The story behind Baltimore's 'Free Brooklyn' mural

Friday Irish bars across the area will be filled with green-clad Baltimoreans celebrating St. Patrick's Day. 

There's a bar in Brookyn, a south Baltimore neighborhood, that's sending out a very visible message of who they are and what they stand for. 

An Irish pub has occupied a stretch of South Hanover Street in Brooklyn for decades. O'Flynn's Crab and Cask House has a new owner, a new name and a new manager. Liam Flynn, whose previous pub in Station North closed last year. He knew he had a new challenge in Brooklyn. 

"I mean it doesn't help that the name is also 'Brooklyn' because every time, especially somebody on the East Coast, they think New York borough," he said. 

Plus there is the persistent crime. Of the 65 murders in Baltimore City so far this year, 13 have happened in the southern district, many in Brooklyn. 

"Since the mid-80s, early 90s, the neighborhood has been basically forgotten by the city and that's definitely one of the biggest problems," Flynn said. 

But Flynn also sees an opportunity in what he considers the southern gateway to Baltimore. His was of expressing that?

A huge mural outside the bar: "You are now entering Free Brooklyn."

It is a far from subtle imitation of the mural which marks the Catholic Bogside neighborhood in the town of Derry, in mostly Protestant Northern Ireland. 

That mural first appeared in 1969. Three years later, a Civil Rights march in the Bogside turned into a massacre. British soldiers fired into the crowd, killing 14 unarmed protesters. The "Bloody Sunday" inspired the U2 song, along with years of unrelenting violence in Northern Ireland. 

There is still a "Free Derry" mural today, not far from a monument to the victims of Bloody Sunday. 

"It' defining an area that's trying to maintain its own and be liberated in a sense," Flynn said. 

And that is what he is hoping for in Brooklyn. 

"We're looking for the same thing," he said. "A positive message that it's a community coming together, more liberated than being oppressed by whatever conditions."

There will be no green beer at O'Flynn's first St. Patrick's Day under the new management. They'll serve ale, stout and Irish whiskey with a chaser of politics. 

Bartender Mark Kitch's son was one of the protesters arrested in Washington on the day of Donald Trump's inauguration. Kitch said he's very proud of his son. 

And the menu features barbeque from long-time Baltimore activist Duane "Shorty" Davis.

"It's sweat equity," he said. "We work together. If we don't grow together, then we don't survive."

Flynn says you don't have to agree with their progressive politics to pass some time at the bar. 

"We're a friendly environment," Flynn said. "Even in our debated, we always do it in a friendly manner."

The mural, just finished last weekend, already has some people stopping, Flynn. They ask about it as they pass through Brooklyn. 

"A police officer dropped in the other day and said 'Who is from Derry?' and it winds up his mother was from there and he knew that instantly and he thought what a great idea," Flynn said. "Anything that can define Brooklyn or get it into people's minds is a positive thing."

Flynn says his next step is to try and coordinate with more local businesses, so he connect what he now considers "Free Brooklyn" with the rest of the neighborhood.

Follow Christian Schaffer on Twitter @chrisfromabc2 and like him on Facebook.

 

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