The Irish Hunger Memorial (or Irish Famine Memorial), the creation of artist Brian Tolle, landscape artist Gail Wittwer-Laird, and 1100 Architect, is devoted to raising public awareness of the events that led to the "Great Irish Famine and Migration" of 1845-1852. It serves 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. "The Great Hunger" began in 1845 when a blight destroyed the Irish potato crop, depriving Ireland of its staple food. By 1847 millions were starving and dying. Between 1847 and 1852 hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrated to New York where they arrived at South Street Seaport and Castle Clinton. Today, almost 800,000 New York City residents trace their ancestry to Ireland.
The Irish Hunger Memorial (which takes its name from the Irish term for the famine of 1845-52, "An Gorta Mor," The Great Hunger) stands on a half-acre site at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in Battery Park City, between the Embassy Suites Hotel and the Hudson River. The 96' x 170' Memorial, which contains stones from each of Ireland's 32 counties, is elevated on a limestone plinth. Along the base are bands of texts separated by layers of imported Kilkenny limestone. The limestone is more than 300 million years old and contains fossils from the ancient Irish seabed. 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. From its eastern approach the Memorial appears as a sloping landscape with a pathway inviting visitors to walk upward past a ruined fieldstone cottage and stone walls toward a pilgrim's standing stone. At the western end of the Memorial, 25 feet above the pavement, a cantilevered overlook offers views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, emblems of America's welcome to the Irish and to all immigrant people.
From the western or river end, the visitor approaches the Memorial through a formal ceremonial entrance that recalls the court cairn or graves of the Irish Neolithic period that are found in the Irish northwest. The ramped passageway ends inside the ruined fieldstone cottage that was brought to New York from the townland of Carradoogan near Attymass, County Mayo.
The size of the cultivated area of the Memorial, one-quarter of an acre, is significant. In 1847, Sir William Gregory proposed an additional clause to the Irish Poor Law stipulating that no person occupying land of more than one-quarter acre was eligible for any relief. This law had a devastating effect and contributed to the suffering. The unroofed abandoned cottage reminds the visitor of the stark choice between survival and holding home and hearth.
Nearly two miles of text have been installed in illuminated bands that wrap around the base of the Memorial. The text includes some 110 quotations, including autobiographies, letters, oral traditions, parliamentary reports, poems, recipes, songs and statistics. Backlit text panels are installed behind frosted glass sections that appear to the visitor as shadows. At night the light will function as a beacon to those on the river. The texts merge past and present accounts of famine and can be updated to respond to new hunger crises.
The audio installation in the passage provides another dimension to the Memorial as living site. The audio will be a medium for 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 audio will capture the response of visitors to the Memorial, and will provide updated information about famine sites and conditions worldwide.
Irish Hunger Memorial is located in the Battery Park City neighborhood of Manhattan. Battery Park City is proof that it isn't always impossible to find new land in Manhattan—sometimes you just need to make some: its 92 acres came out of the era when the World Trade Center was originally constructed, when millions of cubic yards of bedrock and soil were excavated and used to reclaim part of the Hudson River for landlubbers. While the neighborhood is home to 1 World Trade Center and abuts the Financial District, it is, like it's other neighborh, Tribeca, largely residential, with approximately one third of the area devoted to terrific parks such as Hudson River Park, the eponymous Battery Park, and a spectacular waterfront esplanade. One of Battery Park City's defining characteristics is its newness—unlike most of New York City, the neighborhood is comprised of relatively recent construction, and so it has a feel that's very unlike nearby Tribeca and SoHo. In the southern portion you'll find most of Battery Park City's residential neighborhoods, mostly high rise complexes with an assortment of stores on their ground floors. While there are a number of shops here, the feel is quite unlike elsewhere in the city; on a cold winter day the wind whips around and you'll hardly see the nannies and baby carriages that are plentiful on a warm day. Battery Park City is also home to one of New York's most famous high schools, Stuyvesant, whose challenging entrance examination attracts thousands of students each year. Riverside views abound in Battery Park itself, which is home to jogging paths and dog parks and, most notably, the Irish Hunger Memorial, a stunning piece of heath rising right in Manhattan and paying tribute to the millions who died in the Great Irish Famine of the 1800s. Right down the street, you'll find the sobering 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the soaring 1 World Trade Center that replaced the Twin Towers, as well as the shops and restaurants at the new Brookfield Place at the former World Financial Center building. Large complexes filled with residences and grounded by stores are the norm in Battery Park City, for instance, the Conrad New York is skirted by the requisite Shake Shack, North End Grill, and the second location of Danny Meyer's jazz and comfort food joint Blue Smoke, not to mention the two floors of movie theaters at Regal Battery Park, just across the street from P.J. Clarke's on the Hudson. Given the proximity of so many financial institutions, the area is home to some excellent hotels, ranging from the world-class Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park to the more residential Marriott ExecuStay Rector Square and the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conrad New York. While you'll find some nice possibilities for dining at the World Financial Center and Winter Garden, other dining options within Battery Park City aren't the most fascinating in this city of world-class cuisine. However, nearby Tribeca has a great number of excellent selections.
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