By Ray O’Hanlon
With the sun setting over the Hudson River and its new companion, the Irish Hunger Memorial, descendants of the Famine-era Irish feasted on salmon and steak in a luxury hotel Monday night.
It was, to say the least, a study in contrasts, an eye-popping reminder of Irish America’s triumph over the worst of calamities.
President Mary McAleese and Gov. George Pataki blessed the occasion at the Embassy Suites Hotel with speeches that pointed to the poignant and the celebratory.
McAleese made mention of the poignancy of the occasion, “because the Irish famine represented such a wrenching disturbance of the course of Irish history” and because of the proximity to the devastation at the World Trade Center, just a couple of blocks away.
Pataki admitted to a road-to-Damascus-like experience while visiting his mother’s family home in County Louth.
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Why not a Great Hunger memorial in Manhattan, he thought, while sitting on a stone wall.
And there it was now, just outside the glass hotel doors: stone walls and grassy sod from Ireland fronting the harbor, and the river, which had once disgorged hungry and fearful Irish by the tens of thousands.
The Great Hunger Memorial, Pataki said, would serve to make remembrance of 19th century Irish hunger a permanent part of the 21st.
Jim Gill, president of the Battery Park City Authority, which oversaw the creation of the memorial, said he felt like it was Christmas Eve.
His most desired gift was just outside, green with gray and gold trim in the gloaming.
There were speeches before, during and after dinner. There was entertainment in abundance.
And there was silent contemplation of a terrible past time called for by Tim Carey, the authority’s chief executive.
But at the end, there was justified congratulation and deserved satisfaction for the completion of a project, which, in bringing old ground to the new, confirmed to the world that the Irish of the Famine time had scrambled ashore in a most fortunate and blessed place.