The Irish Hunger Memorial garden—located on the corner of 290 Vesey and North End Avenue—is a beautiful example of outdoor art in New York. One and a half million people died between 1846 and 1850 in the famine in Ireland caused by potato blight which all but destroyed the main food source of the time. The Irish Hunger Memorial garden is a monument to those who perished during An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger), and is a symbol to highlight areas of the world affected by hunger today.
Many who survived the famine did so because they emigrated to the United States, so the site is also of great historical importance to those tracing their Irish heritage, 800,000 of whom now call New York City home. 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. The authentic roofless stone cottage that was brought over from County Mayo in Ireland highlights the decay and ruin of the time and represents the focal point of the garden. Entering from the North side of the memorial you pass through a tunnel directly into the stone cottage and then into the garden.
The site also contains stones from all of the 32 counties of Ireland and over 60 varieties of Irish Flora that give the visitor a taste of the harsh but beautiful landscape found in the western portion of the country.
A winding path ascends 25 feet from the corner of Vesey to the Western end of the garden, offering stunning vistas of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The exterior wall of the memorial is covered by almost two miles of illuminated text of famine poems, statistics and quotes. An audio track plays accounts of world hunger, accompanying the visitor on their tour. Brian Tolle created and designed the structure and Gail Wittwer-Laird did the landscaping in collaboration with 1100 Architect of New York. There is no admission fee to the garden, and it offers a rare area of quiet in the busy business district of Lower Manhattan. The Irish Hunger Memorial was sponsored by the Battery Park City Authority.
by Declan O’Kelly