“It was all a misunderstanding, really. The two Irish republican gents thought that the statue, known affectionately to the people of Baltimore, Maryland, as ‘Lady Baltimore’, was someone of the nobility – like Victoria, or maybe they thought it was too much like Britannia.”
That’s what two members of the Co Longford Historical Society told the audience at the Canadian Embassy recently at an illustrated presentation on the Newfoundland and Maryland historic links with Longford and Wexford. Writer and broadcaster, Aidan O’Hara and Jude Flynn, a native of Gortletteragh and President of the Society, were guests of the Canadian Ambassador, Loyola Hearn, himself a Newfoundlander whose home place is next door to the Baltimore settlement of the 1620s
The speaker was University College Cork archaeologist, Dr James Lyttleton who specialises in Plantation Ireland, settlement and material culture, c.1550-c.1700. His presentation dealt with a major figure from this significant phase in our history, George Calvert (1579-1632), a Yorkshire man who was granted the title Lord Baltimore after the place of that name in ‘the Barony of Longford in Ireland’.
A road-widening programme in Baltimore, Maryland involved making four large statues ‘redundant’, and one of them known locally as ‘Lady Baltimore’ was acquired by the Friendly Sons of St Patrick in the city. They shipped the 10-ton ‘Lady’ to Ireland, stating on the plaque that it was a gift To The Town of Baltimore, County Longford.
When word spread about the imminent arrival of the statue in the summer of 1974, Jude Flynn was approached by two men claiming to be from the IRA who told him they’d prefer it if the history society would have nothing to do with honouring some lady of ‘the big house’ and that it evoked unpleasant memories of landlordism and oppression.
There were two rather strange aspects to the whole story, of course, and while one of them is now generally understood, the other remains a mystery and a challenge to historians and place name experts to resolve. The first is that the statue known as ‘Lady Baltimore’ isn’t Lord Baltimore’s wife at all.
The solitary figure located beside an out-of-the-way laneway in Cloonageeher a few hundred metres from Bornacoola, Co. Leitrim, is in fact an effigy representing the City of Baltimore, Maryland, and was known affectionately to the citizens of that great city as ‘Lady Baltimore’, much in the same way that Ella Fitzgerald is known in the US as the country’s First Lady of Song, or Delia Murphy was known as Ireland’s Ballad Queen. Neither of those two ladies had royalist or ‘big house’ leanings or such-like notions. Delia, in fact, was quite the Republican.
The second aspect remains a mystery because we still don’t know where Baltimore, Co. Longford is. What is most tantalising, however, is that the narrow grass-grown laneway leading to a field in Cloonageeher is known locally as Baltimore Lane. It isn’t at all clear how this nondescript pathway got its name, but the late Canon Gray of Bornacoola felt sure that this had to be the missing place that supplied a Lord with his title. But the fact is that no map or document has been discovered to tell us where Baltimore is – or was – and indeed, we may never know.