Irish Hunger Memorial
Battery Park, New York City
The Memorial represents a rural Irish landscape with an
abandoned stone cottage, stone walls, fallow potato fields and the flora on the north Connacht wetlands. It is both a metaphor for the Great Irish Famine and a reminder that hunger today is often the result of lack of access to land.
The 96' x 170' Memorial, designed by artist Brian Tolle, contains stones from each of Ireland's 32 counties, and is elevated on a limestone plinth. Along the base are bands of texts separated by layers of imported Kilkenny limestone. The text, which combines the history of the Great Famine with contemporary reports on world hunger, is cast as shadow onto illuminated frosted glass panels.
General Information and Location
Hunger Memorial Location: Corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue, Manhattan.
Hours: 6 A.M. to 1 A. M.
There is no admission.
Background Information on the Memorial
The Irish Hunger Memorial at Battery Park City was created by artist Brian Tolle to raise awareness of the Great Irish Famine (1845-52) and of the challenge to end hunger in our world. Tolle says, "It's a living alert, a center for hunger around the world." Ground was broken for the Memorial by Governor George Pataki on March 15, 2001. The Governor and President Mary McAleese of the Republic of Ireland dedicated the site on July 16, 2002.
The Memorial is a living site. The landscape will change with the seasons and with the years. The texts will be undated with new information about the Great Irish Famine or about world hunger. The audio tracks in the passage will be a medium for contemporary writers and musicians who have responded to the Great Irish Famine and to hunger in the world today.
When you approach the Memorial from the east:
Approaching the Irish Hunger Memorial from the east, the visitor crosses the limestone quarried in County Kilkenny that is 300 million years old to view a roofless Irish cottage in a landscaped setting. The two-room cottage, a gift of the Slack family of Attymass, Co. Mayo who occupied the cottage till the 1960s. The Slacks trace their occupancy of a cottage on the Attymass site to 1820.
The Slack Cottage was taken apart stone by stone and reassembled on the site where it meets the requirements of the Irish Historic Trust and the New York City Building Code.
The project landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird selected 62 species of Irish flora grown from native seeds for the half-acre landscaped site, an authentic western Irish bogland ecosystem. One-quarter acre of the site is planted with clover in fallow potato ridges that symbolize the empty potato harvests of 1845,1846, 1848 and 1849. The quarter-acre size is significant because of the Gregory Clause added to the Poor Law of 1847 which stipulated that any person occupying more than one-quarter acre was not eligible for any form of government relief. The result was wide-spread eviction and homelessness. The county stones identified in the landscape, a stone from each of Ireland's thirty-two counties, were placed randomly in the field. A map of the location of the county stones can be found in the Irish Memorial brochure.
Visitors can choose to walk to the cottage or to follow the path past the pilgrim stone. Cross-decorated standing stones are found in the west of Ireland and are associated with sites that are considered sacred. The Irish Hunger Memorial pilgrim stone is inscribed with a cross of arcs, a motif of great antiquity that is associated with County Kerry's St. Brendan. Continuing to the cantilevered overlook twenty-five above the ground, the visitor looking south has a panoramic view of the Hudson River that includes Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Turning east, the visitor looks across the site of the World Trade Center to St. Paul's Church, the respite center for 9/11 rescue workers.
When you approach the Memorial from the west:
The western entrance to the Irish Hunger Memorial provides a formal, ceremonial passage that leads to the center of the memorial, the Slack Cottage. This entrance recalls the neolithic passage graves of the Boyne Valley: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.
The text around the Memorial:
The landscape is supported on a base faced with layers of polished Kilkenny limestone and glass. Behind the glass bands are some 110 quotations that represent different voices that speak to hunger: legislation, letters, memoirs, parliamentary reports, proverbs, recipes, songs and statistics.\
The Irish Hunger Memorial emerges from the ground as a concrete slab covered in grasses, stones and a farm cottage - a rural country landscape in the middle of the world’s most recognizable urban space. This memorial, appearing like a pastoral island in the bustle of Lower Manhattan, provokes passers by into wondering “what is this?” It is a memorial to the Irish Potato Famine, one of the most notorious social disasters of the 19th century, in which hundreds of thousands died -- and millions of Irish were forced to emigrate-- when the Irish potato crop of 1845 failed.
The memorial hopes to be recognized as “a contemplative space, devoted to raising public awareness of the events that led to the Great Irish Hunger and Migration of 1845-1852.” Through illuminated words, quotations and stories, the memorial also functions as a medium for addressing current issues of world hunger, encouraging its viewers to “meet the challenge of world hunger.”
Located in Battery Park, overlooking the harbor, and offering views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, the memorial stands as a testament to the actual site many Irish immigrants may have passed upon arrival into New York. At the ribbon cutting, Governor George Pataki said that “the Irish Hunger Memorial will serve as a reminder to millions of New Yorkers and Americans who proudly trace their heritage to Ireland of those who were forced to emigrate during one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in the history of the world.”
In its recreation of an Irish countryside, this striking memorial pays tribute to those who died in Ireland and also, through its constant growth, to those who survived and flourished in their new city.