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Ancient Order of Hibernians

Music, News

Up the Celts: A Benefit Irish Rock Band Festival on CD

Twenty years ago, seven of Philly’s top Irish rock musicians and bands helped raise money for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Philadelphia by contributing tunes to a benefit CD called “Up the Celts.”

Now, a new CD is on the streets—Up the Celts Volume 2—with 15 contributors this time around, including Jamison, Raymond Coleman, The Shantys, the Birmingham Six, the Bogside Rogues, the John Byrne Band, and more.

As with so many projects and initiatives, this one was held up by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We started off this project in February,” says Brian Coleman, AOH Philadelphia County Board president. “We had all the bands on board right at the beginning of March—and then, you know what happened.”

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In Memoriam: Phil Bowdren

My first memory of Phil Bowdren is that he came across as just what he was: a dedicated, selfless, giving guy.

My second memory is that he made one tasty Irish stew. That’s maybe how I first got to know him—through the Hibernian Hunger Project’s annual Irish Stew Cook-off, years ago. He took a lot of pride in his ability to dish up a memorable stew.

Of course, there’s so much more than that to say about Philip H. Bowdren, former Philadelphia police officer and well-known throughout the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and the Irish-American community for his great dedication and hard work. Bowdren passed away recently at the age of 66.

We’ll leave the memories of this good man to those who knew him best.

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AOH/LAOH Keeps Coast Guard Members Afloat During Shutdown

About 43,000 Coast Guard service members and employees nationwide continue to work during the government shutdown, including about 200 at the Coast Guard station in South Philadelphia on Columbus Boulevard.

Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians/Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians are banding together to provide the local Coast Guard members with the essentials they need to keep providing for themselves and their families until the shutdown ends.

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Food & Drink, People

AOH Delco Division Eagles Fund-Raiser Goal: Keep Some Local Families Warm This Winter

The Eagles are squaring off against the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London this Sunday. Here’s hoping the Birds warm to the challenge.

If you’re planning on watching the game in Delaware County when it airs at 9:30 a.m., you can catch the game, snag a great breakfast, and help keep some of the county’s neediest stay warm this winter in the process.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians Dennis Kelly Division No. 1 of Havertown is hosting a benefit for their home heating program at Hanrahan’s Irish Pub, 690 Burmont Road in Drexel Hill. Doors open at 8 a.m. There’s no charge to get into the pub, but there is a great breakfast buffet to be had for just $12, which includes your first Mimosa or Bloody Mary. The division gets a cut, which will be devoted to the home heating program, according to organizer and division board member Jim McCusker. Tickets for the buffet can be bought at the door.

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The Resurrection of Big Green

Big Green at home in its Delco firehouse.

Big Green at home in its Delco firehouse.

When the members of Firefighter John J. Redmond Ancient Order of Hibernians division marched past the reviewing stand in the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade, they were missing their most important publicity vehicle: a well-worn 1975 Seagrave pumper truck called “Big Green.”

“It didn’t make the parade because it was sidelined by some last-minute issues,” says the division’s publicity chairman Jeff Jackson. Among other issues, the power steering pump failed. If you’re going to maneuver a truck weighing several tons—a truck without water can tip the scales at 12, 13 or more—you better have power steering.

Big Green, stored away in an old firehouse in Lester, Delaware County, has been sidelined for a couple of years by a host of other problems, some of them mechanical and more than a few cosmetic. A T-shirt campaign last year helped the division raise enough money to replace some vital components, including a new starter, new batteries and new filters.

In hopes of getting the truck parade-ready, members of the division had hoped to continue working on it through the winter. But with the kind of winter we had, those hoped were dashed.

“We haven’t been able to do anything with the truck,” Jackson says. “It was a pretty harsh winter. We kept getting snow. In order to work on it properly, if it’s running, we need it to be outside.”

Adding insult to injury: “There was some damage to the roof of the firehouse because of the weather. Some debris fell on the truck. There was some cosmetic damage.”

And this, to a truck already in need of a facelift.

Now, the division is hoping for a bit of financial help to get the truck into running order. They plan to get it at a big beef and beer bash at their division hall at 415 North 5th Street in Philly on May 30. Headlining the event, entitled “The Resurrection of Big Green,” is Jamison, acclaimed as the best Irish rock band in America. Opening is a five-piece cover band called Rita’s Fog, featuring classic rock and R & B.

It might seem a little early to be plugging an event scheduled for the end of May, but the division is banking on a big turnout, and they’re hoping the truck benefit will start to gain traction—so to speak—right from the start.

The division has big plans for the old pumper, and a big bash seems like a good way to get there.

“We want to get it up and running, to make it roadworthy,” Jackson says. “Depending on how things go, hopefully we can complete our project, maybe put benches in the back and rig it out for parties.”

Jackson says the big party is attracting a lot of early interest. “We’ve got Jamison, and they’re a top-notch draw.”

So for now, Jackson says, the job is to get the word out: “by e-mail, Facebook, smoke signals—any way possible.”

Want to party for Big Green? Buy your tickets here.


Saving “Big Green”

biggreenhomeIt’s an overcast Saturday morning in Lester, Delaware County. A kelly green pumper truck sits on a broad concrete apron out in front of what used to be an active fire station. The truck’s diesel engine is chugging away, with a vaguely asthmatic whine, and the exhaust fumes not so much fill the air as threaten to displace it. Stand close enough, and you can hear the whirr of the rotating dome light atop the cab, and the faint strobe-like clicks from the flashing strobes near the grille.

Stand even closer, and you can see that the once gleaming chrome instrument panels along the side of the truck are severely corroded, the stainless steel diamond plate along the rear bumper is badly dented and crumpled, and all of the truck’s wooden parts, from the ladders to the hose bed, are chipped, peeling and rotting in places.

This is “Big Green,” a 1975 Seagrave pumper that once raced to fires with the Garrettford-Drexel Hill Volunteer Fire Company, as a first-in piece for 21 years and as a reserve engine for nine years after that. Since 2005, Big Green has served a highly visible publicity vehicle—literally and figuratively—for Philadelphia’s Ancient Order of Hibernians 22 John J. Redmond Division—home to firefighters and their supporters. It was presented as a gift from Garrettford-Drexel Hill.

If you’ve been one of the thousands who throng to the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, you’ve probably seen the engine as it accompanies the division’s members marching up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The truck hasn’t been in good enough mechanical condition to make it the past two years, but if division President Hubert Gantz has anything to say about it, Big Green will be back in the line of march in 2014.

“Maintenance was done recently,” says Gantz. “It got an oil change, new filters, new batteries, and a new starter. It kicked right over this morning. It’s all cosmetic now. A lot of the chrome plating has been taken off. One of our members in New Jersey is getting the corrosion off it.”

A t-shirt campaign recently raised nearly $1,200 to offset the cost of those desperately needed repairs. “When you have a fire truck, it’s the same as having a boat,” Gantz says with a laugh. “Whatever you need to buy for it, you have to double the price.”

For all the wear and tear, some of the truck’s original firefighting equipment still does its job. “The pump still works,” says Gantz, who rode the truck for 25 years as a member of the Garrettford-Drexel Hill company. “Believe it or not, the deluge gun still works.”

Still, with a truck as old as Big Green, any repair is not just costly, but extremely difficult. Many critical parts aren’t easily available. Not too long ago, the truck needed a rear axle. Without it, Big Green was going nowhere. The division launched a search to find an axle that could be salvaged from another old truck. The search lasted a year and a half. “Seagraves had an axle, but it was the wrong number,” said division treasurer and paramedic Bob Haley. “We needed an axle with another number. Once we got that, then it moved.”

No one expects to restore the truck to showroom condition, but with enough cash, the division can get it into pretty good shape. In fact, members are hoping to install benches in the hose bed and run a beer dispenser through the intake and discharge pipes so they can rent the truck out for private parties. To get to that point will cost even more money—somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000, says publicity chairman Jeff Jackson.

When the division acquired the engine, Derkas Auto Body in Kensington gave it its distinctive green paint job, and performed cosmetic repairs. Tom Meehan, the division’s first president, negotiated the deal. The doors were decorated with the division’s Maltese cross logo, and “Faugh a Ballagh” was emblazoned across the front. (It’s an ancient Irish battle cry, meaning “clear the way.”)

Initially, Big Green was parked behind Philadelphia Engine 55 / Tower 22 in Northeast Philly. Then it was moved from one place to another, and spent the most recent two years in a Port Richmond junkyard. “It was supposed to go into a garage—but it didn’t go into a garage,” says Haley. “You wouldn’t believe what two years outside did to this truck.”

Even the truck’s current shelter, a red brick edifice that once was home to the former Lester Fire Company, is living on borrowed time. A new runway will run through it, if plans for the nearby Philadelphia International Airport expansion proceed as planned. Jets regularly roar overhead.

For now, members of the division are focused on the near-term goal: making it to the parade. Gantz is confident. “The worst has already been taken care of,” he says. “It’ll be ready.”

History, News

Prayers for the Hunger Strikers

hungerstrikergloucester20130510In the summer of 1981, 10 Irish republican prisoners held by the British in Long Kesh Prison made their mark on the long history of “the Troubles” through the simple, yet tragic, act of starving themselves to death in protest against the government’s refusal to accord them political prisoner status and respect their basic human rights.

Northern Ireland has come a long way in the years since, notably with the culmination of the peace process in 2007. Still, more than 30 years later, the sacrifice of hunger strike leader Bobby Sands and comrades is still remembered around the world—and in our own back yard.

Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians John Barry Division in National Park, Gloucester County, took to the streets on Sunday for a short march from their club on Columbia Boulevard to St. Matthew’s Church just a few blocks away. Escorted by pipers and drummers, the marchers held simple, whitewashed wooden Celtic crosses inscribed with the names of the dead, the length of their hunger strike, and the dates of their death. They processed into the church, and celebrated a short, simple Mass, in memory of those who gave their last full measure.

The march was once sponsored by the local division of Irish Northern Aid, of which Joe Bilbow was a member. When the county INA chapter ceased to exist, Bilbow resurrected the observance in 1990, when he became the charter president of the Barry AOH division.

“I made a promise that we would never forget our Irish history,” says Bilbow, now the division’s Freedom for All Ireland chairman. “Ten men gave their lives for Irish freedom. We remember that.”

The peace process has gone a long way toward healing old wounds, Bilbow acknowledges, “but it wasn’t easy to get where we are today.” The sacrifice of those 10 men, he says, played a important role in the evolution of Northern Ireland. As an organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians remains committed to a non-violent political solution. But at the same time, Bilbow says, the Gloucester Hibernians believe it’s important to commemorate this critical chapter in the region’s long, bloody history. “We don’t make it political,” Bilbow says, simply. “We just do it to remember our honored dead.”

We have photos from the afternoon. Check them out, above.

News, People

Honoring the Memory of a Fallen Officer

Irish Thunder Pipes and Drums to perform.

Irish Thunder Pipes and Drums to perform.

Back on September 19, 2012, Irish Thunder Drum Major Pete Hand joined with other members of the band, and pipers from throughout the Delaware Valley, for a solemn occasion: to bid farewell to Plymouth Township Police Officer Brad Fox. Fox was gunned down by a hit-and-run suspect September 13, just shy of his 35th birthday.

Fox left behind his wife Lynsay, who at the time was expecting the family’s second child. On March 25, Bradley Michael Fox Jr. was born, the new younger brother to older sister Kadence.

Ever since the funeral, the band’s sponsoring Ancient Order of Hibernians division has wanted to find a way, not to mourn Brad Fox’s death, but to celebrate his life and honor his memory.

On Saturday afternoon and on into the night, they’re going to do just that with a “Celtic Salute” at the division’s hall in Swedesburg. Proceeds from the celebration will benefit Fox’s family.

AOH recognition of fallen officers is nothing new, says Hand.

“A few years ago, when police officers were killed in Philadelphia, we ran a fundraiser for the Fraternal Order of Police. Because Officer Fox was a local resident, we wanted to do something like that again. A lot of us wanted to do it right after the funeral, but the family asked us to stand down until well after the holidays. We chose a date in the spring, and the date was agreed upon with the family.”

Hand knows Brad Fox would have approved of a Celtic-themed celebration. “We know from his co-workers that he loved the bagpipes. Irish Thunder was the main organizer of the pipe bands at his funeral. We had 80 pipers and drummers. We’ll be playing for him again on Saturday.”

And a big event it will be. Along with Irish Thunder, many local Irish bands and musicians are donating their time and talent, including the Paul Moore Band, Belfast Connection, Oliver McElhone, No Irish Need Apply, Fisher and Maher, the John Forth Band, and more. The Coyle Dancers will also perform. Additional music will be presented by DJ Sean Givnish.

Much of the entertainment will take place in a big tent in the parking lot behind the Hibernians’ HQ at 342 Jefferson Street, with more music and fun in the AOH hall, and downstairs in the lounge. It’ll all go on, rain or shine, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Hand says the division wants to do what it can to ease the family’s pain. “We want them to have anything they need.”

Tickets are $30, which includes beer, wine, soda, and hot dishes.

To purchase tickets or make a donation, contact:

Division President Ron Trask