Deep in the Heart of Dixie

By Frank Kennedy

On October 14, 2000, the first Annual General Meeting of the new South Region of the North American Province was held in Atlanta, Georgia.With branches in Tampa (Florida), New Orleans (Louisiana), Nashville and Knoxville (Tennessee), and Atlanta, and nearly 150 members, South Region Chairman Jim Pogge anticipates significant continued growth throughout the region. Regional officers elected, in addition to Jim, include Kathleen Donahoe-Richman, Mike Simpson, Mary Ann McGrath-Swaim, Sean Colledge, Michael Robbins, and David Marcus. Delegates to the Provincial Council are Frank Hashiguchi and T Patrick Brophy.

As Provincial Chairman Frank Kennedy expressed in his remarks at the AGM, the formation of a new region is a very significant event and underscores the tremendous growth prospects for Comhaltas when dedicated people are willing to make the necessary organizing efforts.The Atlanta branch has been an innovator in its use of computer technology, led by Jim Pogge and Mike Simpson. For example, they have introduced online member sign-up directly through their website ( Jim and Mike are also providing leadership on the North American Information Technology Committee of Comhaltas.

During the same weekend of the AGM, the Atlanta branch hosted the Echoes of Erin concert tour, held Saturday and Sunday evenings on the campus of Emory University. Before enthusiastic and appreciative audiences, the visiting artists enjoyed two very successful evenings “deep in the heart of Dixie”. On Sunday afternoon, several members of the tour group, together with local branch musicians, played at a special commemorative event in Atlanta’s historical Oakland Cemetery sponsored by the Hibernian Benevolent Society. The musicians gathered in front of a monument to Father Thomas 0’ Reilly; a native of County Cavan, and an Atlanta hero.

During the American Civil War when the City of Atlanta was under siege by the Union Army, Father Thomas O’ReiIIy, ministered to soldiers of both the Union and Confederate sides, becoming a hero to the men.When General Sherman of the Union Army ordered the entire city to be burned, Father 0’ReiIly was outraged and sought a meeting with the general. He argued that the order to burn homes and churches was beyond the normal confines of warfare. Father O’Reilly pleaded for a compromise that would spare Atlanta’s five churches. This request was relected by Sherman. Father O’Reilly told Sherman that for soldiers to burn churches was a sin against God, not an act of war. The priest reasoned that many of the Union soldiers were Catholic, including many Irish Catholics.With this in mind, Father O’ReiIly told Sherman “If you burn the Catholic Church, all Catholics in the Union army will mutiny”. He also stated that if the soldiers were forced to obey, the Catholics among them would be excommunicated. Father O’Reilly also asked that the other churches be spared as well as City Hall and the Court House. General Sherman considered having Father O’ReiIIy executed but decided to change his orders. Thus, the five churches, City Hall, and the Court House were spared. The five churches were Immaculate Conception, Central Presbyterian, St Phillip’s Episcopal, Second Baptist, and Trinity Methodist In honour of Father O’ReilIy and the “Hibernian Rifles”, an Irish Confederate Army unit recognized for its bravery, the City of Atlanta in 1873 deeded a large burial plot at the Oakland Cemetery to the Hibernian Benevolent SocietyThe city also erected a monument to Father O’ReiIly on the grounds of the Atlanta City Hall.

Comhaltas was honoured to have had the opportunity to pay homage in music to this great Irishman. Congratulations to the South Region and all its members. We look forward to a long association and continued growth

Special thanks to Tom Begley of the Hibernian Benevolent Society for his contribution to this article.