Irish Hunger Memorial
Location: New York City, Vesey Street & North End Avenue (along the Hudson River, near the World Trade Center)
When to visit: Any time during daylight hours
Time needed to enjoy: 10-15 minutes
On my recent trip to New York City, I stumbled upon a weird-looking, elevated half-acre parklet called the Irish Hunger Memorial.
It was very intriguing, but seemingly out of place, surrounded on all sides by office buildings and bustling city energy.
It turns out this site is dedicated to the million people who perished during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852.
The Irish Hunger Mmoril contains an authentic, roofless Irish cottage, limestone from all 32 counties of Ireland, as well as a garden area with native Irish plants.
The walls are adorned with poetry and depressing writings about famine and hunger.
The weird thing about the memorial is that it’s not well-marked. In fact, I visited and left without knowing what it was. I had to Google it later to discover its purpose. A bit more signage would be appropriate.
The memorial was designed by artist Brian Tolle. It provides an unexpected but welcome feeling of the countryside right in the middle of the urban concrete jungle.
The memorial faces in the direction of the Statue of Liberty. From the elevated vantage point inside the park, you can see Ellis Island and the statue.
The memorial consists of a stone cairn surrounded by remnants of a stone cottage from County Mayo in Ireland, and a surrounding area of native vegetation.
It serves to honor the millions of Irish who died or emigrated during that difficult period in their country’s history, as well as generations since whose lives have been affected by hunger.
Visitors can take part in educational programming at the site, with guided tours, interactive activities, films screenings, and other events throughout the year.
It seems hard to imagine such a famine taking a million lives in today’s world. Then again, the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s, the one that inspired “We Are the World” charity project, also killed over a million people.
So visiting the Irish Hunger Memorial is a stark reminder that this sort of thing can happen under certain unfortunate circumstances.
The memorial is meant to create an experience, where people are encouraged to explore the physical and spiritual aspects of human suffering as a result of hunger.
It also serves to remind visitors of the importance of ending world hunger and working towards a more just and equitable distribution of resources.
Construction of the memorial began in 2001 before the September 11 attacks. Work was obviously stopped after 9/11, but resumed and the park was dedicated in 2002.
In 2016, the famine memorial underwent a renovation project at a cost of $5.3 million. The renovation involved waterproofing fixes, as water had been getting into the memorial.
The memorial was closed for an entire year at that time, but it thankfully re-opened and is once again a popular attraction.
The Irish Hunger Memorial in NYC is open daily, with current visiting hours ranging from 6 am to 1 am. Though it’s not nearly as well-known as the High Line, the memorial is still worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.
The half-acre memorial is located in the Battery Park City neighborhood. See our article about the coolest neighborhoods in NYC!
Would you visit a somber attraction like the Irish Hunger Memorial?