Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Sesquicentennial

Elizabeth Daly Valentine was born 150 years ago this week in Ireland. She came to New York in 1874, long after the Great Famine of 1845-1852, but this Sesquicentennial year of her birth might be a good time to visit the Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan.

My penpal (e-pal) from New York visited the Memorial in the city on Memorial Day. She writes:

I was so pleased with the Irish Hunger Memorial! It was easily accessible (I'd misunderstood that before), one block from the site of the World Trade Center, and it was so beautiful that day!

The "ruins" of a stone cottage (about 10' x 15'??) without its thatched roof were imported from Ireland by the Memorial designer and are nestled on an artificial hill planted with the greenest of grasses and wild flowers, with a winding path up to a short-walled ledge about 2 stories high off the ground that overlooks the Hudson River.
There are stones placed about the Memorial bearing inscriptions from each County in Ireland -- they sent the stones engraved with the County name specifically for this Memorial.

To get to the cottage you walk through a short tunnel that has bars of lighted glass with quotations and information about the Famine, so massive and so sad, and about relief efforts.
Outside this tunnel is an appeal to fight hunger as it appears in the world today -- this is very inconspicuous and you'd miss it unless you make an effort to read the side of the Memorial. There is also a little narration about the Famine inside the tunnel if you chose to listen. With no admission and no staff, it's unobtrusive and a glorious contrast to the glass and steel towers behind it. A jewel really, an emerald.

The Memorial was designed so that the visitor could look over the parapet wall downriver and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but they've built a new Ferry station that blocks that view. It doesn't matter, because the view of the River and of the park that strings along our side of the Hudson is still great and no one who came here to escape the Famine saw either Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty anyhow -- they came in through Castle Garden, the former immigration hub that preceded Ellis Island. Ellis Island and Liberty post-date the Famine.

The Irish Hunger Memorial is dedicated to raising awareness of the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852), designed by artist Brian Tolle, landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird and 1000 Architect. Opened in 2002, it's at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue.

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