The Irish Hunger Memorial Fund was set up in 2003 following the monument’s unveiling in 2002 to ensure its continued maintenance.
However, seeing how deeply the monument affected visitors has prompted committee members to use some of the funding to set up a world hunger education center.
“The outpouring of emotion I’ve seen from people visiting has been immense,” according to Timothy Carey, president of the Battery Park City Authority.
“People who’ve been here 40 or 50 years, unable to return home, when they get down on the ground and kiss their county stone — it’s really moving.”
Building of the center will commence in September, according to Carey. Located on a site just across from the Famine memorial monument, the center will take around two years to complete.
“It won’t focus entirely on the Irish hunger,” said Carey. “There are 800 million people that go hungry every day. If it were open right now, for instance, there would be an exhibition on starvation in North Korea and Sudan.”
The cause is particularly close to committee member Adrian Flannelly’s heart. The radio host emigrated to Attymass, Co. Mayo, which was the first town to report a death from starvation during the Famine.
Speaking last week at a fundraising event in the Embassy Suite Hotel, where the committee raised over $100,000, he vowed to use some of the money to provide food for the hungry.
“At the moment we’re looking for a non-governmental organization to partner up with,” he said.
“Its important that we cooperate with them in order to find out where the food is needed and what is appropriate. During the Famine, the Quakers generously sent corn to the Irish people, but they couldn’t use it.”
The New York Times once described the Famine Monument as the second most important memorial in the U.S. after the Vietnam Veteran memorial in Washington D.C. Carey thinks it has become as important to people with Irish heritage as Ellis Island.
“It’s been extremely successful,” said Carey.
“There are even trips to Manhattan now to see the Statue, Ellis Island and the Irish Hunger Memorial. We have school groups and senior citizen’s groups coming to see it every day. It’s extremely popular around St. Patrick’s Day.”
The fund will also continue to pay for the monument’s upkeep.
“We’re concerned that 100 years from now, this memorial could fall on hard times the way the grand memorial in Manhattan did,” he said.
“Many monuments have fallen into bad repair, to the point where people no longer no what they’re commemorating. If the memorial becomes damaged, it could cost a million dollars to fix. In 10 years time, in 20 years time, it’s going to need refurbishing. We need to be prepared for that.”