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November 2, 2018

History Lesson: Go Inside the Irish Hunger Memorial

Most Battery Park monuments are etched in stone or cast in bronze. Some are giant cinderblocks, while others are iron-wrought symbols of settlements, wars or other aspects of New York or American history. The Irish Hunger Memorial, in contrast, is a picturesque garden, one to idle in all day rather than check it off the must-stop list. Located near Wagner Battery Park, its beauty represents a rather grim moment in the history of the Irish people. Let’s go inside.The Iron Hunger Memorial is situated in a park at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue, wedged between financial institutions and well-manicured parks. To many, it serves as a reminder that Battery Park’s southern tip was once the first glimpse of freedom for many immigrants, but it is truly dedicated to raising awareness of the Great Irish Famine, referred to as An Gorta Mór in Irish or “The Great Hunger” in English, where over one million people starved to death between 1845 and 1852.

Construction of the memorial began in March 2001, and despite the September 11 attacks on the nearby World Trade Center, which also affected surrounding areas, the memorial was completed and dedicated on July 16, 2002. The memorial, designed collaboratively by artist Brian Tolle, landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird, and architecture firm 1100 Architect, is landscaped with stones, soil, and native vegetation transported from the western coast of Ireland — with stones from all counties of Ireland.In the center sits an authentic Irish cottage from the 19th Century that belonged to the Slack family — and was deserted in the 1960s. The Slack family donated the cottage to the memorial in “memory of all the Slack family members of previous generations who emigrated to America and fared well there.”

Wall engravings memorialize the destitution of famine victims through excerpts from parliamentary reports, poems, letters and, ironically, recipes. From the interior, a concrete path winds up and out to a quarter-acre plot of barren land that displays an eerie beauty, representing the food that could have been grown in the country to have stopped this dreadful disaster. While The Battery Parks City Conservancy’s project memorializes the Great Potato Famine, it also pays homage to the ongoing contemporary battles with hunger worldwide.