Today, 24 June 2017, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh, unveiled a ‘Blue Plaque’ in Saint Macartan’s Church in Augher, Co Tyrone, to commemorate the late Archbishop John Hughes (1797 – 1864), the first Archbishop of New York. The Ulster History Circle organises and prepares each ‘Blue Plaque’ which is a commemorative record displayed in a public place to honour men and women who have contributed to the culture, industry and history of Northern Ireland.
Archbishop Hughes was born in the townland of Annaloghan, Co Tyrone, and today marks the 220th anniversary of his birth. The following is the address delivered by Archbishop Martin and also a message from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.
Unveiling the plaque Archbishop Martin said,
“It is very difficult for any of us to imagine what life in Ireland must have been like two hundred and twenty years ago when John Joseph Hughes was born not far from here in Annaloghan, to Patrick and Margaret Hughes (nee McKenna). How can we possibly span the divide of two centuries which separates us from the days when, like so many others before and since, the Hughes family made the dangerous crossing to the new world? His father and eldest brother went first, with John, his mother and other siblings leaving for Pennsylvania a year or so afterwards.
“The Blue Plaques of the Ulster History Circle which are displayed in various places around the country, encourage us to pause and acknowledge interesting and famous people who were born, educated or worked among us – people who deserve to be recognised and remembered. Their stories are links to a past which is also our past. Looking back on their lives and experiences sheds light on our shared story, on what has made us the people we are. Their achievements represent the contribution made by members of our families, parishes and communities both near and afar.
“In the months and years to come whenever people notice this Blue Plaque they are likely to pause to ask a knowledgeable local – or undertake an internet search – in order to find out: ‘Who was John Hughes?’; ‘Why is this man remembered?’; ‘What is his connection to this place?’ Their inquiry, be it short or more in-depth, will open up to them a whole series of windows on the past.
“They will discover in the story of John Hughes a young man who left for America in 1816, a man who loved gardening and who tended the lawns and the flowers at the Maryland seminary until he was eventually admitted himself as a student for the priesthood.
“He became a dedicated pastor and a forthright preacher who was determined to lift the lid on the struggles and grievances of Catholics at home in Ireland and in America.
“Hughes’ life story intersects with major issues of that time – from Catholic Emancipation in Ireland, to the right to faith based education in New York; from wrangles over the Union and Constitution of the United States to disagreements over the abolition of slavery, from the plight of thousands of Irish immigrants fleeing the famine, to the nativist riots in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
“When you look through these windows to the past from a distance of two hundred years, it is difficult to unravel the complexity and appreciate the nuances of that time which, although quite unlike our own, is in some ways strangely familiar. But even from this distance, John Joseph Hughes comes across as a strong, determined, and formidable leader (or opponent), whose courage and conviction was never in doubt even though his opinions were not shared by everyone.
“Clearly his family upbringing, his school days here in Augher and Aughnacloy, his gardening apprenticeship at Favour Royal Manor, planted, in the young man from these parts, qualities and gifts that matured to make him a confident, fearless and faith-filled leader, someone one who would leave a significant mark on Church and society of his time. Places such as Saint Patrick’s Cathedral New York and the great Fordham University look to him as their founder, but his deeper contribution to the identity, status and pride of Irish Americans cannot be overshadowed by these accolades.
“People laughed when Archbishop Hughes began to plan a Cathedral on what was then the remote 51st Street far out on 5th Avenue. They called it ‘Hughes Folly’ but time would show that, as on many other issues, Archbishop Hughes was ahead of the rest in anticipating the growth and future strategic importance of mid-Manhattan.
“The first Archbishop of New York was a distinguished and celebrity visitor to Ireland and Europe on many occasions – Cardinal Cullen invited him to preach at the opening of the Newman University Church in Dublin and he was an influential and persuasive speaker on many topical issues of the day.
“Thirty years or so after he left home, he returned to his native Annaloghan and to this Church which served as the Cathedral of the diocese of Clogher at the time. One of his early biographers, John Hassard (1866) describes the Archbishop’s delight at seeing all the familiar places of his childhood, and at the warm welcome he received from his old neighbours and school friends – Catholic and Protestant alike. He writes: ‘there were many yet living who remembered him as a poor farmer’s boy; and among the foremost to show him attention was Mr Moutray in whose garden he used to work … On the Feast of the Epiphany a great number of his relatives and early friends were collected to hear him preach.’
“I wonder what Archbishop Hughes would say or preach about if he was here today!”
“This Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque, like many others across these northern counties, invites us to be informed about interesting and important people like John Hughes who lived among us and who have helped to shape history. The History Circle recognises that these are people who are worthy of honour and mention here in their native counties and parishes. I thank the Ulster History Circle, the Parish of Clogher and the Clogher Historical Society and all those who have made it possible. It is an honour for me to unveil this plaque to the First Archbishop of New York and I am delighted that the tenth Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has sent us all a message for the occasion.”
Archbishop Martin then conveyed the good wishes of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who stated in a dedicated message for this special occasion:
“It is a joy to send greetings from the Archdiocese of New York on the auspicious occasion of the unveiling of a blue plaque to commemorate Archbishop John Joseph Hughes in his native parish. His achievements, coming from a humble background in Co Tyrone, Ireland, from where he emigrated to the United States, are worthy of special mention. He distinguished himself by becoming the first Archbishop of New York, founding Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as Fordham University (formerly Saint John’s College). Here in the United States, we owe Archbishop Hughes a great debt of gratitude, and so it is only right that we reflect with pride on his life. May I wish you every success with your plaque unveiling to a truly deserving figure who became one of the most influential men of his time and won the respect of many. We just put up a bronze bust of him at the entrance to the Basilica of Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, so we are united in this tribute to a great man.”