This series of historical articles was begun 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 friends contributed photographs and stories. These were developed carefully and are presented for thousands to view and enjoy.
The Irish people experienced immeasurable devastation and loss during the Great Hunger of 1845-1855, but those who escaped and began anew were part of a redefinition of what it meant to be Irish within America. Mothers and fathers saw new possibilities for their children, and great things happened for the daughters of Anna and Daniel Kenney: a simple couple who loved each other dearly, and made all things possible for their seven daughters.
What is a modern man to think when he rolls past the abandoned and decaying houses found in major cities? Perhaps our thoughts turn to disgust and a bit of anger, but many of these were places of transformation for our immigrant ancestors…and for several generations. Baltimore was such a place: where rural immigrant families were transformed into American urbanites, in neighborhoods not so different from Washington Blvd. and Bayard Street (pictured).
Our immigrant ancestors usually arrived in a rather modest state. They were most often listed on ship passenger lists as laborers or farmers, and a considerable number arrived in American cities with very little money at all. Families saved as they could, and some gathered enough capital to open a business of their own, whether it was a pub, grocer, bakery, or confectionary. Arthur Murphy was a third-generation Irishman who did just that. He soon learned that such a life was not without its own share of both rewards and peril.
America’s early immigrant men often left a country that thought little of their role in greater society. This was certainly true of those who lived in the West of Ireland. A huge number were subjected to restrictions of advancement by the ruling classes, but a better way of life awaited them in America, where a man could rise to fulfill his potential and mark his place among his peers. Such was railroading life for those who headed westward in an expanding young nation.
Let’s consider John J. Kernan and Family, on the occasion of his son Edward's 1st Communion. Edward was John and Sarah's 13th child. Dad was a railroad man, and the family lived in the shadows of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Mount Clare Shops.
Many young men being raised in the shadows of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad didn’t quite finish grammar school, as railroad work placed a calling on them that could not be resisted. Other students of both sexes became railroaders once more considerable studies had been completed. Among these was a young woman who grew up in the shadows of the Mount Clare shops of the B & O Railroad. Her name was Elizabeth Agnes Herbig.
Boxing once rivaled baseball as the most popular sport in America, and the immigrant Irish were among the most active ethnic groups that did well in the ring. They also used their skills to provide relief for the suffering in 1921’s Irish struggle for independence.
Do you ever scratch your head and wonder why our Irish ancestors lived in such decrepit conditions, and for so many years? Other writings in this series have described the horrors that the Irish suffered during centuries of systemic oppression, but there is a puzzling part of all of this. Why didn’t the Irish just bust out and do what needed to be done to improve their station in life? They seemed to do just fine in America; why not in Ireland?
Baltimore and the greater Chesapeake region was passionate about providing relief to the Irish who suffered during the days of the Great Hunger. Donors were an example to other cities and towns, and were found in both religious and municipal settings.
America was a vital destination for Irish leaders who sought funding for important religious and political causes. Cities along the East Coast welcomed these inspirational leaders as they visited. Among them was Father Theobald Mathew, known to some as the Apostle of Temperance.
It would be difficult to overstate the role and contributions of Irish women both in their native land and in America. Friends from the Gorham Historical Society joined us as we wrote this story of mothers, wives and heroes.
Railroaders were the heroes of many a young boy, but were also honored by their peers. Daniel Willard was President of the B & O Railroad, and knew all about the working man. He had started at the bottom and worked his way to the top...and admired the men who worked under him.
Early immigrants who came to America were attracted by the abundant work available, with no taxes or tithes taken from their pay by the powers-that-be. Catholic Irish from the Western Connaught region were entirely unfamiliar with industrial work, but it was waiting in abundance in America’s shipyards, coal mines, canals and railroads that were desperate for the unskilled labor that strong Irish backs could provide. They came alongside men like Frederick Douglas, ship caulker.
Baltimore's St. Patrick's Parade is a time of celebration (wait 'til next year), and a visual delight. Perhaps you have enjoyed it in its modern form. What attracts you to it, in particular? Is it the joy and spectacle of the day? The festivities are, for many, the purpose in and of itself. Yet, as with so many themes in Irish life, there is a deeper significance to it. Our American heritage, and our rights listed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is the foundation of the expressions of the day.
Baltimore's Irish community did much to contribute to the establishment of a Free Ireland, and had some fun along the way. Some families with particularly capable members became major community leaders as well.
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... and participated in their ceilis. 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.
We are thoroughly enjoying this learning experience as we look to various resources to better understand the flow of Irish dance through Baltimore history. A key to following the genre is an understanding that traditional Irish music and dance are intertwined and inseparable. Of course, each discipline is dependent on audiences to perform for, and fans of the art form give both emotional and financial support.
What does it mean to be Irish? How have others defined that over the years? Let's explore the early generations in Baltimore and how they came to each others' rescue during tumultuous days...and still gather at the tri-color flag today.
You would think that the position of Lamplighter would be fairly straightforward, but even this modest work had a few political twists and turns. Let's talk about working for a simple public utility involved knowing the right people.
Immigrant Irish arrived with limited skills and education, and most men entered the working world as common laborers. They worked under others who were skilled tradesmen and learned as they went, eventually becoming accomplished in various trades themselves. This was the stepping stone for many Irish into the middle class. One prominent group who did just this was those who worked in the brick and block trade.
Accomplished brick masons had something beautiful to look at after their working days, and left remarkable structures and pieces for future generations. They often established villages, neighborhoods and families that continued this important trade, much to the benefit of our historic city and region.
We thank Museum friend Steven G. W. Walk for sharing this remembrance of a young woman who had a heart for the struggling Irish and others who knew hunger intimately. She gave of herself in remarkable ways.
Once a rural setting, Baltimore's northeast region transformed over the years into Baltimore's most vibrant Irish parish. All facets of life were attended to among its streets and institutions, including care for the least of these. Let's reflect on the remarkable care given to many thousands in what became Baltimore's Old 10th Ward.
Baltimore's early Irish Catholics gathered in parishes close to the waterfronts and factories where jobs could be found, and they could be part of a supportive Irish church. A swelling population pushed the faithful outward, and an answer needed to be found on the edges of town...once the shadowlands of city life.
We are the most fortunate museum, as our visitors and friends each walk into the Museum with a story, and a reason to be there. They and we are enriched by our time together, and we emerge with a deeper understanding about the flow of time that led to our meeting. Here's some recent discoveries; how about sharing your stories with us?
New beginnings are nothing new in our neighborhood. We have undergone a remarkable period of learning and growing at the Museum, and even had time to reflect on a new era for the parish that James and Sarah Feeley called home for fifty years.
Family research can be a difficult experience for us in modern times. It seems like there was death everywhere, and young mothers and children left far too soon. Yet there was hope for those left behind in the form of caregivers within the extended family. Today we will learn about some who assumed vital roles, and gave of themselves so that future generations would be possible. Among those who cared for the motherless were Bettie Agnes Kenney Burgan and her daughter Annie Jane Burgan Bamburger, of northeast Baltimore (pictured).
The compassion shown by communities and parishes was especially valued in the days prior to social programs run by local, state and national government. Neighbors, extended family and women religious were the heroes of that day, and private institutions, such as pictured Bon Secours Hospital, played essential roles for the hurting.
Baltimore's rich history includes both a modern understanding of the role of drink within the greater culture and the considerable effort in earlier years to moderate the use of alcohol in early Irish parishes. We hope you enjoy learning about another era, and early efforts to keep all things in moderation.
Two generations of fiddlers were front and center in the efforts to perpetuate Irish culture and traditions in the Baltimore area. Both were also central in the community's desire to maintain a flourishing dance tradition among the immigrant Irish and the generations to follow. Let's learn about Larry Ward and Mathew J. White.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Baltimore's markets were the center of life for many immigrant neighborhoods. These included West Baltimore's Hollins Market.
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?
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.
Even the simplest railroading work 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.
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.
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.
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 just as 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.
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 forces, such as the political Know-Nothings, religious groups and clergy.
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. America was different, but not immediately so. It took Irish leaders to move these young women towards their full potential.
Our Shamrock Legacy series of articles includes stories of remarkable Irish who began anew in America, leading what would seem to be modest lives among their own. Many developed into persons of accomplishment, and established families that would make significant contributions to a young America. Such was the experience of Patrick and Julia A. Connolly.
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.
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.
Baltimore's early wave of Irish immigration was predominantly Protestant, and usually Presbyterian. They were the welcoming committee to Catholic Irish who arrived in a more desperate state, generally speaking. Hence the tri-color Irish flag has special significance for locals.. representing the Green who came to America just to survive, and the Orange who cared for them.
Churches such as St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in West Baltimore memorialized the sacrifices made by thousands of Irish who asserted their patriotism by serving in our most significant military work.
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. Recent, deeper research led us to discover remarkable stories of true heroism.
Research into our heritage can take us pretty far afield, as it were. Cemeteries can present whole new stories...some personal, and others less so. You just might find your name inscribed on a marker, while another might name the home turf of an immigrant Irish hero. Here's what one search presented to us.
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? Yet our research has taught us about the significance of each of our forebears.
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.
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.
Connor Healy is remembered and honored by the generations that have followed him. This photograph of him and his men is an inspiration even today. Look at the fella with his "white" suspenders...having the time of his life. What's not to like?
Let's learn about one of our "High Kings of Baltimore" that we honor at the Museum. He looks a bit fancy, doesn't he? You wouldn't think so if you saw him at his day job...twirling a policeman's baton for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Churches of Baltimore's ethnic communities were a reflection on the land they left, and the culture they built in their new home. Immigrants remembered their loved ones who passed away in remarkable ways: sometimes by dedicating windows and other objects to them. Those who remembered their forebears in these ways were often the more modest , including the spinsters of the parish.
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.
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. Those who remember include historian John McGrain, who viewed our immigrant ancestors from neighboring Baltimore County.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This series continues to present the realities of life for desperate 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.
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.
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. Few know of the dramatic arrival of thousands in Baltimore, where expatriates and a shining light welcomed them.
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). Some might have said that he wasn't "all that much", and yet here we are, basking in the glory of a man from County Tipperary.
Truly special stories were discovered as we researched the stained glass windows of St. Peter the Apostle Church. Among these was a spinster who served faithfully in one of Baltimore's most fabulous estates, and used her rewards to honor others.
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. A tearful "goodbye" at the ship dock, or perhaps even at their cottages' front door, just might have been a forever goodbye.
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.
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.
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. Among those stories we consider is how much our ancestors sacrificed just to emigrate to new lands.
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.