In the heart of Southern Manhattan on the bank of the Hudson, a mystical Irish cottage rises out of the ground. It is surrounded by tall buildings and heavy traffic and seems out of place but it is irresistible and it beckons you inside. When you do enter, be prepared – your heart may break due to both the despair and the longing.
The 19th century rebuilt cottage is part of the amazing Irish Hunger Memorial in New York City. The bustling noise of the city disappears when you enter and it is as if you have left New York altogether. The walls are full of quotes, excerpts from parliamentary reports, poems, letters, and recipes from the time of An Gorta Mor, Ireland’s great hunger. The quotes are separated by limestone from Kilkenny.
If you continue through the tunnel of text, you end up on top of it, wandering through the quarter acre of land that has been meticulously landscaped with plants and stones from all counties of Ireland. It is a fallow potato field, and a lush garden that is sure to make you long for the Emerald Isle, even as it reminds you of one of the most tragic periods of Irish history. It is a unique combination of the past, superimposed on the heart of the city, and a poignant message of the future, highlighting modern hunger throughout the world. It is at once breathtaking and devastating.
The Memorial was a collaboration between artist Brian Tolle, landscape designer Gail Wittwer-Laird, and the minds of 1100 Architect. It is on a quarter acre of land to remind us of the Irish Poverty Law of 1847 which denied aid to anyone on more land than that. The stones came from the Slack family cottage in Carradoogan, which they donated in the name of their ancestors who had emigrated to America and all the vegetation and the soil was imported from the west coast of Ireland.
It truly is a piece of Ireland itself and a powerful reminder of what hunger really does to a place and its people. It is a sacred and hushed space in the middle of a profanely loud city and an amazingly executed piece of educational art.