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 The Irish Hunger Memorial: A Reminder to Millions



On July 16th, Governor George E. Pataki was joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President of Ireland Mary McAleese to dedicate New York State's Irish Hunger Memorial -- an extraordinary new memorial devoted to raising public awareness of the events that led to the "Great Irish Famine and Migration" of 1845-1852.

"The Irish Famine Memorial will serve 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," Governor Pataki said. "It is particularly fitting that the memorial will be located in Battery Park City, overlooking the great harbour and city that welcomed so many survivors of the famine to new life, new hope and a new day for themselves and our country."

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.

Dedication Ceremony - July 16th, 2002

In March, 2000, under the leadership of Governor George E. Pataki, who worked closely with James F. Gill, chairman of the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), and Timothy S. Carey, BPCA President and CEO, the Authority commissioned the design of "a contemplative space, devoted to raising public awareness of the events that led to the Great Irish Hunger and Migration of 1845-1852." The Memorial was intended to serve also as a catalyst for addressing current issues of world hunger.

Battery Park City was chosen as an appropriate location for the Memorial. Winner of the Mayor's 2002 Doris Freeman Award for Enriching the Public Environment, Battery Park City is home to 13 works of public art and 35 acres of public parks. Among Battery Park City's cultural amenities are The Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, and the NYC Police Memorial. Battery Park City is the future home of the Skyscraper Museum and the Museum of Women - The Leadership Centre. top


Brian Tolle, 38, resident of New York City. A graduate of the Yale School of Art, MFA, Parsons School of Design, BFA, and SUNY at Albany, BA. Mr. Tolle's public commissions include:

Waylay, Whitney Biennal 2002, Central Park, NYC
Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe, Queens Museum
Eureka, S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium 2000
WitchCatcher, Public Art Fune Metrotech Centre, Brooklyn, NY 1997.

He has presented his work in solo exhibitions in New York, Santa Monica and St. Louis, and in group exhibitions in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Miami, Houston, London, Oslo, Bern, Ghent and Seoul. He is represented by Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Santa Monica, California.

Mr. Tolle's design concept for the Memorial was chosen after a competition in which he was one of five finalists. top

Design Concept

The Memorial represents a rural Irish landscape with an abandoned stone cottage, stone walls, fallow potato fields and the flora on the north Connacht wetlands. It is both a metaphor for the Great Irish Famine and a reminder that hunger today is often the result of lack of access to land. Moving beyond the fixed dates of the Great Irish Famine, the Memorial is a living site. Over time, the landscape will change; the text will be updated; the visitor will be encouraged to become actively engaged in meeting the challenge of world hunger. top

Artist's Design Team

1100 Architects
- Founded in 1983, 1100 Architects has received acclaim for arts-related architecture, and awards for Modern work that advocates restrained sensuality. Among noted 1100 Architects projects are the new quarters of The Little Red School House in Greenwich Village, The Museum of Modern Art Design Store, and the headquarters and galleries of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Landscape Architect: Gail Wittwer-Laird, ASLA - A 1996 Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, graduate of the Harvard School of Design, and specialist in urban greening, Gail Wittwer-Laird developed the palette and planting scheme of wild Irish Flora that will thrive in lower Manhattan as part of the Memorial.

Consultants - Cornerstone Consulting, Inc., Code Consultants; Lilker Associates, Utility Consultants; Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers, Geo-Technical Engineering; Piscatello Design Centre, Graphic Design; John Schwinghammer, Lighting Design; Robert Silman Associates, P.C., Structural Engineer. top

Construction Details

Concrete: 1,832 cubic yards
Cantilever re-bar: 230,000 pounds
Kilkenny limestone facade: 4,050 sq. ft.
Glass panels for text: 3,700 linear ft.
Stones and boulders: 350,000 pounds

"Now, at long last, the anguish and fortitude of those who endured so much in the infamous Irish famine will be remembered and their courage honoured."
- James F. Gill, BPCA Chairman

"I eagerly look forward to the day when people from all walks of life visit the Memorial to touch the sod of our heritage and understand the courage of those who were forced to leave their homeland and travel across the ocean to start a new life."
- Timothy S. Carey, BPCA President and CEO


Design Elements

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 town land 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. top


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. top


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. top

The Landscape

The landscape conveys the sense of a rural, abandoned countryside in the west of Ireland. It is not manicured like a park or garden. Planted with some 62 species of Irish plants and grasses, many grown from Irish seeds, the landscape will change with the seasons and the years and with its encounter with the local environment.

Irish folklore attributes special values to some of the plants that grow in the Memorial. Buttercup (Cam an ime) (
Ranunculus sp.) was rubbed on cows' udders on May Day. Foxglove (Lus mor) (Digitalis purpurea) was a remedy for weak hearts, lumps, fleas, and fairy-struck children. Blackthorn (Draighean) (Prunus spinosa) was believed to overcome evil spirits. Iris (Feileastrom), used for bedding and thatching, was placed outside the door on the feast of Corpus Christi. top

The Cottage

Area: 16' x 46' = 736 sq. ft. / Height: 14' 6"

The cottage that forms the centrepiece of the Memorial is a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Slack, and Mr. and Mrs. Chris Slack, relatives of the artist's partner, Brian Clyne. The cottage is a generous gesture between two families and a poignant gift between two nations.

The Slack family's occupancy of the cottage can be traced to 1820 when Slacks lived as tenant farmers on the land. The cottage was just one room through the famine years. In 1891, the Congested District Board provided support for upgrading rural housing. By 2001, the cottage had been abandoned. It was being used as a cow pen and was considered unsafe.

The cottage was disassembled in Ireland and rebuilt in New York in accordance with guidelines provided by the Irish Historic Trust. Nigel Copsey, a mason trained in traditional stone construction, supervised its reconstruction. Mr. Copsey prepared a traditional lime mortar, imported from France, which is flexible and does not break apart like the more rigid Portland cement. top

Cost of the Memorial

Approximately $5 million. The Memorial is a capital project of the Battery Park City Authority. top


George E. Pataki, Governor, State of New York

Battery Park City Authority Board Members

James F. Gill, Chairman
Charles J. Urstadt,Vice Chairman
David B. Cornstein, Member
Timothy S. Carey, President & CEO

Members of the Irish Hunger Memorial Executive Committee

James F. Gill, chairman; Mrs. Margaret Pataki; John Cahill; Paul Curran; Sister Brigid Driscoll; John Feerick; Michael Finnegan; Thomas Moran; William Plunkett; Joseph Seymour; and William Whelan.

Chairman of the Honorary Committee

John Cardinal O'Connor. In Memoriam.

Members of the Irish Hunger Memorial Steering Committee

Timothy S. Carey (Chairman), Alexandra Altman, Jeffrey Cleary, Sidney Druckman, Stephanie Gelb, Tessa Huxley, Jack Irwin, Andrea Luongo, Peter McCourt, Lisa Miller, Patricia M. Quinn, Leticia M. Remauro, Joyce Pomeroy-Schwartz, Robert Serpico, Mario Torres, Antony Woo.

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