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Handing on
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July 16, 2002

Irish Hunger Memorial Garden

Joined by Mayor Bloomberg and President of Ireland to Honour Famine Victims

Governor George E. Pataki today 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" takes its name from the Irish term for the famine, "An Gorta Mór," The Great Hunger, and rises above a half-acre site near the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in Battery Park City. "The Great Hunger" began in 1845 when a blight destroyed the Irish potato crop, depriving Ireland of its staple food. By 1847 millions were starving and dying.

Mayor Bloomberg said, "It is an honour to take part in the dedication of the Irish Hunger Memorial. This Memorial captures a great tragedy, incites us to eliminate world hunger, and reminds us that the spirit of Ireland will always have a home in New York City. Battery Park City is a fitting home because of its long tradition of integrating art into its landscape and because of its proximity to the place where many of the hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants entered the New World."

President McAleese said, "I am honoured to attend the dedication of the Irish Hunger Memorial. I would like to thank Governor Pataki for his commitment to this project and for making it a reality. I would like to pay tribute to the Chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, Jim Gill, the President & CEO, Tim Carey, and the entire team behind this project both here in the US and in Ireland, for their energy and tenacity in bringing it to fruition. We are also truly blessed by the vision of Brian Tolle. In bringing this authentic Irish landscape to life, Brian reminds us, in a very poignant way, of the most tragic chapter in Ireland's history.

"We will not forget the tragedy that brought so many Irish emigrants to these shores, nor the generosity of America in embracing our poor, restoring their dignity, and giving our ancestors the opportunity to help forge this great nation. As we remember the tragedy of the Irish Famine, we must dedicate ourselves to fighting and eradicating the scourge of hunger in the 21st century," President McAleese said.

The Memorial, which is one block west of the World Trade Centre site, is a $5 million capital project of the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority (BPCA). In March 2000, Governor Pataki directed the BPCA to design a contemplative space devoted to raising public awareness of the events that led to the "Great Irish Famine and Migration" of 1845-1852.

Governor Pataki said, "My congratulations to artist Brian Tolle and his design team for creating this unique and inspiring memorial. May it ever remind us of those who perished and of those whose courage brought them across the ocean to find their freedom. May the good people of Ireland never know such a tragedy as that which is represented here, and may this Memorial stand as a reminder of the Irish people=s strength in the face of adversity."

Irish Hunger Memorial Garden

BPCA President James F. Gill said, "The Irish American Community and all New Yorkers join me in saluting Governor Pataki for his leadership and vision in planning and bringing to fruition this important new memorial. This Memorial will forever remind us that our beloved Ireland, in her most desperate hour of need, sent forth the seeds of her own deliverance. Irish men, women and children bravely travelled to the corners of the earth, bringing with them a willingness to work and a determination to be free. 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."

BPCA CEO Timothy S. Carey said, "During The Great Hunger almost a million died, and almost two million more were forced leave their country. And yet, through the worst of the famine, foreign landlords continued to export food from Ireland, condemning hundreds of thousands to cruel and needless deaths. It is my sincere hope that The Irish Hunger Memorial will encourage all the nations of the world to work together to put an end to starvation and the use of hunger as a political weapon. Brian Tolle has captured not only a vision of Ireland, but its very essence. 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."

The 96 foot by 170 foot Memorial rises above a base structure that is level with the sidewalk on its eastern end and 25 feet high on its western end. A passage in the western end of the Memorial opens inside a ruined fieldstone cottage imported from County Mayo, a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Slack, and Mr. and Mrs. Chris Slack. Leaving the cottage, the visitor can wander through abandoned fields and overgrown potato furrows that evoke the terrible desolation that famine brought to Ireland. The Memorial, which was landscaped by Gail Wittwer-Laird, is planted with some 62 species of native Irish wildflowers, plants and grasses and has stones from each of Ireland's 32 counties.

Along the base of the Memorial, lines of illuminated text that focus on the history of the Hunger and the Irish people are separated by layers of imported Kilkenny limestone. The Memorial's location, which looks out on the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, reminds visitors that America welcomed survivors of The Great Hunger and was in turn changed and strengthened by their countless contributions to our country.

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.

In 1996, Governor Pataki signed a law making instruction on the mass starvation in Ireland a part of the New York State curriculum. New York schools are now required by the Board of Regents to teach courses in patriotism, citizenship and human rights issues, devoting particular attention to the study of genocide, slavery and the Holocaust.

So extensive was Irish immigration that between 1847 and 1851 more than 848,000 Irish arrived in New York City alone. By 1930 Irish Americans were more than 21 percent of New York City's population. In 1980 about one in seven Americans claimed Irish ancestry, and more than 40 million Americans described themselves as predominantly Irish. Almost 800,000 residents of New York City and 2.8 million residents of New York State trace their ancestry to Ireland.

The Irish Hunger Memorial Executive Committee chose the theme, message, goals and art associated with the project. John Cardinal O'Connor served as chair of the Honorary Committee. Out of love, respect and admiration for Cardinal O' Connor, that title remains in his name. The Executive Committee received proposals and design models from five artists. Mr. Tolle's winning design was selected by the Committee.

Members of the Executive Committee are Mrs. Margaret Pataki, John Cahill, Paul Curran, Sister Brigid Driscoll, John Feerick, Michael Finnegan, Thomas Moran, William Plunkett, Joseph Seymour, and William Whelan.


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