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