For over 170 years we have been an important part of the effort by the Irish people to free themselves of British troops and to give voice in America to those seeking refuge from the garrison rule that remained in the North,” Meehan said in his speech at the gathering.
“We proudly stood by and spoke up for Irish leaders from Parnell, de Valera, MacBride, Adams, McGuinness, Hume and Albert Reynolds. We do so today for the undocumented and those who have fled police and loyalist death squads,” Meehan said.
“Yesterday and today in every part of America where you find the story of Ireland’s struggle being told you will find Hibernians. There are Hibernian monuments to the Irish men and women who built and defended America, Hibernian stained glass church windows, Hibernian centers where Irish music, culture, and language were studied and promoted.
“Thanks to the sacrifice and dedication of Hibernians, libraries and school curricula nationwide now tell the story not of an Irish famine but of An Gorta Mor, the Great Hunger. This is a legacy that we all can be proud of and feel privileged to have played a part,” Meehan told the dinner guests.
“Our Order is now at a crossroads,” Meehan, who is facing a reelection battle in 2008, said.
And he continued: “At our founding in 1836 the Irish people were oppressed and struggled economically. Now the people of Ireland have found an abundance of economic prosperity. Now those behind the partition wall have a say in governance and can demand justice and equality with the ballot box.
“The price the British exacted in blood for those rights, however, must never be forgotten. Until the truth is known and responsibility accepted by the British for the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and the 33 victims of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings, we must be unceasing in our calls for justice.”
Meehan said that the energy and resources of the AOH must now be expended on a new agenda for Hibernians.
Pope John Paul II stated in Washington in 1979 that we must ‘stand up to the slaughter of abortion’ and we will do more to promote a culture of life. Many Hibernian families are hurting because their loved ones have been injured or killed defending our nation in the fight against terrorism.
“What kind of brotherhood or example of Christian charity would we be without first helping heal our wounded warriors. Our church is under attack here and around the globe where each year Irish missionaries are murdered for their beliefs and their example of Christ. Who but the Hibernians should lead in their defense and support? Hibernians must do more to help men and women who are studying to serve our church,” he said.
“If we fail to adapt a new vision of what it means to be a Hibernian, we may be seen as irrelevant, derided as caricatures from a bygone era, or reduced to the role of party planners.
“Over the next two years I hope to engage Hibernians around the country in shaping the Hibernians of tomorrow. We must hand down this legacy to our children and our grandchildren,” Meehan said.
A highlight of the Stonehill gathering, meanwhile, was the presentation of the AOH Dr. Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award to veteran Hibernian Dave Burke of Lawrence, Massachusetts.