I'D LIKED to have met my great-grandfather, an Irish-born ship's carpenter named Patrick Kelly. Of all my forebears, he remains elusive. Yet, at the same time, I've often felt I knew the man who (most) always lived within sight of the water.
I've heard that Patrick Kelly was born in Galway, Ireland, in November 1843. According to family tradition, when he arrived in Baltimore about 1854, he settled in South Baltimore so that he could see the harbor from his front door - or maybe it was the back window. He made some of the furniture in the house; a candle stand survives from his hand.
One of the houses where he lived sits atop Federal Hill on Warren Avenue, squarely facing the park. It has a fine water view - but apparently a not-too-high third floor. His son, Harry Kelly, my grandfather, complained he banged his head on the non-accommodating ceiling.
About 12 years ago, I visited Galway on a fine March day. On a sunny morning - after a night spent in a welcoming bed and breakfast - I wondered why young Kelly decided to board the ship for Baltimore. Galway, with its water views, is one of those postcard places.
I hadn't a clue about his Galway residence. And I didn't try. My brother Eddie and I just walked around the city and let our imaginations do the rest. It was a charming city full of houses about the same size of those on the smaller streets of our own Baltimore.
The Kellys, once they'd settled here, lived in a number of South Baltimore houses near the Patapsco River. They lived on Light Street, on Hughes Street, on Warren Avenue. One of Patrick's sons, my great Uncle Will, became the chief engineer on the City of Norfolk, the Old Bay Line's steamer on the overnight run to Virginia. As I've checked city directories and census tracts, I've seen they mostly had jobs that did not include dry land.
After settling in Baltimore, Patrick Kelly wed Katherine Barrett, who had lived in Limerick, Ireland. They had a happy marriage, a union that produced six sons, including my grandfather Harry, and a daughter, Mary Agnes, otherwise known as Molly. She had red hair and was a great favorite of all who knew her.
And it was through her kindness and attentions that Patrick Kelly made it out of South Baltimore - to the then distant suburb of Forest Park in Baltimore County when he finally left Federal Hill toward the end of his days.
I find it hard to believe, but my great-grandfather died in the suburbs. He outlived his wife and went to live with Molly and her husband, Joseph Hauf, who had a comfortable Maine Avenue cottage. For a man who lived his life within sight of his harbor, he was now out in the land of trees, bungalows and electric streetcars.
When Patrick Kelly died in September 1915, The Sun ran a short obituary. It said he died "of the infirmities of the age."
His requiem Mass was offered at All Saints Chapel, so far out in the land of newcomers it had yet to be made an official church. And then, like so many others before and after who sailed from the Emerald Isle, Patrick Kelly made his final trip - to the hillsides of New Cathedral Cemetery.