Walking down Vesey Street making the last climb to the Irish Hunger Memorial from the crowded streets that surround Ground Zero and the new Freedom tower, you see a large mass of rocks and greenery emerge out of the tall buildings. From the front, the memorial looks a little out of place with its old exterior rock walls and scraggly shrubbery in the urban setting. A path winds around from the back slicing through the green landscape and leading you through stone wall structures and rocks that make you feel like you’re in Ireland in the 1840s. The structure is lifted to a slant, giving it the look of a hill from the front with a more modern design around the edge and posterior side that brings you back to the present.
Authentic Irish Blue Limestone from Kilkenny Limestone’s Old Leighlin quarry was chosen as the primary material for the structure2 and it surrounds the underside. The exterior walls are striped with glass bands that are inscribed with quotes and facts explaining the history of the Great Potato Famine that lead to the immigration of thousands of indigenous Irish citizens to the United States and relating to present day problems with Third World Hunger.3 The structure is littered with imported plants and engraved stones you would find in the 32 different counties that make up Ireland.4 The entry connects to a small Irish stone house that was donated by the Slack Family of Corrimba Townland. It housed six generations of Slacks in Carradoogen until the 1960s. The stone house stands roofless to replicate the desperate farmers that tore off their roofs to claim a level of poverty worthy of Famine Relief.5 Using the physical and authentic elements from Irish culture and land, the memorial commemorates the immigrants and the other Irish citizens that were lost to the potato famine.
The Irish Hunger Memorial is beautifully built and truly transports it’s visitors to another place and time. Unlike most memorials recognizing grim events it offers a placid escape and subtly conveys the loss that came with the Great Famine. The Irish Potato Famine was a monumental event that largely effected Ireland’s current population and culture as many people fled or were lost to the famine.
The growing season in 1845 was wetter than normal. People assumed it would be a great year for farmers until they dug up their crops revealing the black mushy mess that had taken root.6 “The American Blight” or Phytophtora Infestans, an air carried fungus, thought to have come originally from North America, spread quickly in the damp climate and destroyed 50% of the potato crop in the first year. 7 The next three years were no better leaving Ireland in a load of financial problems. Farmers could no longer afford to employ workers and majority of the crops were exported to Britain to keep up the economy.8 People were evicted left and right and had no way of feeding their families. 47,511 total families were evicted from 1849 to 1854.9 Ireland’s population dropped by 25% due to death and hunger.10 In 1847 a ship called the “Little Ashbuton” carried 477 forced Irish emigrants to the shores of Ellis Island11 where their new lives would begin.
The memorial is situated on a waterfront property in Battery Park City that overlooks Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty reminding descendants and other visitors of the journey and promise of new life that the early Irish immigrants experienced.12 Brian Tolle seemed to base his design off of this feeling with his focus on memorializing the positive parts of Irish culture and land. As you walk along the stone path you pass large stones with the county names engraved in them13 recognizing each area that was affected and the people that relate to those areas. The space truly makes you feel like you could be in Ireland with the authentic stone house, short stonewalls and long grasses that blow with the wind. Though the site’s greenery gives you a peaceful feel, the intricate details give the visitors an educational experience as well. The exterior walls containing informational quotes and facts and the stone house ruins leave visitors contemplating the effects of the Great Famine14 and how we can avoid similar episodes in the future. The memorial not only acts as a place to mourn those who suffered but to remember the strong culture and ancestry that lives on in many of the Irish immigrants that inhabit a large population of New York and the United States. The site provides an incredible escape from the dense city buildings and an impeccable view of the New Jersey shoreline, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island that welcomed so many of the Irish people that the memorial commemorates.
Deacon, Jim. "The Microbial World: Potato blight - Phytophthora infestans." Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, The University of Edinburgh. Accessed April 10, 2014. http://archive.bio.ed.ac.uk/jdeacon/microbes/blight.htm.
Donnelly, Jim. "The Irish Famine." BBC. Last modified February 17, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml.
Druckman, Sidney. "Irish Hunger Memorial Text." Battery Park City Authority. Last modified October 21, 2009. http://www.batteryparkcity.org/pdf/IHMText_final1.pdf.
Dunlap, David W. "Worn Down And Irish, And Moving Over Here." New York Times. Last modified May 30, 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/30/nyregion/worn-down-and-irish-and-moving-over-here.html.
The History Learning Site. "The Great Famine of 1845." Accessed April 1, 2014. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ireland_great_famine_of_1845.htm.
The New Yorker. "Irish Hunger Memorial, New York." Kilkenny Limestone. Accessed May 10, 2014. http://www.kilkennylimestone.com/projects/irish-hunger-memorial-new-york.
1100 Architect. "Irish Hunger Memorial." Last modified 2002. http://www.1100architect.com/projects/irish-hunger-memorial/.
New York Magazine. "Irish Hunger Memorial." Accessed March 31, 2014. http://nymag.com/listings/attraction/irish_hunger_memorial/.
Yoneda, Yuka. "Curious Irish Hunger Memorial is a Green-Roofed Monument in Battery Park City." Inhabit New York City. Last modified April 26, 2012. http://inhabitat.com/nyc/curious-irish-hunger-memorial-is-a-green-roofed-monument-in-battery-park-city/.
1 Peter Aaron, Irish hunger Memorial: New York, NY. 2002. Photograph. 1100 Architect.
2 The New Yorker, Irish Hunger Memorial, New York. Kilkenny Limestone. Accessed May 10, 2014.