The Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City will be unveiled Tuesday, July 16, at 11 a.m., by President Mary McAleese of Ireland, New York Gov. George Pataki, and other Irish and Irish-American dignitaries.
Members of the public will be allowed to visit the site immediately after the ceremonial opening, and the memorial will be open to the public daily.
A sloping quarter-acre site that re-creates in Lower Manhattan an abandoned stone cottage from western Mayo, this memorial is bound to attract considerable attention and comment, and not just within the Irish community. Its basic theme is clear: it represents on one level how the Irish were ripped from their native land and replanted in America and elsewhere because of starvation.
Nothing on this scale, or with such vision, has been attempted before. Both timeless, yet rooted in one terrible time of famine, the memorial’s stone cottage and pathway will be allowed to grow wild with 85 species of grasses, bushes and flowers taken as seed from the same site in County Mayo: Attymas, the first parish to report deaths from starvation in the 1840s.
This will be no representational park or memorial garden. As the sloping field changes with the seasons, the memorial’s artist has included in its granite and glass base, changing lines of text that speak of not just the Irish Famine, but of hunger around the world to the present day.
The viewer, standing upon the re-created fields and potato beds, will therefore become the subject, his or her unique reactions tempered by the knowledge of the fragility of memory itself.
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Already, questions have been raised by some as to how successful the memorial will be. Indeed, with its Vesey Street location a mere two blocks to the west of where 1 World Trade Center stood until Sept. 11, it is possible that this memorial could be overshadowed by whatever will commemorate the lives lost on that day.
However, this is unlikely. The memorial’s success may lie in its changing, ambiguous state, for it has taken 150 years to commemorate and event about which Irish and Irish Americans still hold differing opinions, and which often raises different emotions.
It must be hoped that this memorial will fulfill the artist’s desire to do more than commemorate Ireland’s hunger. It will leave each visitor with an understanding of how so many in the world experience the privations of hunger to this day.