The Irish Hunger Memorial, designed collaboratively by artist Brian Tolle, landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird, and 1100 Architect, is located on a one-half acre site at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in the Battery Park City neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. The Irish Hunger Memorial garden is a monument to those who perished during the "An Gorta Mór" (Gaelic for"The Great Hunger" as it was called in Ireland), and is also a symbol to highlight areas of the world affected by hunger today.
(all photos can be enlarged to see more detail by clicking on them)
The Great Irish Famine that killed over a million in Ireland, between the years 1845 and 1852, was caused by potato blight which all but destroyed the main source of food of the time. The famine also caused the great Irish Diaspora. By the end of 1850, the population of Ireland had shrunk from 8 million to approximately 5 million, and the majority headed for the U.S., arriving at Ellis Island by the hundreds of thousands.
As you walk into the tunnel entrance of the memorial you will hear an audio track playing accounts by contemporary writers and musicians who have responded to the meaning of the Great Irish Famine and the challenge of hunger in the world today.
The exterior and interior walls of the memorial are covered by almost two miles of illuminated text of famine poems, statistics and quotes. Listening to the recordings. and reading the quotes, brings a greater understanding to the history of famine in the world, both past and present.
The texts include old Irish proverbs, such as "Hunger will break through a stone wall" and "The well-fed does not understand the lean." Others are quotes from U.S. presidents: "Hunger does not breed reform, it breeds madness and all the angry distempers that make an ordered life impossible"--Woodrow Wilson, 1918; and "Every day 25 percent of our food supply is wasted"--Bill Clinton, 1998.
The tunnel leads out to a authentic, roofless, stone, famine-era cottage. The cottage was brought over from County Mayo, Ireland, and highlights the typical home of those abandoned by victims of the famine. The cottage dates from the 1820s, and was removed from Ireland stone-by-stone and reconstructed on the site.
According to this web site "The Irish Hunger Memorial site sits on a half-acre piece of land, significant as a clause added to the Irish Poor Law by Sir William Gregory during the famine meant that anyone who owned more than a half-acre of land was not eligible for any aid or relief. Many of the starving were poor but owned a half-acre, forcing them to abandon their homes in order to obtain food."
After walking through the house you enter a garden surrounded by stone walls.
A winding path ascends 25 feet from the corner of Vesey Street to the western end of the garden.
From this vantage point you can look down at the house and then continue walking up the path.
The memorial contains over 60 varieties of Irish Flora such as heather, bearberry, foxglove and gorse, that give the visitor a taste of the harsh but beautiful landscape found in the western portion of the country. I visited in early March so much of the flora was still dormant, and I've read that anything that does not survive the harsh NYC winter is replanted in the spring. The memorial is maintained by Battery Park City Parks Conservancy.
The Action Center To End World Hunger, visible from the top of the memorial across Vesey Street, on River Terrace, reminds visitors that famine still exists in the world.
The path leads to the top of the memorial which overlooks the New York harbor 25 feet below, and has a panoramic view of the Hudson, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and New Jersey.
The site also contains stones from all of the 32 counties of Ireland -- look closely and you can see the stones are marked with the county in Ireland from which they came.
The memorial's sense of abandoned starkness made me empathize with the bleakness the Irish famine victims must have felt and the desperation they must have had to leave their country to travel to other countries to find employment so they could feed their families.
Visiting The Irish Hunger Memorial is really a unique experience for all, but especially if you are of Irish descent. If you are an American of Irish descent there is a very good chance that your ancestors came to America during the years of the Great Famine Diaspora.
As we celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, on March 17th, we can also honor these ancestors and rejoice that they were able to overcome adversity, and by hard work florish in America and help make this country great.
I'm linking to Mary at The Little Red House blog today for Mosaic Monday.
I'm also linking this post to Kathleen of Cuisine Kathleen Saint Patrick's Day blog event on March 16.
Please visit Kathleen's blog to see her post and also a list of links to other blogs participating in this grand day!
I also joined JanMary's Irish Carnival at her blog called Welcome to My World Please visit her blog to learn how Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated where she lives in present day Northern Ireland.