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Luck of the Irish

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February 28th, 2009

As the third largest port for Irish immigration behind Boston and New York, Baltimore is deeply rooted in Irish ancestry. So it s not surprising that dozens of Irish organizations are signing up for this year s St. Patrick s Day parade downtown. The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH) is among them. The nationwide organization strives to preserve the cultural heritage of Irish Catholics. Formed in 1894 as the Daughters of Erin, LAOH helped Irish girls immigrating to America find employment, meet other Irish women, and adjust to life in the U.S. Members must be Irish by birth or descent, the wife of a member of the fraternal Ancient Order of Hibernians, or the mother of a junior member. They must also be practicing Roman Catholics.

Coming home

Mary Knighton is the head of LAOH s Catonsville division, which operates from Charlestown, where she lives. Her family came to America in the early 1900s and settled in Fells Point. Her uncle owned a bar there and was a sponsor for Irish immigrants. "In those days, there was a quota for immigrants, and you had to have a sponsor in the country to get in," Knighton says. "When my father and his sisters came to Baltimore from Ireland, my uncle helped them find jobs and a place to live."

Spreading goodwill

Today, Maryland LAOH members continue to help others, participating in more than 100 different service projects. "We re holding a fund- raiser in the spring to raise money for various charities including Viva House, Our Daily Bread, Caroline Center, The Healing Foundation, and My Sister s Place, as well as providing ongoing support to the Sisters Academy in Baltimore," says Beth Lund, LAOH Maryland membership chair. Other charities the Maryland LAOH supports are the Carroll Museum, Saint Patrick s Church in Havre de Grace, the Baltimore Basilica, and Maryland Irish Education. Says 15-year LAOH member and Charlestown resident Mary Lyons: "We do a lot of charitable work. I enjoy the camaraderie, and it keeps me in touch with my roots. The fact that we are Irish is something special we all share."

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