Irish Immigrants in Baltimore


Immigration Pier, Locust Point. From the collections of the Maryland Historical Society, BaltimoreIn 1816, 6,000 Irish people immigrated to America.  Within two years this number had doubled and would continue to grow.  The greatest spike in the number of Irish who immigrated to America came when the Potato Famine devastated Ireland from 1845-1853.  In 1846, 92,484 immigrated and by 1850 that number had grown to 206,041.  It was certainly a dramatic increase from the figure just thirty years earlier.  By the end of 1854, two million Irish had immigrated to America.  This was nearly one quarter of the population of Ireland. 

It was during this dramatic exodus that Baltimore experienced an increase in its Irish population.  The Irish who came to Baltimore settled in the southwestern part of the city and most men went to work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.  Women immigrants usually worked as domestics.  Men went to work for the railroad because employment opportunities for Irish were scarce.  Irish immigrants were mainly farmers and lacked the skills to work in businesses or crafts.  Due to their lack of skilled labor, Irish immigrants faced a great deal of discrimination.  They were viewed as inferior people. 

Irish immigrants had to live in crowded and subdivided homes.  These were tiny cramped spaces. Many immigrants were simply unable to afford better housing.  However, even the low wages in the United States were five times more than the eight pence a day that a farmer in Ireland earned. 

Baltimore became the third most common point of entry for European immigrants, behind New York and Boston.  In 1867, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad entered into a partnership with the North German Lloy Stemship Line to build immigration piers at Locust Point.  The ships landing at Locust Point would drop off German, Irish and English immigrants.  From there, immigrants could immediately go and work for the railroad or board a train and continue westward. 

The Irish experience in Baltimore was one of hardship and challenge.  By examining images and primary source materials, students can get a first-hand account of what the immigrant experience was; both in Ireland and in America.  The students can also learn about the specific experiences of the Irish immigrants who came to Baltimore.  

Source:  Extracted from The Irish Shrine at Lemmon Street; Baltimore City Historical Society; Library of Congress-Irish Immigration; Marist College-The Irish in the Hudson Valley

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades K-4:

Topic 2: The History of the Students’ Own State or Region

Standard 3: The People, Events, Problems, and Ideas that Created the History of Their State.

Standard 3C: The student understands the various other groups from regions throughout the world who came into the his or her own state or region over the long-ago and recent past.

K-4: Examine photographs and pictures of people from the various racial and ethnic groups of varying socioeconomic status who lived in the state 100-200 years ago in order to hypothesize about their lives, feelings, plans, and dreams, and to compare ways in which their experiences were similar and different. [Formulate historical questions]
3-4: Examine newspaper and magazine accounts and construct interview questions for a written, telephone, or in-person interview with a recent immigrant in order to discover why they came, what their life was like, and to describe some of the experiences that they have had in adjusting to the state or region. [Obtain historical data]
3-4: Describe the problems, including prejudice and intolerance, as well as the opportunities that various groups who have lived in their state or region have experienced in housing, the workplace, and the community. [Appreciate historical perspectives]

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

Standard 2: How the industrial revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed the lives of Americans and led toward regional tension.

Standard 2C: The student understands how antebellum immigration changed American society. 

5-12: Analyze the push-pull factors which led to increased immigration, for the first time China but especially from Ireland and Germany. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Illustration, Interior of a Small Farmer’s Cabin in Ireland 
    NOTES:  This illustration shows how poor and destitute many of the Irish farmers were. Published in The Pictorial Times: A Weekly Journal of News, Literature, Fine Art, and the Drama (London)
    SOURCE:  Views of the Famine

  2. DESCRIPTION:  Photograph, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad-Cumberland
    NOTES: Irish immigrants helped to build the B&O Railroad.  This gives an example of what Irish labor created. 
    REPRODUCTIONS: Image reproduction and permission
    SOURCE: Maryland Memory Projects
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland Historical Society

  3. DESCRIPTION: Map, Irish-Ratio to Total Population  
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  New York, C. Scribner's sons [c. 1883] 
    NOTES: Published in Scribner's statistical atlas of the United States, showing by graphic methods their present condition and their political, social and industrial development by Fletcher W. Hewes and Henry Gannett.... Map shows that Maryland ranked 26th out of 47th for the highest ratio of Irish to the total population. 
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  American Memory: Map Collections 1500-2004
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C

  4. DESCRIPTION:  Cartoon, “Here and There; or Emigration, A Remedy” 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 15, 1848
    NOTES: This cartoon depicts two families, one in Ireland that is very poor.  The other family has emigrated and is enjoying a happy, more prosperous life. Published in Punch (London).
    SOURCE:  Views of the Famine

  5. DESCRIPTION: Cartoon, People on steamship carrying "Poor house from Galway"
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  April 28, 1883
    NOTES:  Illustration in Harper's Weekly v. 27, 1883 April 28, p. 272. 
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    COPYRIGHT: Rights and Reproductions
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC

  6. DESCRIPTION:  Illustration, Irish Immigrants fleeing the Famine
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  February 28, 1880
    NOTES: Woman, on shore of Ireland, holding up a sign for help to American ships; her foot rests on rock inscribed "we are starving". Family huddled behind her. Illustration in Harper's Weekly 1880 Feb. 28, p. 129.
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    COPYRIGHT: Rights and Restrictions
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC

  7. DESCRIPTION: Illustration, An Irish dwelling in New York in the 1850s
    NOTES: This illustration can be compared to the illustration of the poor farmer’s cabin in Ireland. Published in New York Illustrated News (New York)
    SOURCE:  Views of the Famine

  8. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Immigration Pier, Locust Point
    NOTES:  Photograph of a ship filled with immigrants coming to Locust Point.
    REPRODUCTIONS: Image reproduction and permission
    SOURCE:  Maryland Memory Projects
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society

Additional Media Resources

Irish Immigration into Maryland during the Colonial and Antebellum Eras

Irish Immigrants in America during the 19th Century

Irish Immigration

Immigration: The Journey to America

Views of the Famine

The Irish Potato Famine

Additional Instructional Resources

The Great Irish Famine Curriculum

Irish Immigration

Irish Immigrant Families in Mid-Late 19th Century America

Contribution of Immigrants

Who Was Here?

The Great Irish Famine: Emigration

Baltimore as a Port of Entry

The Irish in America (Part 1). From A&E Classrooms.

The Irish in America (Part 2). From A&E Classrooms.

The Potato Famine in Ireland.

Secondary Resources

Diner, Hasia R. Erin’s Daughters in America:  Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

Mason, Matthew E. "The Hands Here are Disposed to be Turbulent: Unrest Among the Irish Trackmen of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1829-1851." Labor History 1998 39(3): 253-272.

O’Brien, Michael.  The Irish in America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1965. 

O’Grada, Cormac. The Great Irish Famine. Dublin: MacMillan, 1989.

McKenna, Erin. A Student's Guide to Irish American Genealogy. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1996.

Stolarik, M. Mark. Forgotten Doors: The Other Ports of Entry to the United States. Philadelphia: The Balch Institute Press, 1988.

Woodham-Smith, Cecil. The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. New York: Penguin, 1964. 

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Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

The Irish Shrine at Lemmon Street
A Project of the Railroad Historic District Corporation
920 Lemmon St.
Baltimore, MD 21223
Phone: 410- 669-8154
Baltimore Immigration Project
Fell’s Point Visitor Center
808 S. Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone: 410-675-6750

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Katie Duncan. Updated by Nancy Bramucci, 2/24/2009.


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