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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Irish Hunger Memorial

Look, up in the sky. It's a park…it's a garden…it's a sculpture…No, it's the Irish Hunger Memorial! This park-on-a-platform seems to cantilever up and away from the corner of North End Avenue and Vesey Street, aiming at the Hudson River.

Entering from the river side and wandering through, you get a look at a reconstructed Irish cottage and stone walls dating from the era of the great famine of 1845-52.

But what makes this a park, even if they don't call it one, is the greenery, which includes Connacht wetlands flora (blackthorn, ling heather, burnet rose), and the paths and views.

Each of Ireland's counties is acknowledged with its own inscribed stone:

As a unique, intriguing fusion of park and art object, conceived by artist Brian Tolle, this place works well. As a memorial to the victims of the Irish famine, not quite as well in my opinion. Aside from the rather grim-looking county stones, the park is lush (in summer, at least) and inviting and certainly doesn't make you think of hunger or any kind of suffering. Even the cottage suggests picturesque ruins, not a devastated society. Nor does the whole thing seem particularly Irish, at least not to the un-clued-in.

Perhaps the park's thrust into the sky is supposed to evoke hope, or rising above adversity. But whatever its symbolic or iconographic significance, the Irish Hunger Memorial is unlike anything else in the city and well worth a visit. Stop by next time you're downtown.

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