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A Philadelphia AOH Leader Moves into the National Organization’s Top Spot

Seamus Boyle with local AOHer Will Hill at the Ancient Order of Hibernians' Project St. Nicholas in the Northeast in December.

Seamus Boyle with local AOHer Will Hill at the Ancient Order of Hibernians' Project St. Nicholas in the Northeast in December.

Seamus Boyle has always been a prominent player in the Ancient Order of Hibernians locally, and active in Irish and Irish-American issues.

Over the years, he has continued to make his mark as a leader within the national AOH.

Now, following the AOH’s election in New Orleans in July, Boyle is the organization’s newest president. He’s not the first Philly guy to hold the top post, but he is the first Quaker City-based national AOH president since Michael Donohue, who held the office from 1923 to 1927. (Before that, according to Gerry Ennis, secretary of the state board, Joseph McLaughlin held the post from 1912 through 1919. And before that, Maurice Wilhere was president from 1886 to 1893.

It’s been a long, long time, then, since a Philadelphian claimed the top spot.

We asked the new president to tell us about his plans—and a bit about himself.  Turns out there’s more than a bit to say. Seamus Boyle has led an amazingly active life.

Here’s what he had to say:

Q. The AOH has been identified with a lot of issues over the years—protecting Catholic churches from the Nativists and supporting the Molly Maguires in the early going, all the way to more recent concerns about Northern Ireland and immigration. During your tenure as president, is the AOH likely to try to have an impact in any particular areas of politics of public policy? On what issue or issues would you like to make your mark?

A. I think the issue of immigration and the undocumented is probably one of the most important issues facing us as Irish-Americans today. It seems that those who are not eligible to receive a green card because they overstayed a visa or some other minor infraction are treated the same as a terrorist who wants to destroy the United States.

The Irish immigrant is for the most part young, works hard, pays taxes, stays out of trouble and wants to stay here and raise a family. The only difference between them and the millions of immigrants who came before them is the bureaucracy and the lack of common sense that will not let them stay.

Many of our ex-political prisoners like Pol Brennan are treated like a criminal or worse. Malachy McAllister, Matt Morrison, and many more have been harassed and badgered by every agency in our government; it is time it stopped and we are the only ones that can do it.

We need to stand up for our people, we need to band together no matter what organization we belong to and pressure our politicians to do the right and just thing. Politicians hear us when we have a loud voice because they know what we can do if we were organized. We only have a few months left to make the politicians listen to us and, make no mistake about it, when they know the voting power we have they will listen or suffer the consequences. After November we have no leverage; once they are elected all we will get is lip service. We need to do it now. Remember, if they don’t help us, then we don’t help them. It’s a very simple formula.  

Q. Is Northern Ireland a non-issue for the AOH, now that we have had our kumbaya moment with Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley? What has to happen next on that issue, from the AOH perspective?

A. Northern Ireland is at peace now, or so we are told, but they cannot be at a true and lasting peace until they are One United Nation. I have heard on so many occasions that the war is well and truly over and our help is no longer needed. Ask the people of Belfast or Derry, Tyrone or Armagh whether we are needed or not, and I know you will get a different answer. Our ex-prisoners who need to be trained for jobs, the many organizations that help the prisoners and their families, the families who were affected by the collusion of the British security forces and the Loyalist death squads need our help.

The reason we need to be involved in bringing a closure to all the open cases is because the world listens to America. We need to pressure the British government through our politicians to bring our Island together as one and we can accomplish that end if we organize, put our petty differences aside, unite and pressure our politicians here in America. If we do this, we can accomplish anything.

Q. You’ve been closely identified with immigration reform. What’s your approach to the issue? What would you regard as the best income for Irish immigrants?

A. Years ago it was much easier for people to immigrate but because of many reasons including 9/11 and the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan it has made it almost impossible to get permanent status here. Family does not count any more, and corporations no longer want to put advertisements in newspapers for workers as they once did to attract our Irish qualified workforce because they were getting sued for discrimination. All our visa programs have dried up, and our green card quota has been drastically reduced.

Q. Some have said that one possible result of immigration restrictions is that Irish communities like those in Delaware County might become much smaller or dry up altogether. Why is that an issue?

A. I think we need to find a fair quota for our people and work with other groups to find this solution. If we have few or no immigration policy it affects all the communities as it hinders our heritage and eventually our children will know nothing about our history, which is so precious to us. Our language and sports here have already suffered and we cannot afford to let it decline any further.

Q. Do you feel like the Irish need to work with other immigrant groups to achieve reform? I mean, fundamentally, this is not an Irish issue so much as an immigrant issue, is it? Can we really achieve any progress on Irish immigration without finding common cause with, say, Latin American or Asian groups?

A. I think that the Irish have more to offer than some of the other groups and I do not mean to degrade any nationality. The Irish have a head start on other groups because the have a tremendous work ethic, great education and speak English, and that is an advantage for employers. We as Irish are not looking for anything except to be treated fairly.

Q. I understand you are a native of Armagh. When did you move to Philly? Tell us about yourself and your family.

A. I was born in the townland of Faughiletra, Jonesboro, County Armagh on July 5, 1942, to Terence and Katie (McArdle) Boyle. My father came to Philadelphia in 1953, where my aunt Mary lived and he stayed with her until we arrived in May of 1954. My father was a carpenter who was offered a job in Philadelphia with Matthew McCloskey, one of the biggest contractors in the Northeast and later became ambassador to Ireland.

My father bought a new house, which was being built at the time in Mayfair, St Matthews’s parish. I finished 8th grade in St Matthew’s and went to Father Judge, graduating in 1961. I had an older sister, Noulagh, who passed away in October of 2004, another sister Carmel, brother Michael who passed away in September of 2005 and a brother Thomas. I was the second oldest of 5.

I married Bernadette (maiden name also Boyle) in Ireland in August 1970, and have three children, Michael, Tara and Bronagh, and six grandchildren: Kieran, Colin, Megan, Sheila, Brady and Finnegan.

I became an apprentice carpenter in Carpenters Local 122, graduating in 1966. I went to work traveling for (BACM) British American Construction Company, returning to Ireland meeting Berna and building a house in South Armagh in Killeavy.

I returned to Philadelphia in 1971 and became very involves in Irish Northern Aid and the AOH. I became involved in the Carpenters Union as an officer and worked up to get elected as business agent for the Philadelphia Council of Carpenters and got elected every election until I retired in 1997.

I had always been involved in the AOH Division 39 from 1972 and became an officer shortly after joining and have been an officer ever since on a division, county, state or national level. I wanted to do more for my community and for the people of the North of Ireland, where I was born, and the AOH was very involved in both of these issues.

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