Monday, March 15, 2010

The Irish Hunger Memorial, New York City

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 "A 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 the 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 the 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.

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 flourish in America and help make this country great.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Pat

I have never heard of this memorial before thank you for educating me to it and for taking us through the tunnel and sharing with us the walk and the explanations. Jackie in UK

Anonymous said...

I think of the famine in Ireland & then I think of the programs that the US has to help people & I realize that we are very fortunate to live in this country & era. I know that some people go hungry but here there are programs to help...... In Ireland as well as many other countries the govt. let them starve.
Have a Wonderful Week!

GrandmaK said...

What a wonderful post with excellent pictures. I can only imagine how beautiful this is when it is in full bloom! Thank you! Indeed, we truly are blessed and should cause us all the pause and reflect on what we can do to alleviate hunger in the world today! After seeing this it should cause us all to TAKE ACTION. I know it has touched me in that way! Cathy

mbkatc230 said...

What a beautiful memorial. The stone cottage is so stark and touching. And how fitting that the site has a view of the Statue of Liberty. I remember reading The Great Shame and I'll never forget some of the accounts of the trip to American. Unimaginable hardship. Wonderful post for Kathleen's meme! Kathy

Jojo said...

What a great post and such perfect timing, not only because of St. Patrick's Day but yesterday was the Hunger Walk in Atlanta.

Thank you for sharing the memorial with your readers.

Lily Hydrangea said...

a perfect post for this time of year Pat! I had no idea the Memorial existed & now I must go see it.

My name is PJ. said...

Wow, Pat! This is brand new to me. I can't even imagine how moving it would be to walk about it.

You're like a teacher. I read your posts and I learn about the NYC in a way I never have...and those lessons are punctuated with your lovely photos. Thank you!!

Lucy said...

So interesting. I have ancestors that came over here because of the potatoe famine so that makes it more of interest. I'd love to see it.

Debbie said...

Those are wonderful pictures and history. Yesterday my husband and the boys where talking about going back to NY next year. There is still so much we have not done. I will add this to our list, this is really neat!!~ Thanks for history lesson. I never recall even seeing this........

Old Kitty said...


What an amazing memorial! I like that an authentic cottage from that awful time was used as the basis for a memorial to those who have died and are dying of hunger. I like that it's now a universal representation to remind people that starvation and famine still exists.

Thank you for the detail you show here - those different stones engraved by where they're from in Ireland is such a fab concept.

All in all a fitting tribute to the spirit and history of Ireland, to her descendents and to her patron saint.

Take care

Allie and Pattie said...

Pat, Ray worked in the area and is trying to figure out how he never knew about this. I love your posts!
xoxo Pattie

Catherine said...

Thank you Pat for telling us about this memorial. My Irish ancestors (my father`s people) passed through Ellis Island and Philadelphia, PA. Some arrived during the famine and others before that time. Thank you for the photo tour too.

CatHerder said...

very cool! I never heard of this before...I am part Irish as well, and would say that i relate more to my Celtic roots than anything..thanks for the post

Gracie said...

I didn't know that such a thing existed in NYC, thanks for another bite of history Pat!

Anonymous said...

I did not know about this memorial, this will be a need to go see, thank you for sharing,I enjoyed this post the most!

Anonymous said...

Just when I think you can't possibly get any better, you do. I will be sending this link to many.

And your timing, as always, is perfect.

Cori G. said...

Hi Pat,
What a beautiful post. Did you see the movie, "PS I Love You"? I think one of the scenes was filmed here and I've often wondered what the rest of the garden looked like. Thanks for a better glimpse.

xoxo Cori

La Petite Gallery said...

God Bless you Dear,

I still have goose bumps,I saw a real Famine Pot, Huge black caldron in front of a church in upper north west Ireland. The Graves were unbelievible. This post brought it all back. Why even the grass looks like that razor edge tall grass.I agree with Marilyn the Government of England let them starve. Then the vulcher's Came and bought their property for zip
well enough for Passage to America. How many never made it. They put them on false bottom boats.
When they were at sea they scuttled them
Good ole Wm of ORANGE
That's what I heard.. When I was there.

Joanne Kennedy said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I never heard about it but now know it will be a stop on my next trip to NY.

This really touched my heart. I'm doing my family tree and found out my ancestors came over during that time. Just breaks my heart to think about it.


Betsy from Tennessee said...

Great post, Pat, especially since it's almost St. Patrick's Day. Thanks so much for sharing this---and we wish all of the Irish a very happy week!!!!

Susie Q said...

Whjat a wonderful post Pat! I had heard about this memorial but have yet to visit. I think this is so sownderful and now plan to see this first hand on our next NYC adventure. So hauntingly beautiful...I now long to sit there,quietly, and think, listen, have a view of the statue of libertymake this even more touching.
We plan to take Grace to see the Statie next trip so Ithink a visit to this memorial will come first.
Thank you for another wonderful, enlightening post!
Happy St. Patrick's Day dear Pat!

Together We Save said...

Thank you so much for sharing! This is a powerful memorial. I had never heard of it and now I am interested in learning more about it.

PAT said...

Such amazing photos of this beautiful memorial, Pat.

Riet said...

Thank you for another interesting tour Pat. I learn so much from you. I had never heard about this memorial and it is so good to know.Beautiful pictures too.

eileeninmd said...

It is a timely post, St Patricks Day just a day away. I've never heard of the memorial either. Great photos and mosaic.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating Pat. There were so many homesteads like this throughout Ireland when I was travelling there. I came across an interesting stat listening to This Sceptred Isle. Catholics owned 90% of the land and were 90% of the population but after land reforms and the famine Catholics only owned 10% of the land. I think it shows what a devastating effect both things had on the country. Being forced to leave your homeland is one of the hardest things to face.

32˙North said...

Thank you for educating me to the existence of this memorial. The reconstructed cottage is fascinating - rebuilt stone by stone. It's easy to forget how much we have to be thankful for.


Glenda/MidSouth said...

I have never heard of this site before. Thanks for shring the tour and the history lesson.

Junie Moon said...

You always have the most interesting stories to share. Thanks for sharing The Irish Hunger Memorial as this is a new bit of history for me to learn about.

Claudia said...

This touched the core of me and I shall definitely spend time there during my next trip to NYC. Thanks you so much for posting this.

mrs. c said...

Thank you for sharing this memorial with us. I have heard of it but never visited when in NYC. I think the cottage is amazing, to think that it is in the middle of such a large city. You are so informative and I appreciate your knowledge!

annie said...

Lovely post.
Yes it is a stark and beautiful memorial.
That famine was why so many Irish came to this country.

GardenofDaisies said...

Pat, thank you so much for sharing this with us. I didn't know there was a hunger memorial. Now it is a must see for me when/if I ever get to NYC.
And we need to remember those who are starving today and do what we can to help.

Holly said...

This was fascinating to read. I found your blog through Joann Clegg's "The Gathering Place". I've been to NYC quite a few times, but never seen anything like this. I need to get off the beaten path a bit more. Now I need to look up my one Irish ancestor and see when they came over to the U.S. Thank you.

Regina said...

Happy St. Patrick day Pat!
Thank you for sharing such memorable history.
I'm glad I'm here to reminisces my favorite NYC.

Have a great week.
Wishing you a lovely springtime ahead.

diane said...

A very informative post with excellent photos. It is great to have this within the city.

Rettabug said...

Pat, I've got goosebumps & chills from reading this post. My great-great maternal grandparents were part of the mass migration to the USA.
Thank you so very much for sharing these photos & information. I am going back to enlarge each photo so I can absorb the details. I will also be sending your link to all my other siblings for their education.
Outstanding Post!! BRAVO!!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Kathleen said...

Pat that was just beautiful! A very important part of history for sure. Thank you so much for taking part in my blog crawl!
I want to send this link to Kathleen in Cork who posted a comment on my blog..
I'll let you know if she replies..

Tracy said...

Hi, Pat! This post is so moving--I'm all teary-eyed! I didn't know about this museum in NYC. It is so beautifully assembled. To think of all those who left Ireland, left other places in Europe really, for America--for the unknown, only hope of a better is so humbling to consider all they gave up and left behind. You have a wonderful way of putting a very human touch to history, Pat--I admire how much you share each week. And I can imagine how pretty that Irish garden in growing season... Happy St. Patrick's Day! ((HUGS))

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

Though I have not a speck of Irish in me...I find this post most interesting! You always have much to teach us, Pat. I love the memorial with the 32 stones from the counties of Ireland. I rather like the idea of using stones as reminders.

I look forward to catching up on the posts I seems I've been gone a long time. Hope you had a wonderful time away as well!

Mimi said...

What a wonderful memorial...your photos are great...thank you for sharing this post...I had no idea there was even a place like this to visit in our country.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What a wonderful and informative post! I never knew there was such a memorial in NYC.

Joyce said...

I found the post so interesting. We often heard stories about the great potato famine in Ireland from my Dad and his brothers. After visitng Ireland I could see why since the soil is so rocky which makes farming impossible too. This is the first time I have heard of this memorial so thank you for the information. I was in NYC last week and was going to call you but I was sick and am still sick but maybe next time I come up when the weather is better you can meet me in NYcity for the day. It would be fun.

Lori said...

I agree with everyone, what an amazing memorial. Very well done. I had never heard of it. thanks for sharing.

Mrs. P. said...

Such a meaningful post. Thank you for sharing.


JanMary said...

Thanks for sharing this.

I am in N Ireland, and have not heard of this memorial - fascinating.

If I make it to New York I will definitely be visiting.

My granny tried to emigrate to US in 1920's to follow her sisters and brother, but was deported from Ellis Island! - it is our claim to fame!!!

Happy St Patrick's Day from N Ireland.

Nola @ the Alamo said...

Pat, your photos are great! That was a very informative post.
My father's family was among those who immigrated here during that time. If it hadn't been for that potato blight, I wouldn't be here today.

Lorrie said...

Pat this is the first time I've heard of this memorial. I found it extremely moving. The little stone cottage and it's mostly bare gardens just echoes of the past to me, as if it could transport me back to that bleak time in history. It's impossible for me to imagine the starvation that existed then and today in certain parts of the world. Thanks for sharing this Pat. It's important for us to remember.

Trotter said...

Hi Pat!! Great post!!
Have to go back to NYC; don't remember ever seeing this Memorial!!

Meanwhile Jamaica waits for you at Blogtrotter

Foley said...

What a fantastic tour - I'm so glad I did not miss your post! Made me think of my ancestors and the hardships they a new meaning to hearing my grandpareants always saying to be grateful for what we have.

Gina said...

very interesting post Pat.and great photos..I love all the stonework..and would love to visit I have Irish ancestors..hopefully one day. Think I'll need a year in much to see and do :) xx

M.Kate said...

Wonderful post Pat, it's always so informative and I think whoever who wants to visit New york should visit your blog :)

black eyed susans kitchen said...

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Pat. Hope you enjoy our beautiful weather.
♥, Susan

Anonymous said...

I took my laptop over to my (elderly) neighbor's house, just so I could show her this post.

Denise Marie said...

Wow, great post.

I didn't even know there were 32 counties in Ireland. I really wonder if my G'ma hales from some of the ones that escaped the great famine. I did a post too to Cuisine Kathleen.

Blondie's Journal said...

A sad but enlightening post. Very informative also, Pat. Thanks so much.


Rue said...

Hi Pat :)

What a wonderful memorial. It's beautiful but very sad.

I came by to wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day!


JanMary said...

Thanks for adding the link up to my carnival :)

hope you had a great st patricks day!

Jay said...

Interesing post. I didn't know there was a memorial to the Irish Famine in NYC!

Vee said...

It's always educational to visit here and I am always amazed by what NYC has to offer. I've decided that it offers everything. I found my ancestral stone. Ha! You'll know why I jest if you visit me today. Thanks for all the background you provide, Pat.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Hope you had a great St. Patrick's day in the big apple. It must be exciting to be there that day. I've never heard of this memorial. Thank you for the comprehensive tour. When you get a chance, please stop by my kitchen. I have something for you.

supplies overflowing! said...

Once again, you have done a beautiful job of showing another area of NY that I am unfamiliar with.
My husband's maternal side is from County Mayo, and though one of our daughters spent 4 months in Ireland, my husband has never visited. I am going to show him this post.
Thanks Pat!

black eyed susans kitchen said...

Pat, I am putting this on my list of must see, places. You have educated me many times about different places to go and see, but this one in particular is a must! The skyline view in the picture is just amazing.
♥, Susan

Trotter said...

Hi Pat! Back to tell you that Blogtrotter 2 has moved to the Cayman Islands. Enjoy and have a great weekend!!

Sue said...

Pat, It is always an adventure when I visit. I learn so much about your city and all that it has to offer. You ARE a teacher! Thank you for sharing this memorial. Hugs, Sue

steviewren said...

Another great post about a sight in NYC that I've never heard of. I can't imagine having lived in Ireland at that time. So sad to think of so many then and now being so hungry.

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

What a moving tribute. Thank you for taking us on a walk-about.

Jenny said...

I have never heard of this Pat!

What a wonderful post...I really enjoyed reading about this. And, as always, your pictures are spot on.

I filled out the blog-her survey for you.

Wow, that was complicated!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the answers to my questions! I appreciate it so much. You are right in that I thought that Sullivan and Murphy was located in Ireland when I posed that question, but realized my mistake a day later when I saw the author is in Ohio. I also really appreciate your post about our heritage. Thats our stone, second from left on top- County Cork. Both my husbands families and my dads families hail from there. The memorial and your post are a very moving tribute to what our ancestors endured.

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

What a wonderful memorial! You can see from your photos how they really captured the bleakness of the time and place.
Another great post Pat!

Postcards from Wildwood said...

Hello Pat,
Thanks for visiting my blog and for your two comments. Also for giving me this link. I have been to NYC but didn't know anything about this memorial, and from your beautiful photos I can see it is a powerful place to be.
My visit was to County Clare. Like you, I would like to go to the Aran Islands but also to County Mayo, which is where at least one of my GG grandparents came from. The reconstruction in this memorial is very close to the original. We noticed a lot of ruined stone structures exactly like this one, usually beside the village cemetery, and I wondered if the original chapels had all fallen into ruin when the villages were abandoned.
Life for my GG grandparents (and I assume their parents) wasn't that much easier when they reached my home city of Leeds. I have seen photos of the Irish area, and they lived in squallor - but at least for the generations that followed there was a better life to be had. I learned about the Irish Potato Famine in school. I had no idea, then, that I had family who were part of it.

John Terry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.