Baltimore boasts many who toast the Emerald Isle

JACQUES KELLY

March 17, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

The snow was piling up Saturday morning and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick were not about to kiss their 38th annual luncheon goodbye.

Some 200 of these fellows resisted the blizzard and drove downtown for the get-together, a green-letter day on the local Celtic social calendar. Had the weather been better, 900 Irishmen and friendly pretenders would have been wearing the green at the luncheon.

Baltimore possesses a number of groups whose membership tends to be strictly all-male and who revere the memory of the Emerald Isle. The pecking order can be confusing. Some are religious; others are social or neighborhood-based.

They represent all classes of Irish Baltimore, from the Blue Book to the back alleys. And it would be difficult to find a man buried in New Cathedral Cemetery whose ancestors were not members of one of these clubs.

The Friendly Sons, founded in Philadelphia in 1771, count George Washington as one of its members. The local chapter arrived here fairly late, in 1955 at the old Park Plaza Hotel, Charles and Madison streets, which in its day was a favorite gathering spot for the sons of Cork, Galway and County Mayo.

"These guys party hard. They got in their four-wheel drives when there were no other cars on the road," says E. Hanlon Murphy, the outgoing president of the group, of those who attended the luncheon at the height of the blizzard. He is also the grandson of Ned Hanlon, the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles who led the team to the 1894 World's Championship.

D. Chester O'Sullivan, 88 years old, still an usher at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church and still chairman of the State Athletic Commission, has been chief of the Sons' board of stewards since the group was organized here.

"We are supposed to have the biggest hearts of any Irish society, to have love in our hearts at all times. We are supposed to help people in any way we can. Our charity is the Little Sisters of the Poor," says O'Sullivan.

Tonight, the members and guests of the Hibernian Society of Baltimore will pack a room at the Omni for the society's annual banquet, an all-male, black-tie dinner, with lawyers, judges and business people heavily in attendance.

The Hibernian Society was organized here in 1803 by both established Protestants and Catholics to help newly arrived Irish immigrants. The group stayed away from religious infighting. Baltimore then had many Irishmen who were Presbyterians. It also had quite a few who genuflected toward Rome.

March 17 has always been a grand day for the Hibernians and their annual dinner. At its 1809 banquet, there were 30 different toasts. In later years, the meals were held at the old Hotel Rennert. The menu featured terrapin, planked shad, potatoes Windsor, roast Jersey capon, French peas and Moet & Chandon white seal champagne.

The society built the Oliver Hibernian Free School to educate immigrant boys and girls. Its name commemorated John Oliver, a wealthy merchant and president of the group who bequeathed $20,000 to the school. The school, for many years at Guilford Avenue and Lexington Street, closed when the Commonwealth Bank crashed in 1932.

Baltimore also has several divisions of a national group, the all-male Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. This strictly Catholic organization was founded in Ireland to defend priests. Many of the order's individual units were formed in old neighborhoods and relocated as the city's Irish population moved.

The Towson unit, for example, always marches in the St. Patrick's Parade in full dress attire. A Catonsville unit traces its origins to the old Irish neighborhood in the vicinity of the B&O Railroad's Mount Clare Shops (Pratt and Poppleton streets) and St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church at Hollins and Poppleton streets.

The Emerald Isle Club, formed in Baltimore in 1954, champions Irish culture, music and dancing. Many of its founding members were born on the other side of the Atlantic. Several hundred people show up for its monthly dances held at St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church on York Road in Rodgers Forge. This club welcomes men and women and their families.

The St. John's Old Timers 10th Ward was founded in 1964 in an effort to keep open the old St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church at Valley and Eager streets. That mission failed. The church closed (it's still standing and its basement is used as a food pantry for the poor) but the club members decided to stay in business.

"We've grown to about 800 families. We have eight 15-minute meetings a year, then we drink beer and lie to one another about the good times in the old neighborhood," says Hank Arnold, the 10th Ward's president.

The 10th Ward was legendary in old Baltimore politics. This neighborhood -- once thickly settled with Irish families -- is due south of Green Mount Cemetery.

Residents who lived there before World War II have gravitated to the north and northeast, generally up Greenmount Avenue and York Road to Rodgers Forge, Towson, Lutherville, Loch Raven, Parkville and Overlea.

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