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Our neighborhood reflects a rich history of the Irish immigration experience and the lives of Irish in Baltimore in the mid-19th century.

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West Baltimore immigrant neighborhood

History of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum

Our museum is the result of efforts to preserve and  present the story of Baltimore’s Irish community.

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Museum opening, 2003

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The Big Pivot Blog

This series of historical articles was written and edited by Museum Director Luke F. McCusker III to bring the Museum to our community during the days of Covid-19, when they could not visit the Museum…temporarily closed in March, 2020. Many Museum members and friends contributed photographs and stories. These were developed carefully and are presented for thousands to view and enjoy.

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Sound and Proclamation (Part 3): Henry McShane's Bells, and Some Bats in Monongahela

America's early towns and cities were vibrant places, and churches asserted their presence with the pealing of bells. Among these were towns along major rivers like the Monongahela.

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Sound and Proclamation (Part 2): Learning about Henry McShane and His Bells

The safe arrival of each of our forebears from distant lands is remarkable. Some truly amaze us at all they accomplished in their new lives. Such a man was bell foundryman Henry McShane.

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Sound and Proclamation (Part 1): Learning about Henry McShane and his Bells

This is a first in a series of three articles that tell us about the tremendous accomplishments of a modest fella from Dundalk, Ireland. His work was a godsend to immigrant peoples who could not practice their faith openly in their home country, and particularly in Ireland.

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Railroad Workers as Heroes: Building Mountains and Going to War

The men working at the Mount Clare Shops in West Baltimore didn't wear capes, or disappear into phone booths and save the day, like some other heroes. And yet they performed their own sort of miracles to preserve a nation.

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Towards Gallows Hill: Baltimore's Irish in the 1850's

Baltimore's population swelled in the years following the arrival of thousands of desperate Irish. They gathered in waterfront and downtown parishes in huge numbers, and something had to give.

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Slaver turned Benefactor: The Transformation of William Kennedy

The ambitions of men often lead to great accomplishments, but these are sometimes realized via acts of true humility. Such is the tale of Irish sea captain and business owner William Kennedy, who came to recognize the humanity of others.

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Living Among Abundance: Reflecting on Hollins Market

Baltimore's markets were the center of life for many immigrant neighborhoods. These included West Baltimore's Hollins Market.

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Legends Among Rowhouses: Learning about William Galloway

Early Railroaders are remembered in many ways by their families and associates. They lived fairly simple lives, but were part of bigger themes such as how nations were built. One such man had a locomotive named after him.

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Ships for Survival, Boats for Pleasure

Baltimore was a gateway for sailing ships who brought the desperate Irish into America's second busiest port. It was also, in later years a place to gather and travel eastward towards sun, sand and surf if you had a few dollars to spare.

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Speaking the Irish in Baltimore: Then and Now

The Irish language was once headed towards oblivion, a result of its suppression by British authorities on several fronts. Their efforts failed due to patriots both in Ireland and among the diaspora, including the Irish expatriates of Baltimore. We continue its perpetuation today.

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"Getting Crazy" on the Fourth: Celebrating the Beginnings of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

The world was changing, and Baltimore didn't want to lose its place as a major shipping center. Other cities were building canals westward to bring people and products to developing communities well off the Atlantic Coast. What did Baltimore's leadership come up with to compete with them, and how did they celebrate a new beginning?

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Outrage, and Then a Rest: Learning about John R. Kenly, U.S.A.

Today we consider one of Baltimore's favorite sons of the Civil War period and beyond. He had an Irish heritage, and considerable leadership skills.

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Railroaders and Fascination: Remembering The Gandy Dancers

Even the simplest work of railroading has a fascination for many of us, and some even name their place of business after them. Such is the charm of the Gandy Dancer.

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A Mix of Toughness and Reverence: John J. Matey, Bell Installer

Our Museum is particularly blessed by being part of an engaged community that shares information about their ancestors and their role in the development of a young nation. One compelling photograph led to significant research on our part, both in Baltimore and in a distant town where this photo was taken.

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Disaster Magnified: The Perilous Journey of the Brig John Begg

Many desperate Irish who experienced the tragic years of the Great Hunger saw no other option but to flee. Yet that flight itself could sometimes mean their demise: whether while at sea or on land once they arrived with a hope of beginning again. Such was the plight and final days of Thomas Brennan, who traveled with his wife Bridget Shaughnessy Brennan from Galway.

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The Tyranny of Mobs: Threats and Violence against Irish Catholics in Baltimore and Elsewhere

Baltimore’s earliest Irish Catholics were a persecuted people, as were their fellow Catholics in other major cities in America. Although their numbers were strong, as they had been in Ireland, the persecution of their faith followed them to America. That persecution took another form, though; it was not particularly from the government itself, or an established church. Opposition typically came from anti-Catholic political forces, such as the Know-Nothings and religious groups and clergy.

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Young Irish Women and Their Vocations: Religious and Secular

Irish families just might have been perplexed with what to do with daughters who had so many limitations set upon them during the days of the Penal Laws, and beyond. There were few options for those born into poor Catholic families in the West of Ireland.

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Our Shamrock Legacy Series Premiere Issue: Patrick and Julia A. Connolly

Patrick Connolly was born in County Offaly, Ireland in 1843. The potato famine (The Great Hunger) raged between 1845-1848. Patrick would have been 2-5 years old during that time. Family lore says that he was the youngest of 17 children. He emigrated to America in 1865 after the American Civil War had ended, at the age of 22. Patrick likely arrived in Manhattan and came through the Castle Garden immigration center.

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570,034 lost, and a Few Found

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.

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A Tricolor Flag, and a Baltimore Transformation

Baltimore's early wave of Irish immigration was predominantly Protestant, and usually Presbyterian. This denomination, and others were referred to as "dissenters", and had their own trouble with the Church of England.

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Memorial Day: an Irish Remembrance

St. Peter’s Church was the first Catholic church in West Baltimore, and is called the Mother Church of that side of town; rightly so. Thirteen churches resulted from the outreach of the congregation, with St. Martin of Tours being the first.

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Discovering Heroes, and other Niche Projects

The visionaries who launched our Museum in 2002 had tremendous insight into the elements of Irish immigrant life within the neighborhood, and included workplaces, social settings, schools, marketing and religious life among the displays. These provide us modern-day researchers a solid foundation from which to find new discoveries.

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My Scrooge Moment, and the Man from Inishbofin

Today's presentation is an off- campus one, as we have a solid friendship with the folks who are redoing St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery in Baltimore's Clifton Park. Stephanie and Les Town have ancestors buried there, and it seems that I do too.

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Words, Places and the Big Picture

A recent conversation told us that people want to know how a little Museum like ours made so many remarkable discoveries about the modest family that lived at 918 Lemmon Street. Wasn't Sarah an illiterate wife, mother and washerwoman?

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Expatriates as Advocates: Remembering Home

More than one million Irish had become landless and starving, and saw no option but to flee. They began decidedly urban lives in America, rather than the rural village life that their people had known for millenia. And yet, they remembered home.

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“A Glimpse Through Windows”

Churches of Baltimore's ethnic communities were a reflection on the land they left, and the culture they built in their new home. Immigrants also remembered their loved ones who passed away since coming to America: sometimes by dedicating windows and other objects to them.

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Wrestling the Creature

Baltimore's early Irish parishes were often led by native sons of the Emerald Isle, and West Baltimore's St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church was no exception. Their first pastor was Edward McColgan, born on May 5, 1812, in County Donegal, Ireland. He led Baltimore's Irish to remember their homeland, but also advocated for temperance in significant ways.

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Everyone Likes My Kitchen Best

An Irish hearth is often thought as the center of the home, where light and warmth brought about nourishment and comfort. The kitchen was (and is) the gathering place for family and guests, in whatever form it took over the years. Those who arrived in the years of the Great Hunger, and settled in homes like our 918 Lemmon Street must have marveled at the place.

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Reflections and Reciprocation from our Community

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum is different from any other. We develop relationships with many of our visitors, and build up our understanding of an immigrant Irish community that began dynamic lives among their own.

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St Mary’s Catholic Church, Govanstowne

The tumultuous days of the Great Hunger brought Ireland's most desperate to the city of Baltimore. Among these were orphans who needed to be cared for in both practical and spiritual ways. This was the beginnings of an Irish church in North Baltimore.

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Irish Dance in Baltimore: A Steady Trickle, then a Mighty Stream (Part 1) V 2.0

Perhaps you have spent years enjoying and participating in Baltimore’s Irish dance community, whether through the step dance form commonly seen among the many Irish dance groups of the region, or as part of a set dance group such as the Emerald Isle Club. That’s not the case with this writer, but there has been much to discover as I have interacted with dancers and musicians on the subject.

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John P. McGowan

John P McGowan was one of those newly arrived Irish who did it all: a thriving career, family man and keeper of the old Irish traditions. His emphasis was on music; let's learn about him.

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Connor Healy: an Irish leader in his trade

Connor Healy is remembered and honored by the generations that have followed him.

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Timothy M. Hurley

Let's learn about one of our "High Kings of Baltimore" that we honor at the Museum.

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Taught by Their Own, in Plain Sight: The Irish Children

Irish families got creative in the old country when it came time to educate their children within their Catholic faith traditions. They got plenty bold once they were in America, as Brothers and women religious transformed a people.

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Crisis, Loss and Gain: Father Kenny, Ed Gaffney, War Rationing

Today we remember two generations that endured hardship, sacrifice and loss, and yet they persevered. Generations that followed did not quite know about their sacrifices, but we remember them today.

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Baseball, the Irish and African Americans

Waves of immigrants have gained a sense of belonging by seeing their own folks on the sports fields of America, and young boys have copied their heroes with their own teams, in different sorts of organizations and settings.

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Horses with Names, or Not: Father Edward McColgan

Today's issue was inspired by several comments from those who enjoyed knowing about the role "Horse-and-Cart" men played in the care and feeding of our immigrant ancestors. Catholic Irish knew a few things about horses, or lack thereof.

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Remembrance Room: Food Aboard Famine Ships

This series continues to present the realities of life for desparate emigrants aboard ship, new arrivals in America and the dramatic ways they cared for families as they settled in Baltimore. Food, of course, is central to any people's story...as it is to our own experiences today as we make our own best decisions about meals during the present crisis.

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Remembrances: Famine Survivor John Lyons and little Bill Handy

The Lyons family have quite a story to tell about their ancestor. They tell the tale of a boy from County Limerick, and all he was able to accomplish.Yes, there's hope for all of us...even when we are in the midst of turmoil.

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Remembrance Room: Lazaretto Point Lighthouse

So many of us have a casual knowledge of the realities of Irish immigration, and that far off. New York's story, with Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the forefront, is something we point at, and contemplate.

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James Feeley: Our Golden Issue

We’d like to dedicate this fiftieth issue of “The Big Pivot” to the man who inspired our Museum itself. His name was Seamus “James” Feeley (pictured above with his family, as they enjoyed a Chesapeake Bay Excursion, circa 1871).

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The Windows of St. Peter’s Church, and sponsor Bridget McPhillips

Truly special stories were discovered as we researched the stained glass windows of St. Peter the Apostle Church.

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Remembrance Room: Famine Survivors (Mellett ancestors)

Today's presentation from our "Remembrance Room” reminds us how the people of Ireland were brought to loneliness as their loved ones were scattered to the corners of the earth.

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Remembrance Room: An Gorta Mor

Today's presentation from our "Remembrance Room” shows the Irish in their depths of despair during "An Gorta Mor", or Great Hunger. Many came to Baltimore, and other destinations just to survive.

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Remembrance Room: Life aboard a Famine Ship

The horrors of the Great Hunger did not end as they boarded ships bound for America, but often were magnified by terrible conditions on board, and at sea.

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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.

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Well Beyond the Usual Suspects: Our Irish Community, Revisited

Our exploration of Irish history in Baltimore and beyond has taken this writer pretty far afield during these last ten months of Covid-19 seclusion, but perhaps the most dramatic learning experience has been within my own preconceptions of what it means to be Irish, and how to define the Irish community at large.

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Slaver turned Benefactor: The Transformation of William Kennedy

The ambitions of men often lead to great accomplishments, but these are sometimes realized via acts of true humility. Such is the tale of Irish sea captain and business owner William Kennedy, who came to recognize the humanity of others.

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