In those dark and dreary days of 1565, when to be a Catholic in Ireland meant political as well as social ostracism, when to be a priest of the Catholic Church meant to be hunted like a wolf, with the same price upon the head of each, when to impart education to youth or instill the truths of religion into the minds of the people was dealt the same pains and penalties as were prescribed for the commission of the most heinous crimes, when every effort was being made by the English government to stamp intelligence, patriotism and civilization from the minds of the native Irish, the Ancient Order of Hibernians was born.
From traditions in the Order it would seem that its aims and objects were mainly the protection of the priesthood while in the performance of their sacred duties, and the execution of those rites and ceremonies, instituted by the Catholic Church for observance by the faithful throughout the world. Certain it is that to this organization is due in a large measure the preservation of the Catholic religion in Ireland. By their zeal, energy, watchfulness and assiduity, it became possible for the good “soggartharoon” to offer up the holy sacrifice of the Mass, carry the consolations of religion to the sick and dying, and administer the Sacraments to his benighted and scattered flock.
Many are the heroic and chivalrous deeds performed by the members of this Order in executing its work, and many of them suffered severely for their faithfulness whenever the minions of the English crown could establish a fitting case to vent their spleen, malignity or revenge.
This then was the origin of our grand and noble Order. “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity” was and is now the motto under which we march. In the minds and lives of these men, this legend is not merely a euphonious and attractive phrase intended to catch the popular ear, but is the expression of a principle in accordance with which they endeavor to regulate their lives, not only in theory but in practice, having its roots entwined around the heart of the very organization from which it draws its nourishment and strength.