cunningham who had served as the first Irish Mayor of Danbury. However eventually the name was changed to the John A. Gildea Division in honor of one of original organizers and a man who was serving as State Vice President at the time of his death in 1962. The first President was J. Augustus O’Neil. The Division grew rapidly and within a few years became the 4th largest Division in the United States. In March of 1959 the new Division sponsored its first St. Patrick’s Day Ball. This tradition has continued unbroken right down to the present. In 1970 the Danbury AOH began the tradition of selecting a Hibernian of the Year with the first honoree being local restaurant owner Dennis Miller. Danbury Hibernians have hosted State Conventions of the AOH in 1894, 1919, 1987 and 2001. Danbury has produced three State Presidents: Daniel Ryan, J. Philip Gallagher and Thomas J. Egan. All three of these men also went on to serve on the National Board of the AOH as National Directors. In 1995 the Men of the John A. Gildea Division, under the leadership of President Gerry Curran, joined with the Ladies of the Mary McWhorter Division in founding the Greater Danbury Irish Festival with the hope that the proceeds from this endeavor would lead to the establishment of an Irish Cultural Center in Danbury. This dream came to fruition in 2009 when the Greater Danbury Irish Center opened.