November 1, 2020
Written by 
Luke McCusker

Remembrance Room: Cost of Passage to Baltimore

Greetings and salutations from the Irish Railroad Workers Museum. We’re a place for both head and heart, researching and presenting compelling stories that inform us about our heritage, and yours. These are made manifest in our displays and presentations that thousands of guests have enjoyed over the years. They will continue to delight many once we find our way past these tumultuous days.

Our “Big Pivot” is sending Museum presentations your way via social media, since we are all precluded from coming to the Museum in person. These presentations are the work of staff, Board members and docents. We love talking about them, being Irish storytellers ourselves (shanachie), but admit that we are really missing the reactions and responses we get from our visitors. Feel free to email us or post on our Facebook page and tell us your story, and that of your family as they have faced difficult days both here and in Ireland, and have overcome.

We will begin with two sections of our Museum that will undoubtedly delight you, as they do us. “High Kings of Baltimore” is a rather personal section to many; visitors have shared their stories with us, and we preserve them for others. One of them might inspire you; send us a few photos of your nominee and a bit of their story for us to consider for inclusion.

Our other featured section of the Museum is our “ Remembrance Room”. One of our Board members likes to subtitle it, “The Passage”. We tell the story of the Great Hunger there, and include elements of despair, escape, journey, arrival and new beginnings. The culmination of these stories is the arrival of our own James Feeley in Baltimore, and his eventual establishment of a home, career and family at 918 Lemmon Street: our Museum home.

We hope you enjoy these presentations, and hope they inspire you to come and be with us during a future visit... or for one of our compelling presentations and events.

Our Remembrance Room: Elements and Elaboration

The Cost of Passage

Cecilia A. Wright
In 1847 the cost of passage from Ireland to Baltimore was 7£ (British pounds). This is close to 700£ in today’s money, or $903 (American Dollars). This was a huge cost for the peasant Irish who were suffering under the Great Hunger. To raise the funds, they would sell their few possessions or appeal to their landlord or relatives who had previously emigrated for help. Landlords were often glad to be rid of the peasants to clear the land for more profitable use. Relatives in America were often struggling themselves but sent what they could.

The physical and emotional cost were possibly greater than the monetary cost. Traditionally the Irish Catholics had very close ties to their family and local community. Emigration meant leaving behind all they had ever known, and most likely would never see again. The journey to the ship was often a difficult one, especially when the immigrant was already in a weakened condition due to starvation. For example, James Feeley had to find a way to travel close to 180 miles from his home in Toomevara, Tipperary to Londonderry/Derry, County Derry to board the Barque Margaret Hugg for passage to Baltimore. This could be a long, difficult trip by foot or horse cart (if he was lucky to catch a ride). Some fortunate emigrants purchased tickets that included train fare to their port of departure.

Photo courtesy of Terri Menefee, John’s Granddaughter

High Kings of Baltimore: ​John P. McGowan

John (right) was born in County Mayo, circa 1885, and immigrated in 1898. He began as a shop boy for the B & O Railroad a year later, beginning a 53 year career. John was a laborer, and later a boilermaker. He and his first wife, Katie Cannon McGowan (also a County Mayo native) lived in modest homes on S. Schroeder and S. Payson Sts., and had three daughters together prior to her death in 1915. He and daughter Isabel were listed as boarders in the 1920 Census, living at 30 S. Poppleton Street.

John remarried in 1924, and he and Margaret (also an Ireland native) had five more children, while John advanced in his career. He became foreman of the Boiler Shop, and eventually a General Foreman for the B & O. His $4,000 salary enabled the family to purchase a large home at 8 S. Gilmor St., where older daughters from his first marriage also lived, and attended High School.

In addition to a highly successful career, John was an accomplished musician, playing both violin and the uilleann pipes. He often performed at public venues, including at Irish Halloween dances in 1924, and on a WCAO radio program in 1926...playing with Mathew J. White, a noted violinist, on both occasions. He was considered one of just a few musicians in America who were accomplished Irish pipers.

John was an active member of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in West Baltimore, and was a member of the Holy Name Society, Knights of Columbus and the Emerald Society. He passed away on November 17, 1960 and was buried at New Cathedral Cemetery.

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