Guilderland resident Karen Keane was recently elected president of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernian (LAOH), a national Irish Catholic women’s organization.
There are more than 10,000 members across the country and close to 4,500 members in New York state alone, with divisions in Albany, Schenectady and other cities around the Capital Region.
The LAOH is one of the country’s largest women’s organizations, hosting charity and community events, raising awareness about Irish American concerns and promoting the history and traditions of Irish culture.
Keane joined the JFK Division 1 of Albany in 1998 when she moved to the Capital Region from New York City.
“I was drawn to learning about Irish history and the women in the Irish Rebellion [and] I wanted to get involved in stuff that was important to me as a way of also acclimating to the area. It was a perfect match,” Keane said.
Since then, Keane has been elected to local, county, state and national positions. In her 22 years with LAOH, she’s served as the treasurer, vice president and president of the New York State LAOH board, along with several other local positions. For the national board of the LAOH, she has served as the treasurer, secretary and vice president.
Keane, who works full time at the NYS Workers' Compensation Board in Schenectady, defines herself as an overachiever, and is always looking at how things could run more smoothly.
As president, she has a lengthy list of goals to complete in her two-year term, including fighting for social justice issues and getting the younger generations more involved.
“We’re not a social club," Keane said. "We’re a fraternal order and with a long history; we just celebrated our 125th anniversary last year. When you look back before women had the right to vote in this country, we had our national [LAOH] president addressing the joint committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Irish [issues],” Keane said.
“We need to really engage. We have so many young people that we’re trying to get them to step up to state and national committees so that we know the order will be around for another 125 years.”
One pressing issue she wants LAOH to rally around is sexual harassment of women in the military, especially given the recent death of Fort Hood, Texas servicewoman Vanessa Guillén.
“We’re very concerned about the way that women are being treated in the military. This situation with Vanessa is an outrage to us,” Keane said.
She also wants LAOH to support teen mothers by continuing to work with organizations like Birthright of Schenectady.
While LAOH is a national organization, it's also engaged in current social issues in Ireland, particularly surrounding the United Ireland movement, which seeks to join Northern Ireland (currently part of the United Kingdom) with the Republic of Ireland.
“Now is the time for Irish America to step up and try to make the island of Ireland one country,” Keane said.
While LOAH isn't a political organization, according to Keane, each year it holds a Freedom for All Ireland campaign to raise money for organizations in Ireland that support ex-political prisoners and people who have been affected by The Troubles.
However, with COVID-19, their fundraising efforts have been severely curtailed.
“COVID-19 really hit all of us because March is our biggest fundraising month," Keane said. "We’ve lost a lot of our ability to fundraise. We’re behind the eight-ball, but we’re thinking of ideas. It’s been a crazy year,” Keane said.
Since she stepped into the position last Saturday, she’s been busy.
“I was able to get my team together so . . . we hit the ground running immediately. Now we’re working on our budget for the next two years. We’re not wasting any time because two years goes fast,” Keane said.
For more information on the LAOH, visit ladiesaoh.com.