Calvert’s Manor of Baltimore in Ireland

The charter for the territory we now know as Maryland was initially petitioned by George Calvert, the 1st Baron of Baltimore. The charter was grant by King Charles I three months after George’s death in 1632. Part of his motivation to create the colony was to create a safe haven for Catholics settlers in the colonies. Many of the more puritan colonies had laws or policies prohibiting Catholicism. Calvert had been a highly regarded politician, statesman, and colonial administrator. For his loyal services to the crown, he had been granted a large estate in County Longford, Ireland known as “Manor of Baltimore.” Baltimore was the anglicized version of the Gaelic phrase Baile na Tighe Mor, which translates into “townland of the big house.”

Maryland’s status as a safe-haven played an instrumental role in the early forced immigration of the Irish to the colonies. In the 17th century, many Irish brought to the colonies were either indentured servants or prisoners-of-war from Oliver Cromwell’s conquering of Ireland. Because they were typically Catholic, the more tolerant Chesapeake colonies were often their initial destination.

The largest surge of Irish immigrant to Baltimore did not occur until the late 1820s.

Initially attracted to the country by the ample work associated with the construction of the American canal system, many skilled workers found opportunity and renewed religious tolerance in Baltimore. Founded in 1828, the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad site in West Baltimore became a nexus for European immigrants recruited by the company. As the railroad expanded so too did West Baltimore. What had once been pasture and farmland up to the beginning of the 1830, was quickly transforming into a vibrant and dynamic urban landscape.

Irish Railroad Workers.
Courtesy of the B&O Railroad Museum

The prevalence of Irish Catholics in the neighborhood and the need for a focal point for the community motivated the Archdiocese to create a new parish and begin the planning of a church. In 1842 Archbishop Samuel Eccleston chose the young Irish priest, Father Edward McColgan as the St. Peter the Apostle Church’s pastor. He served in this position for the next 56 years. The design of the church was undertaken by the second-generation Baltimore architect Robert Carey Long Jr. His father, Robert Carey Long Sr. had been the first native-born architect in Maryland and had initially apprenticed as a carpenter.

The church is of the Doric Greek Revival style with the front façade drawing heavily upon the form of the Temple of Hephaestus, near the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. This design later informed Long’s design of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. When construction began on the church, the volunteering of labor from the surrounding Irish community members was so great that the construction time was shortened considerably, and volunteers were

St. Peter the Apostle Church and Buildings, Wikimedia Commons

turned away at times. Consecrated in September of 1844, it would quickly become a focal point for the throngs of Irish fleeing the Great Famine that began in 1845.

By 1880 the Irish made up close to 25% of the foreign-born population of Baltimore. Many immigrants became railroad workers on the B&O Railroad, like James Feeley, whose family story is told at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum – the site of his former home – in West Baltimore, just a block away from the B&O Railroad Museum.

More About The Feeley Family and Preserving Irish Heritage in Baltimore on last year’s blog here