Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity
The Irish and AOH in Colorado:
by Tom Quinn, History Committee Chairman
The Irish in Colorado:
The irrepressible Irish immigrants settled in the working class neighborhoods of northeast and northwest Denver, congregating near the Catholic parishes of St. Patrick's in north Denver and St. Leo's in Auraria. They opened saloons, became merchants, policemen and politicians, formed social and political clubs, started newspapers and held Denver's first St. Patrick's Day celebration in 1868.
The first waves of Irish immigrants arrived in Colorado with the discovery of gold near Central City in the late 1850s. Most Irish immigrants came to Colorado as miners or railroad workers who called themselves "terriers." They settled in the mining camps of Central City and in Denver itself seeking a better life and freedom from the discrimination they experienced in eastern cities. By the early 1860s the Irish comprised Denver's second largest, and most visible, immigrant group.
AOH membership in Colorado soared throughout the 1880s and 90s. By 1901 Colorado boasted nine AOH divisions, with three in Denver alone and one each in Leadville, Victor, Central City, Silver Plume, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. The divisions sponsored social and political activities and protected Catholic churches from the rising tide of reactionary anti-Catholicism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The AOH even participated in labor organizing in the mining region of Leadville.
The AOH organized Denver's St. Patrick's Day Parade starting in the late 1880s and held an immense annual Grand St. Patrick's Day Ball at the Denver Coliseum Hall regularly attended by hundreds of revelers. They also formed uniformed companies for the military arm of the AOH known as the Hibernian Rifles or Knights.
Desiring to band together as Irishmen and to protect the Catholic Church, a group of Irish miners in Central City formed the first Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) division in Colorado in 1878, soon followed by a Denver division in 1879. In 1880, Colorado sent its first delegate to the AOH National Convention in Philadelphia.
The National Convention of 1902:
The explosion in growth of the AOH in Colorado brought the AOH National Convention to Denver in 1902. The delegates to the convention assembled at the immense Denver Coliseum on July 15, 1902. From there, they marched in a grand procession escorted by the Hibernians of Denver and headed by the Denver Hibernian Rifles to the Church of the Sacred Heart for a Pontifical Mass celebrated by Bishop Matz.
In his eloquent welcoming address to the 1902 convention, Rev. E. J. Barry extolled the delegates to take pride in the Irish race and protect the Catholic faith, "You are the representatives of that grand, sturdy old Irish stock that has planted the cross and the Catholic faith here in this country, from the snows of Alaska to the everglades of Florida, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans."
Yesterday and Today:
The spirit of the AOH in Denver needed but a spark to re-ignite. The Denver AOH made a strong comeback in the 1980s and 90s. Today's Colorado AOH follows the great traditions of the Order through its support of old St. Patrick's Church in Denver, sponsorship of the Michael Collins Pipe and Drum Band and annual events such as Irish New Year's and the Raising of the Flag / Blessing of the Keg Events that kick off St. Patrick's week in Colorado.
Today, AOH membership in Colorado once again soars as men of Irish Catholic heritage seek to gather together in the spirit of Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity and to celebrate the grand history and traditions of the Irish and the AOH in America.
The AOH continued to prosper in Colorado during the first decades of the 20th century. However, the Order faced difficult times in with the rise to political power of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s and the economic upheaval of the Great Depression. The AOH remained the major Irish organization in Denver into the 1940's and continued to co-sponsor the largest St. Patrick's Day celebration in Denver through the start of WWII.
As it first did more than a century ago the banner of the AOH again leads the men of the Order as they proudly march in Denver's St. Patrick's Day Parade each year.