1982: It was Sunday in downtown Baltimore, Ireland, and a couple of visitors from Baltimore, Md., the city that got its name from family in the tiny Irish town, couldn’t help making comparisons.
There were some distinct similarities. The habits of the townfolk, for instance. In the harbor, sailboat captains were fussing over their craft. On shore, the locals were paging through the Sunday papers. And in the street, tourists were taking all the legal parking spaces.
A village in western County Cork, Ireland, it is the main village in the parish of Rath and the Islands, the southernmost parish in Ireland. It is the main ferry port to Sherkin Island, Cape Clear Island and the eastern side of Roaring Water Bay and Carbery’s Hundred Isles.
Both cities had harbor-view restaurants where folks ate, drank and watched the docks. And, just as it does when the Port Welcome pulls into the Inner Harbor from Annapolis, the pace of the dock quickened when a ferry boat pulled into Baltimore from a trip to the outlying Cape Clear and Sherkin islands.
And there were some major differences.
The most obvious difference was the scale. Baltimore, Md., is an industrial port city of 786,000. Ireland is home to the picturesque fishing village of 254 residents on the southern tip of county Cork. Ireland’s Baltimore looks more like an Annapolis neighborhood.
As for the views of the harbor, the Irish one is more scenic and the beer served in restaurants is better than what is found in most restaurants in the United States.
But Maryland oysters are much plumper and tastier than the small seed oysters served in Ireland.
As for dock-watching, waterfront visitors in Baltimore, Md., see more people than fish. In Ireland, it’s the other way around.
All competition of best scenery ceases when a visitor travels a short distance from downtown Baltimore, Ireland. There, on heather-covered cliffs about the same distance from Federal Hill is from City Hall, visitors meet the Atlantic Ocean.
Baltimore, Md., is named after the British Calvert family and the Lord of Baltimore who owned property in Ireland, a researcher at the historical society said. The Calverts, like any Britons, called themselves “lords” of the land they owned. Hence the name Lord of Baltimore.
Since the only Baltimore in Ireland is one in county Cork, the researcher continued, then it must be the one that Lord Baltimore and Baltimore, Md. are named after.
A woman at the Irish Tourist board in New York put it differently. “You took the Baltimore from us,” she said.
As for Lord Baltimore, she said it was common practice for the English to name themselves lords of lands they had confiscated from the Irish. In Gaelic, she added, Baltimore means “the big house.”
If Lord Baltimore ever visited his place in Ireland, he didn’t make much of an impression on the locals. The town grocer and the bar keeper said they hadn’t heard of any Lord Baltimore. But they did talk knowingly of “the sack of Baltimore,” an event which, even though it happened back in 1631, resembles the kind of treatment Baltimore Colt quarterbacks have been getting recently.
What happened back in 1631 was that some Algerian pirates tore up the town, paying particular attention to the castle of Baltimore’s first family, the O’Driscolls. The pirates were so ornery they even carried some Baltimoreans back to Algeria where, according to legend, they were sold into slavery.
What is certain is that the O’Driscoll clan and its castle never recovered. Up to then, they were supposed to have been a pretty powerful bunch.
Initially published in the Living section of The Sun on Sunday, December 12, 1982, written by Rob Kasper. Additional reporting by Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell.