Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Friendly Sons of St Patrick - founded 1771

One of the curiosities of the history of Ireland is how concepts of Irishness became monocultural. One example is The Friendly Sons of St Patrick, founded on St Patrick's Day in 1771 in Philadelphia by various men who were close allies of George Washington.

Among the early members were men like General William Irvine (born Enniskillen) General William Thompson (claimed by Co Meath but I have my doubts; would appreciate more evidence*) and Colonel Ephraim Blaine (born in Donegal or Londonderry). Presbyterians all.

On 12 July 1774, Irvine and Blaine were among those who gathered 100 miles west of Philadelphia, at First Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to agree the Carlisle Resolves in support of political reforms which would eventually become Independence. A William Thompson - perhaps the same one - was also there. Carlisle was a renowned centre of Scotch-Irish settlement. Do a search on this blog for some examples. And take a spin through this 1857 publication by the church's minister, Rev George Duffield.

The Scotch-Irish Presbyterians had imbibed the spirit, and understood the power, of that famous instrument which contributed so much, in Scotland, for the Protestant Reformation and Religious Liberty, viz : "The Solemn League and Covenant." It was their attachment, as Protestants, to the cause of civil and religious liberty, that brought them to this Western world. At an early period in the history of British oppression, as practiced in these Colonies, the same patriotic and religious spirit was kindled in them. Nowhere was it more vigorous, active and efficient than in Carlisle and Cumberland County.


In the 1892 History of the Friendly Sons by John C Campbell, who is presented on the title page as "Historian of the Hibernian Society"(on GoogleBooks here), Campbell spends the entire first chapter denying the validity of Scotch-Irishness. Have a read through for yourself.

This 'narrowing' of concepts of Irishness between the society's founding 1771 until this 1892 publication is probably just a reflection of what had also been happening on this side of the Atlantic. A far cry from Wolfe Tone's famous acknowledgement in 1798 of Ireland having three faith denominations, three cultural traditions.

Ireland is an island of cultural variety. 

* William Thompson was the first Colonel in the US Army, leading the first battalion authorised by Congress in June 1775. Wikipedia says he was born in Scotland. In 1896, the Ulster Journal of Archaeology published an article by M.I. Murphy of Bay City, Michigan, which said William Thompson was born in Maghera, and was the brother of Charles Thomson. A fanciful story, but untrue.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians had held an annual tribute event at his grave site at Old Carlisle graveyard for some decades. In 1988 the Donegal Society of Wilkes-Barre, and the Gobin Guards of Carlisle, had an eight feet stone Celtic cross memorial made in Ireland which was helicoptered onto his grave. The inscription claims him for County Meath.

The memorial was consecrated in May 1988 and a special service was held in the First Presbyterian Church – the building where he probably was present on 12 July 1774, preparing for independence.