Irish immigrants celebrate heritage

UP FRONT

Party: The 25th year of the ethnic festival is a time for Baltimore's Irish to remember their journey to America

September 16, 1999|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff

When Gerry Farrelly left Ireland for America 25 years ago, he knew things would be vastly different. He was raised on a family farm near the city of Oldcastle, which is about 70 miles northwest of Dublin.

Ed McBride left Ireland for America more than 40 years ago, and he also knew things would be vastly different. He grew up in the city of Derry.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Live section, an article about the Irish Festival incorrectly reported the call letters of a local radio station. The radio show "Reflections of Ireland" is heard on WTMD (89.7 FM). The Sun regrets the error.

However, of all the culture clashes the two Irish immigrants faced in Baltimore, both emphatically state that their biggest adjustment wasn't to the people, nor to the fast-paced city life, nor to the diversity. It was the weather -- specifically our hot, humid summers.

But that is where the similarities between the two men end. Farrelly isn't too fond of Baltimore summers. McBride, on the other hand, loves the warm weather.

The two men will be among those celebrating at the 25th Irish Festival this weekend at 219 29th Division St. in Baltimore. There will be music, workshops and exhibits on Irish dancing, Gaelic family genealogy and Irish weaving. More than 30 vendors will have art, woolens, crystal, jewelry and other Irish items for sale.

There will also be discussion groups on the Irish famine and, on Sunday afternoon, a presentation on the strained Northern Ireland peace agreement by a representative from the Irish Embassy.

The entertainment will include a concert tomorrow night at 7:30 by the band Black 47, with Donegal X-Press; there's continuous music Saturday and Sunday, ending with the Makem Brothers Sunday evening at 6:40 p.m.

The musical lineup also includes a performance by Farrelly, a singer and musician with the band Rigadoo, on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

His musical skills were honed in Ireland, where he grew up as one of seven boys in a close-knit family.

"We had a pony and a carriage," says Farrelly, 50, comparing his life on the family farm with life in Baltimore. "I rode my bike five miles to school and five miles back."

Farrelly's mother didn't want her son to leave the country. Yet Farrelly was determined to come to America and attend a seminary school. His plane landed in Mobile, Ala., where he met people he knew. He ended up staying there for a few years before he was admitted to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.

"I didn't know anybody here," he says. "But I found a store on Route 40 that was an Irish import store. I went there, and people told me to go to Angelina's on Harford Road." At the time, many people of Irish descent gathered at the Baltimore restaurant.

He was still adjusting to the American culture, though. In Ireland, for instance, a family name could either make or break your reputation and future.

"Coming from a small community, you are defined by your family, defined by your town and defined by your county. Here, all of that is stripped away. I felt that from the first day I stepped out of the plane here," says Farrelly, who lives in Northeast Baltimore.

"And I hadn't seen any people of any different nationalities in Ireland. But it's wonderful. The freedom here. The liberty to go and do anything, recreation, culture. It gives you a great sense of yourself."

Yet, that weather! He still hasn't adjusted to the summers. "The first thing I noticed when I came here was the heat," he says in a lilting Irish accent. "It felt like a blanket of warm air was going to smother you!"

All in all, living in America has turned out to be a pleasant experience for Farrelly, who teaches Latin and English at Calvert Hall, Irish history and culture at the College of Notre Dame and the Gaelic language in private lessons.

And no, although he attended the seminary, he never became a priest.

"My life went into a different direction," he says.

He goes back to Ireland once or twice a year, usually during the summers. But he always returns to his life in Baltimore.

"It's a great country," he says.

It was May 1958 when Ed McBride got off the boat that brought him from Derry, Ireland, to New York.

"My brother came from Ireland two years prior," McBride says. "He wrote and asked me if I wanted to give it a try."

Work was very scarce in Ireland then, so McBride took his brother up on his offer.

It took seven days for the ship to arrive. Problem was, when it finally did, his brother was doing National Guard duty in Texas. McBride didn't panic.

"I had such a good time on the ship, I didn't want to get off!" he says.

But get off he did, and a brand-new world awaited him.

"Friends came and met me. I was fascinated coming up the Hudson and seeing all of the city," he says of his landing in New York.

The vastness of the country amazed him -- and came as a little bit of a surprise.

"In 1958, my wife came over," he says. His then-fiancee went to stay with a sister who lived in California. The couple had talked about coping with the distance between them. "We figured we would get together on the weekends," he says, laughing at the memory.

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