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