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Preserving the Hibernian Benevolent Society

One of the repaired corners. We still have to re-lay walkway edging and do some simple landscaping

One of the repaired corners. We still have to re-lay walkway edging and do some simple landscaping

One of the Historic Oakland Foundation PRO Team’s most important functions of is working with lot owners to maintain and preserve the historic features of the burial plots in their care. So many of the lots no longer have a family owner or representative, mostly because they were all sold in the late 19th century and many families either move away or die off. It’s refreshing to see families or affiliates that are still in the area and willing to support the preservation of the hardscape.
Such is the case with one of our recent lot improvement projects. We were contacted by the Hibernian Benevolent Society to make repairs to the brick walls that surround their large plot. In three places along the wall once stood large trees. The walls were built around the trees, but they fell years ago, leaving concave sections in what would otherwise be straight brick walls. We were asked to remove the curved sections and rebuild the walls with straight sections. A more recently-built wall in Oakland terms, the existing bricks were laid with a hard Portland cement mortar. We chose to build with new bricks and selected a style as close in size and color to the wall as possible.
Notice the heaving bricks in the walkway, resultant of the fallen tree’s large root system.

Notice the heaving bricks in the walkway, resultant of the fallen tree’s large root system.

But enough about the wall. What is the Hibernian Benevolent Society, you ask? The HBS was created in 1858 as a social, cultural and economic outlet for Irish Catholic immigrants whose population increased in antebellum Atlanta due to the city’s growing economy.
1911-Father-OReilly_ACH_Georgia Magazine

Father O’Reilly (Photo courtesy Atlanta History Center Kenan Research Center / Georgia Magazine)

When the Civil War reached Atlanta, Father Thomas O’Reilly was head of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. During the war, Father O’Reilly ministered to both Union and Confederate soldiers and gained respect from both camps. With others, O’Reilly pleaded with General Sherman to spare homes and churches from the torch, and in the end Sherman withheld from burning City Hall, the court house, and five Atlanta churches, including Immaculate Conception.
For Father O’Reilly’s diplomacy and service, and for the bravery of the Hibernian Rifles (Irishmen who also stood in opposition to Sherman’s scorched earth campaign), in 1873 the City of Atlanta deeded the plot at Oakland Cemetery to the Hibernian Benevolent Society, who has been a wonderful steward and friend of the Foundation ever since.

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