For an organization to survive for 75 years it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. And maybe just a little luck of the Irish.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians in Babylon Village is celebrating its 75th anniversary, a milestone that marks the organization’s decades of community work and celebration of Irish culture. The group is made up of men who are practicing Catholics and were either born in Ireland or are of Irish ancestry. The order’s motto is "Friendship, unity and Christian charity."
The group regularly assists local parishes, veterans’ groups and the Babylon Town food pantry with clothing, food and blood drives, said Jim Killen, president of the Babylon group, which is the St. Patrick’s Division 2 under the national organization’s umbrella. After Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, they opened up their hall to flood victims, and during the COVID-19 pandemic they delivered more than 250 trays of shepherd’s pie to the workers at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip.
"We try to live our motto every day," Killen said.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in the United States in 1836 to protect clergy during a time of anti-Catholic sentiment, as well as to help Irish immigrants. The organization now reports 46,000 members in 46 states, Ireland and Canada. The Babylon division, with about 450 members, is the largest out of nearly a dozen divisions on Long Island and one of the largest in the nation, Killen said.
The Babylon group, formed in Deer Park in 1946 at the beginning of Long Island’s post-World War II boom, is fortunate to have survived, said town historian Mary Cascone.
"We have so many organizations [from then] that really hit their peak in the early ’60s, and a lot of them suffered in the ’70s and ’80s," Cascone said.
John Biesty, 81, of North Babylon, who has been a member for 50 years, remembers the heyday.
"All roads led to that Hibernian hall on the weekends," he said, recalling celebrations with Irish music and dancing.
The group would later create a separate ladies division, as well as boys and girls divisions for children 16 and under. Since its beginnings, the group has strived to be a space where Irish culture is honored, Killen said. These days, the organization’s Locust Avenue hall is the site of step dancing lessons and the Gerry Tobin Irish Language School, as well as the group’s Saffron United Pipe Band.
COVID-19 dealt a blow to the organization, both with fundraising and in personal loss, with 24 members dying due to the virus. Biesty called the past 18 months "our darkest and saddest period in 75 years."
But the group is working to rebuild. Stephen Griffin, 29, of Bay Shore, who emigrated from Ireland eight years ago, joined in March.
"I kind of missed home and I wanted to do something for the community and be a part of something," he said.
Frank Collins, 58, of North Babylon, who has been a Hibernian since 1995, is working to get younger members to join.
"It’s the biggest challenge we have now, to try to get people interested and involved," he said. "We want to keep it going for another 75 years."
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, St. Patrick’s Division 2 has scheduled these events to mark its 75th anniversary:
SEPT. 25: Long Island’s first “Half Way to St. Patrick’s Day 5k Race for Charity” and “Little Leprechauns Fun Run” to benefit the Town of Babylon food pantry & United Veterans Beacon House of Bay Shore. Starts at 8:30 a.m. at Southards Pond Park in Babylon.
OCT. 1: “Ice Breaker” party from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at the Hibernian hall, featuring Irish music performances.
For more information go to: www.babylonhibernians.com/