August 12, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

St. Patrick's Day Parades of Yesteryear

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Peaceable assemblies and the right of free speech and religion have been threatened in past years. Those who are willing to defend those rights have come to the aid of Baltimore's Irish community.

Baltimore's Irish parades haven't always been welcomed by other communities and associations. The 1855 gathering was threatened with mob violence by the "Know-Nothings", an anti-immigrant group that was particularly hostile to the Catholic Irish and their voting habits. The Parade was expected to be attacked by 1,500 men from nearby cities.

The Irish were well prepared, and the procession itself included military, police and Irish militia organizations that were ready to defend the wearing of the green, as need be. One of these groups was known as the "Shield's Guards", an Irish militia group that defended the right of Irish to peaceably assemble and celebrate their heritage.

Their presence, and the abundant mud along the parade route on a rainy day prevented any kind of trouble.

Baltimore's parade maintained a strong element of military strength into the future, and many were led by Emmet's Guards. This militia group, known as the 9th Regiment, Maryland National Guard was led by Col. E.T. Joyce, a prominent Irishman born in Clifden, County Galway. He was very active in Baltimore's Irish community and named Colonel of the Emmet Guards in 1867, leading them in several parades. He was buried in New Cathedral Cemetery (pictured).

The 6,000 who marched in the 1874 parade included military bands provided by the Naval Academy and Fort McHenry, as well as groups of marchers of Maryland National Guard's 5th and 6th Regiment. Their presence was a comfort to the many marchers, including two musical bands of African Americans, representing Catholic Churches in the City.

St. Francis Xavier Church (modern church is pictured) was well represented in 1874. It was America's first Catholic Church dedicated to ministry towards African Americans, led by Josephite Priests who were trained in Mill Hill (outside London). A full division of African Americans was part of the parade that year. They paid special honor to Daniel O'Connell (pictured), the Liberator who led the Irish towards emancipation as a Catholic lawyer, trained on the Continent.

O'Connell never set foot in America, and would not dishonor himself by visiting a nation where the abomination of slavery was practiced. His audiences in Ireland included Frederick Douglas, who was among his Dublin listeners in 1845.

Baltimore's St. Patrick's Day Parades thrived in the post Civil War period, but faded as the nation entered the 1880's. Gatherings were scattered during that era, and eventually stopped in 1889. The Baltimore Sun asserted that the Irish were spending their money on supporting Irish independence, rather than parade finery. They also mentioned that weather had always been a continuing problem, as was holding a parade on Sundays on occasion, or during Lent.

The parade rallied in 1910, thanks to the high enthusiasm of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a fraternal organization for those with an Irish Catholic heritage. Baltimore had 12 divisions of the Order, and they gathered to participate in the 1910 parade, filling the Second Division of the procession that marched both in East and West Baltimore. Their route included walking past St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church that year, a huge Irish parish at W. Fayette and Fulton Streets.

Marchers were led by the Hibernian Rifles (photo above), a uniformed branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. These men were members of various AOH divisions of the Baltimore area, and numbered between 100-300 men during their active years. World Wars and the Great Depression prevented the tradition from continuing, but parades began again in 1956. Modern times have included fabulous gatherings, and we look forward to our next, post-COVID parade in 2022, when the Irish will peaceably assemble again and speak of freedom.

Many thanks to those who have given so generously to this ongoing series of articles, both financially and through offering treasured images for our use. This issue includes contributions by:

Baltimore Sun

Richard Berglund and Kathi Santora; see (Accessed 10/13/2020)

Timothy Harvey

Timothy Norris, Photographer

Historical newspapers:

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser

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