March 7, 2021
Written by 
Luke McCusker

Expatriates as Advocates: Remembering Home

Thanks for continuing with us as we present "The Big Pivot"...a series that brings the Irish Railroad Workers Museum to you. We have featured our displays and writings, including the works of several contributors from our Staff, Board members and Docents. We desire to illuminate the lives and priorities of our immigrant ancestors here...especially the generation who emigrated amid the tumult of crisis, escape, arrival and new beginnings in Baltimore's ethnic neighborhoods.

More than one million Irish had become landless and starving, and saw no option but to flee. They began decidedly urban lives, rather than the rural village life that their people had known for millenia. Yet the land, and all it had meant to their people, was still dear to them, as it remains today.

Life in America gave them a platform for raising their voices to advocate for a return to land ownership by the Irish themselves, and leaders in their communities sought to harness their voices and money to help those who sought to directly affect change in Ireland. Catholic parishes and communities such as the neighborhoods just above B & O Railroad's Mount Clare Station were among the most active social centers working towards that end.

Rev. Edward McColgan, founding pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church, motivated his parishioners and local community towards support of Irish independence. He eventually became Vicar General of the archdiocese, and represented Cardinal Gibbons at a large meeting of Irish expatriates held at Baltimore's Academy of Music. Charles Stewart Parnell (Pictured Right), a Protestant leader of the Irish independence movement, spoke to the group on February 13, 1880 about the land tenure system in Ireland, and the suffering being experienced there. Attendees included Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe and a long list of politicians and clergy.

The Irish were "joiners" for sure, and organizations such as unions, Democratic political organizations, church-affiliated organizations such as Knights of Columbus, Holy Name Society and temperance organizations like the Society of the Sacred Thirst flourished towards the end of the 19th century.

Irish organizations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the National Federation used their voices to advocate for nationalist and/or religious causes throughout the parish.

Reverend McColgan was a personal host to John Dillon, a leader in Irish politics, as well as other notable leaders of the era. He represented the archdiocese at a large gathering to honor Michael Davitt(Pictured), founder of the Irish National Land League, when he visited Baltimore on January 13, 1887.

This event was attended by multiple organizations, including societies from St. Peter’s parish. Father McColgan was also a member of the Irish National Federation of America, and was honorary president of St. Peter’s branch of the organization.

Reverend McColgan was also on stage when the Municipal Council of the Irish National League of Baltimore met on April 14, 1887. They gathered in force to protest a coercion measure that was pending in the English Parliament. Among the many dignitaries there was ex-Governor William Pinckney White and deputy State’s Attorney Edgar H Gans.

Speeches and resolutions were abundant, and the gathering endorsed the efforts of Charles Stewart Parnell and William Gladstone, a British politician, in the quest for Irish home rule and religious freedom.

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