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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.