Q & A with Leaders of The Irish Railroad Workers Museum

| March 16, 2015 | 1 Comments

With St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, it is a great time to learn more about The Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Hollins Market. SouthBMore.com received a tour of the museum last week and caught up with Executive Director Luke McCusker and President of the Board of Directors Michael Mellett to learn more.

Tell us how the Irish Railroad Museum came to fruition.

President Michael Mellett, Kathy Kelly, Former President Pat Ward, Founder Tom Ward, Roberta Creeron, Managing Director Luke McCusker

President Michael Mellett, Kathy Kelly, Former President Pat Ward, Founder Tom Ward, Roberta Creeron, Managing Director Luke McCusker

A group of concerned citizens learned that several houses in the 900 Block of Lemmon Street were scheduled to be demolished in 1997. Through the efforts of the Irish community, local historians and preservationists, these homes of immigrant Irish railroading families were restored and a museum to honor them was created. The Irish Railroad Workers Museum was dedicated on June 17, 2002 with ceremonies that included Mayor O’Malley and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

What are you hoping people will learn and experience when visiting the museum?

Our visitors will experience the tragedy, escape and eventual triumph of an immigrant people who came to America in the days of Ireland’s Great Hunger, simply wanting to survive. Through their arrival in West Baltimore, these illiterate, unskilled people found dignified work, established comfortable homes, educated their children and worshipped freely within a supportive community. Their efforts led to the development of a vibrant, talented ethnic community that contributed much to Baltimore: a city of immigrants.

Talk about the role the B&O railroad had in the area and about the Irish connection to the railroad and Baltimore.

Baltimore was home to America’s first railroad and unskilled labor was needed in abundance. Irish immigrants were a steady source and thousands made their way to West Baltimore and points beyond. They found plenty of hard physical work waiting for them; not common during the famine years in their homeland. Irish labor provided most of the muscle that tunneled through mountains, built stone viaducts and laid tracks along the steep terrain of Appalachia.

How do you raise money for the museum and what are the organization’s future goals?

We rely on a generous community of supporters and extensive outreach to interested friends in the Greater Baltimore and the Mid Atlantic Region. Our fundraising efforts include a multi-tiered membership, end-of-year giving campaign, and neighborhood and citywide tours connecting Irish heritage and Baltimore history. Our Board of Directors also provides financial support and/or labor-intensive gifts and our search always continues for such. It is a place of pride and duty.

Special events at our facilities cut across the historical, preservation, railroad and Irish American communities and dot our schedule. Our space can be rented for programing, meetings and gatherings. Our recent 1st Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Kick-Off Gala in Locust Point was a major fundraising success and a huge Baltimore social splash that will be back next year.

Also, customized research may include recording oral (family) histories, assisting families in researching their heritage, and holding special events that expand our story. These activities are designed to pique interest in a growing base of friends and philanthropists. Annual giving is essential to our health.

Our goals include an expansion of physical facilities on Lemmon Street, further volunteerism, and larger benefaction to support staff and expanding programming. Our Board is challenged with bringing our story further afield in their circles to attract the support worthy of the only 19th century working class urban home museum in the United States. Our researchers have actively sought details of the lives of James and Sarah Feeley, who lived at 918 Lemmon Street, our museum’s location.  eriod actors and reenactment programs will be featured in time. This family has opened the door to understanding how the Irish were flourishing in West Baltimore and the presentation of multiple generations that thrive today as a result of their accomplishments. Our goal is to become better known and visited.

Tell us about some of the events the museum has coming up.

Spring events at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum include:

3/17: A Visit to the Irish Railroad Workers Museum

Come see us as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! We will be open 1-4. Your visit includes the Feeley home, our DVD presentation” From Famine to Fortitude” and extensive exhibits that illustrate the life of an immigrant Irish family, circa 1870.

3/25: Walking Tour of an Irish Neighborhood

We invite you to join Judge Tom Ward as we tour a neighborhood that received Irish immigrants who escaped the horrors of the Great Hunger. They thrived on the streets bordering America’s first railroad. Visit the workplaces, homes, churches, schools and public markets of the day, including the Irish Railroad Workers Museum. We will gather at the B & O Railroad Museum parking lot at 10:30 a.m. and conclude at 12:00. Donations welcome.

4/11: The Irish Village of Texas, MD

Local historian Cassie Thompson presents the village of Texas, MD. This town of quarrymen provided dressed stone for New York’s Cathedral of St. Patrick, Baltimore’s City Hall and the lower portion of Washington Monument in D.C. Cassie will talk about the establishment of this Irish village, including its homes, parish and school. Presentation will be from 11:30 to 12:30. Light refreshments will be served and donations are welcome.

5/9: The Carroll Family of County Offaly and Baltimore

Local educator/photographer Denny Lynch presents the family of Charles Carroll, only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. They became affluent in Maryland after losing their fortune during tragic days in Ireland. Homes in Maryland and Ireland are included via photos and narration based on Denny’s personal visits and historical research. We will gather at 11:30, and finish by 12:30. Donations welcome.

Talk about the Irish heritage in Baltimore and how the museum allows you to meet Irish Americans from other regions.

Baltimore has a thriving Irish community due to its role as a major port of entry for immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th century. Many stayed in Baltimore, while other families spent their early years here and then traveled westward. Some 40% of our visitors come from out of state in search of their Irish roots in Baltimore. We connect with them as one would with extended family, a bit of an “old-home week” visit. We share with them our resources and share clues on how to make their own discoveries during a visit to Greater Baltimore.

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, what does this holiday mean to your organization? And, how will you and your organization celebrate?

St. Patrick’s Day is a bit of a high holy day (and season) for us. We remember Ireland’s patron saint in events both religious and secular, including an annual mass, Baltimore’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and multiple events that focus on faith and fun. Our museum has a special presentation on the Irish Churches of Baltimore and also sponsors a remarkably successful kickoff party at the beginning of the season. We welcome you to celebrate with us!

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About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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  • James Hunt

    Went to the Irish museum last Saturday 3/14. Absolutely outstanding place to visit.