March 12, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

570,034 lost, and a Few Found

Welcome to our 24th issue of The Big Pivot...our attempt to continue to be in the minds and hearts of our Museum friends as we experience this pandemic together. Before we get into today's article, I want to thank those who have encouraged us in many ways. Dozens have written to say how much they have appreciated these articles, and have enriched their understanding of their own heritage, and family story. That's been a wonderful feeling for us...just knowing you are there, and you care about our continued success.

Several have helped us cover our significant loss of attendance by sending in donations...tremendous! More on that at the bottom of the page.

Another delightful response to this series is many people sending in ideas for future articles. We're glad for that, and have used many of your ideas in our issues.

Others have asked for help with their family story. Several friends have hired us to do an in depth search. They have received great results which thrill them, and enrich our understanding of the big picture. What a team we are!

Today's story focuses on the homes of the modest Irish, both in Ireland and in America. We thank University College Cork for this image of a recreated mud hut home they displayed for a recent Great Hunger Remembrance. Homes in Ireland were classified according to style of construction, and 625,356 were listed as "4th Class" in 1841. These homes were defined as "a single room cabin built of organic material".

Only 55,322 of these were still standing in 1891.

We often focus on the tremendous loss of life for the Irish during the Great Hunger, when over one million died. Horrifying, but there's more to it. An entire way of life vanished from the face of the earth when these modest homes disappeared, along with their inhabitants. We just might take a second look at these huts, and say "good riddance", but we also need to remember that 341,127 of these homes were wiped out during the famine years, and each one had a family living in them. They left by compulsion, rather than by choice; even these modest dwellings could not be theirs. What was left for them, pray tell? How would they survive? For 1 1/2 million, the only answer was escape.

Here's the story of two families who did just that, coming to Baltimore

Passenger list for the Bark "Repeater", including the O'Leary Family, arriving in Baltimore on September 21, 1851.

The O'Leary Family of 910 Lemmon Street
Cecilia A. Wright

One day in July, 1851, in County Cork, the O’Leary family said goodbye to their extended family and friends, many of whom they would never see again. The next morning they left their cottage for the last time, heading to Liverpool to board the Bark Repeater, and a new life and opportunities in America. The family included: father John, 56 years old, mother Mary, 42 years old and their children: Peirce, 19, Michael, 5, Julia, 13, Francis, 3 and William, 9 months old. They boarded ship on July 17, and the family finally arrived in Baltimore on September 21, 1851 after a two-month journey. They must have felt a great sense of relief when they spotted the Lazaretto Point Lighthouse, Baltimore’s quarantine and immigration station. They had made it! Finally, they could leave the cramped, dirty, dark, and thankfully strong little ship that had safely carried them across the Atlantic for so many weeks.

The Repeater’s human cargo arrived safely alongside a significant amount of #1 Scotch whiskey and pig iron.

John O’Leary and his family quickly settled in an Irish neighborhood in West Baltimore known as the 18th Ward, possibly with friends or family from the old country living close by. John found work as a laborer. Mary found an amazing variety of food for her family at Hollins Market, and the family attended services at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church.

910 Lemmon Street ( in Yellow), just a few doors down from the Irish Railroad Workers Museum. We recently purchased the building, and look forward to restoring it; plans have begun.

Son Michael married Anne McIntyre of County Down, and they eventually established a home at 5 Lemmon Street, where little Helen was born on June 11, 1875. Daughter Margaret followed soon after, and the family moved across the street to 10 Lemmon St., where they lived from 1878-1881. They had a son named Joseph in 1885, but it seems likely that his life was a short one. They named another son Joseph as well, born on February 28, 1890. They had several children who were baptized at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, and lost some to early childhood deaths, common in the era.

The O’Leary family lived on what later became the 900 Block of Lemmon Street, and their daughters Mary and Helen were about the same age as Cornelius Feeley, whose family lived four doors down at 918. Perhaps the children of those families enjoyed a game of jacks, tag or hide and seek, and walked the same path to school each morning to St. Peter’s Male and Female Schools. Children had fun with the horses that traveled up their narrow street, driven by cart men with various wares for sale. Mothers Annie O’Leary and Sarah Feeley both had homes to keep tidy, and meals to prepare. One wonders whether they shopped together, or cared for the neighbor’s children while the other did her outings.

The O’Leary men did well in America, and some of those who arrived in 1851 continued their work as laborers. Michael established himself as a coach painter and lived in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Peter’s Catholic Church. He and Michael Jr. shared a profession and a home at 1118 W. Pratt St. in 1890, and eventually moved to 104 S. Carlton St., a nearby block committed to supporting the horse-and-cart men of the day, with several stables. Joseph O’Leary joined him in his trade by 1900, working as a coach builder. He lived a few blocks away, at 408 S. Poppleton St. and shared a home with his parents and siblings, including brother John, a bricklayer, and William O’Leary, a carpenter. Male descendants also worked in the hard trades of their time, as foundry workers and rivet heaters. Such men built a city, and the railroads that connected Baltimore to a nation.

The Tunney/Boone Family

Francis Patrick Tunney (pictured) was the youngest son of William Tunney and Sarah Cashen Tunney. He was born October 4, 1884 in Baltimore. His parents were Irish born, with William being from Kilconduff parish, County Mayo and Sarah from Kilmore parish, County Tipperary. They had ten children, and settled near what is now known as Cross Keys, in present day North Baltimore.

Francis Patrick Tunney

The Tunney family operated a store on the corner of Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road, and were active members of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Hampden, where a stained-glass window memorializes William. Sarah is remembered by the inscribed baptismal font placed there (both pictured).

Success came to the family due to hard work and faithfulness to God, but death visited the home on July 26, 1901 when father William passed away. His will set up a trust for son Francis’ education, and he graduated from Loyola High School in 1902 or 1903 and began a career as a clerk with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Francis married Helen Boone at St. Patrick's Church in Havre de Grace, MD. They had four children, and three survived to adulthood.

Helen’s father, Robert C. Boone was a Baltimore stonemason and builder, with the 5th Regiment Armory and over 100 churches to his credit. He was also a union man, serving as the president of a stonemason’s union affiliated with the Knights of Labor, in 1886.

Robert C. Boone

Mr. Boone was an active member at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, and was a member of their Emerald Society. He also served as Marshal of their church group that marched in a jubilee parade honoring James Cardinal Gibbons on October 16, 1911. Their contingent numbered 300 men, and featured sixteen musicians known as the Red Man’s Band.

Boone died on March 20, 1922 after a heated argument with a neighbor about the location of a fence being installed by his property. He was 72 years old.

Thanks to Michael Tunney for the narration and images included here.

Has "The Big Pivot" been a blessing to you? Here's some ways to reciprocate: Donate online or mail us a donation check to:

Irish Railroad Workers Museum P.O. Box 20627
Baltimore, MD 21223

  • Register for our Family History Workshop, or purchase a memorial brick...both can be done on our web site
  • Invite friends to register their email address on our expanding mailing list, so they can enjoy the series as well. This can also be done on our web site(many of you send the series issues to friends....thanks!).
  • Keep those column ideas coming, and thanks for your kindness.
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