Our immigrant ancestors came to America and worked feverishly, in many cases, towards achievement and success. Their workplaces, educational institutions and even their modes of recreation were settings for these generations to assert their significance and belonging within an ambitious American nation. Even our beloved baseball diamonds were a showplace for those who wanted to do well.
The rowhouses of Baltimore were places of transformation for a countless number of our immigrant ancestors. Their stories were an integral part of our Museum’s establishment and continue to fascinate us during these modern days of expansion. Such has been our recent experience as we unveiled the earlier days of our future Visitor Center at 910 Lemmon Street…. known as 10 Lemmon Street prior to 1887.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.