Walking in Friendly and Historical Footsteps
What does Ed Last have in common with George Washington’s bodyguard, Stephen Moylan? Moylan was the very first president of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, back in 1771. Ed Last is the latest in this long line of presidents that began with Moylan.
As a member of The Friendly Sons for 45 years, Last is in some very historic company. Founding fathers and signers of the Declaration of Independence John Dickinson and Robert Morris were members of the Friendly Sons; so were General Anthony Wayne (Scots Irish) and Commodore John Barry. (Washington was a member, too, though honorary.) Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were among modern-day members.
The Friendly Sons—the oldest such organization in the United States—have their roots in the immigrant movement of the late 18th century. In fact, the full proper name of this group is The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland.
Leading the Emerald Pipe Band.
“Ireland was in great turmoil during the 1700s,” says Ed Last (also the drum major for the Philadelphia Emerald Society Pipe Band. From Cromwell on (in the mid-1600s), a lot of the Irish lands were forfeited to English noblemen resulting in a lot of Catholic and Protestant immigration to the New World by people displaced from their land. The uprising of the United Irishmen in 1798 caused more to flee to the new world. For all these Irish ex-pats, The Friendly Sons was a welcoming committee at the dock.”
The Friendly Sons later became heavily involved in relief for the suffering victims of the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mor), as depicted in the monument at Front and Chestnut Streets, and have continued their involvement in many charitable causes to this day.
More recently the organization has expanded its efforts to include the promotion of Irish scholarship (including establishment of a scholarship fund at St. Joseph’s University). The Friendly Sons has also become involved in special projects, including the Commodore Barry Statue at Independence Hall and the Fitzsimons statue at the Cathedral. The organization also commissioned a reproduction of the Book of Kells for the library at Gwynedd Mercy College. (The original is in the Long Room at Trinity College in Dublin.) In addition, The Friendly Sons make contributions to many local charities and hospices, and to charitable organizations in Ireland, such as The 174 Trust in Belfast, a non-denominational charity, and Croi in the west of Ireland, a cardiology foundation. They also support Irish teachers visiting the U.S. in the summer).
Last, of Havertown, a retired executive, had worked for Unisys and Amtrak, among others. He started out in the Donegal Society in the late 1950s: “I had uncles and other relatives involved in the Donegal Society.” He joined the society and held various offices including treasurer and secretary in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. His parents are from Counties Tyrone and Donegal. “That’s when I also became interested in the Clan na Gael Pipe Band (which later morphed into the Emerald band). The band played for The Friendly Sons dinner every year, which is how I first became acquainted with it.” (He has attended every Friendly Sons dinner except four years, with the pipe bands or at the dinner.)
Then, after a stint in the Navy, Last decided he wanted to join The Friendly Sons. “I guess the friendship and the camaraderie appealed to me and a very good friend invited me to join,” he recalls. ”I liked that it crossed all religious backgrounds. And a lot of people who were very influential in the city, state and federal government were members as were many business leaders. It was a great group who was proud of their Irish heritage and joined to celebrate the feast day of their patron saint (who was not Irish).”
About 12 years ago. Last became a member of the Friendly Sons’ board. He served as secretary for four years, and vice president for two and will serve as president until March 2010.
One of the most appealing aspects for Last is the continuing ecumenical nature of the Friendly Sons, a tradition that has continued even during some religiously tumultuous times in Ireland. Catholics and Protestants take turns in leadership posts. Last is a Catholic. His predecessor Russ Wylie is a Quaker.
“The presidency rotates back and forth between the two groups,” says Last. “The organization tries to keep clear of nationalist things”
The Friendly Sons seeks members from all backgrounds—the only essential requirement being Irish descent and come from all backgrounds.
Contact Ed Last at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 610.853.1155 or the office of the society located in Dublin (PA) on the internet at friendlysons.com for membership information.
The organization will be celebrating their 238th dinner on Saturday evening March 14. This black tie event is being held at the Union League in Philadelphia and all are welcome to attend. Entertainment by the Theresa Flanagan Band, the Emerald Pipe Band and The McDaid Stepdancers, and join in the toasts with The University Glee Club.
Then think spring and the golf outing planned for June 8, 2009, at Sandy Run Country Club.