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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.