Precedent: The Irish Hunger Memorial

Landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird, 1100 Architects, & Artist Brian Tollel

Commissioned by the Battery Park City Authority

The Irish Hunger Memorial was commissioned by the Battery Park city authority to recognize the Great Irish Famine that took place from 1845 to 1852.  During the famine’s duration, one million lives were lost due to starvation/related disease and about two million occupants emigrated.  A fungus, known as blight is recognized as a significant contributor to the widespread devastation as well as the inactivity of Ireland’s reining Government, at the time of the famine.    Most Irish citizens were left with three options when facing this great famine; starve on their farm while paying rent, report to a poor law work where death by exhaustion and starvation was quite common, or risk immigration across the Atlantic with a fifty percent chance of survival. Positioned at the corner of Vesey Street and N. End Ave. In New York City, the memorial aims to raise public awareness of the events that led to the great Irish famine and to encourage efforts to address current and future hunger worldwide.

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Along the imported Irish limestone base, bands of illuminated text atop frosted glass panels retell the history of the Great Irish Famine as well as contemporary reports on world hunger.  From the memorials west side, visitors enter an ascending passageway that opens into a ruined cottage at the center of the memorial.  The authentic famine era cottage that was donated to the memorial by Brian Tolle’s extended family.  This lone cottage, positioned within the memorial aims breathe solidarity to those who left from those who stayed behind during this troubled time.  Beyond cottage, visitors may wander through the fields and overgrown potato furrows.  This is a recreation of Ireland’s rugged landscape comprised of walls with stones from each of Ireland’s 32 counties, abandoned potato fields, and various species of native Irish plants and grasses.  The landscape cantilevers boldly beyond its base, suggesting the courageous journey made by Irish immigrants to America.

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The memorial commemorates the tragic events that occurred during the famine by guiding the visitor through a process of learning, emotional reaction, and reflection. 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.

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