American Irish Historical Society

By Lynda Millner   |   March 22, 2018
American Irish Historical Society speaker Hugh Kelly with Bridget Colleary and founder Frank McGinity

In this St. Patrick’s Day month, it seemed appropriate to attend a meeting of the American Irish Historical Society at a private club. The founder and president of the California branch Frank McGinity had invited me. The speaker was a notable Irishman Hugh Kelly, who brought his book Honest John Kelly Truth or Satire. Hugh comes to Santa Barbara every winter for three months and had agreed to speak on Tammany Hall and John Kelly, who is a distant cousin of Hugh’s.

Some of those enjoying the wine reception were Ken Fitzpatrick, Mary Hampson, Tara Holbrook, Bill and Pat MacKinnon, Margaret Nadeau, Colleen and Robert Thornburgh, Sara and Phillio Vedder, Diane and Fred Sidon, Harry and Gail Gelles, and Frank and Mary Rose Artusio.

Then it was time to learn about Tammany Hall and its impact on national politics and John Kelly. Tammany Hall was a New York City political organization that was around for nearly two centuries. Formed in 1789 to oppose the Federalist Party, it often mirrored the local Democratic Party. It was popular because it helped the city’s poor and immigrant populations (Irish) but it became corrupted with leaders like William “Boss” Tweed. Finally, the anti-Tammany mayor Fiorello La Guardia (1934-45) with the help of president Franklin Roosevelt weakened its power permanently.

Irish board members Phil Conran and Judith McDermott
Irish members Gail and Harry Gelles with Michael and Kim Hayes

“Honest” John Kelly (1822-1886) was boss of Tammany Hall for 10 years and could determine the course of New York City elections as U.S. representative from New York from 1855 to 1858. He was given the honest title while he was New York City sheriff, more sarcastic than truthful. This Irishman amassed a fortune through ethical and questionable means. He was especially popular within the Irish-American and Catholic immigrant community.

Frank reminded the Society members that it had been a year since dues were collected. He reiterated that you don’t have to be Irish to join, just enjoy history. One of their recent talks was on Bloomsday and James Joyce. For information, check out


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