On August 26, 1664, 350 years ago, the British redcoats anchored ominously in Gravesend Bay off Brooklyn, between Coney Island and the Narrows. By September 8 New Amsterdam had been renamed New York.
Happy Birthday to the Big Apple!
On New York's 350th birthday we take a look at the how the Irish have had a huge influence on the city of New York.
There’s even an old joke that asks what’s the biggest difference between Ireland and the United States? The answer is that more Irish people live here.
Joking aside, the truth is the Irish have made their mark on Manhattan for centuries, building the skyscrapers, policing the streets and eventually running city hall.
That’s why when you visit the Big Apple you won’t be short of fascinating historical sites of enduring importance to the Irish.
Here’s a list of New York’s top 10 Irish historical sites.
1. Ellis Island
Ellis Island, located at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor was from January 1, 1892, until November 12, 1954 the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United States. Its importance to the story of the United States is inestimable.
More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954 but the very first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island was Annie Moore who arrived here from County Cork aboard the steamship Nevada on January 1, 1892, her fifteenth birthday. As the first person to be processed at the newly opened facility she was presented with an American $10 gold coin.
One and a half million people died between 1846 and 1850 in the famine in Ireland. New York’s new Irish Hunger Memorial, located at is located on a one-half acre site at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in Manhattan, is a monument to those who perished during An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger), and is a symbol to highlight areas of the world affected by hunger today.
Comprising in part a quarter-acre of land, arrayed with barren potato furrows, flora from County Mayo, the memorial features rocks from each of Ireland’s 32 counties.
3. The Five Points
The Five Points was a notorious slum centered on the intersection of Anthony (now Worth Street), Orange (now Baxter Street), and Cross (now Mosco Street) in New York City. The swampy, insect-ridden conditions led to most middle and upper class inhabitants fleeing, leaving the neighborhood open to the influx of poor immigrants that started in the early 1820’s and reached a torrent in the 1840’s due to the Irish famine.
Five points was the original American melting pot, consisting mostly of newly emancipated African Americans and the Irish. Although the tensions between the two groups were legendary, they also frequently intermarried and their community became the first large-scale instance of volitional racial integration in American history.
4. Castle Garden
Castle Garden, today known as Castle Clinton National Monument, is the major landmark within Battery Park, the 25-acre waterfront park at the tip of Manhattan. From 1855 to 1890 the Castle was America’s first official immigration center, a pioneering collaboration of New York State and New York City.
5. The American Irish Historical Society
In 1940, the Society moved to a Beaux-Arts townhouse on Fifth Avenue, which it still occupies The society’s 50 founding members included Theodore Roosevelt, who was part-Irish (on his mother’s side) and the society’s formal purpose is: “to place permanently on record the story of the Irish in America from the earliest settlement to the present day, justly, impartially, fully, and sympathetically correcting neglect and misrepresentation by certain historians of the part taken in the founding, upbuilding and safeguarding of the Nation by persons of Irish birth and descent.”
The Society hosts cultural and historical events, publishes a journal entitled The Recorder, and annually awards a Gold Medal to an Irish-American or Irish-national of significant accomplishment.
6. Ground Zero
The first recorded casualty of the September 11 attacks was Father Mychal Judge, the beloved Irish American priest who was a beacon in New York’s Irish community. But the heroics of firefighters, police officers and emergency workers will also be remembered alongside office workers and plane passengers who displayed unfathomable courage.
Many who died were leaders in their chosen professions: success stories of the Irish diaspora built on the many sacrifices of their forebears. A visit to this site may not be a wrenching experience, but it will also make you take fierce pride in your ancestry.
7. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Said to have been built with the pennies of poor Irish immigrants, the magnificent neo-gothic structure of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral seems to divide Fifth Avenue in two and was then – and is still now – a mission statement of the Irish presence in the Big Apple. It’s also a terrific example of Gotham architecture, drawing in thousands of visitors every day.
The land on which the present cathedral sits was originally purchased for $11,000 on March 6, 1810, as a site for a school for young Roman Catholic men, the New York Literary Institution, to be conducted by the Jesuits. The cathedral was completed in 1878 and dedicated on May 25, 1879.
8. Old Saint Patrick's Cathedral
Construction on Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in lower Manhattan began in 1809 and by 1844 Archbishop John Hughes (known as Dagger John for his habit of inscribing a cross before his signature) had to call upon the Ancient Order of Hibernian’s to guard it against anti-Catholic bigots who threatened to burn it down.
In 1966, St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral was one of the first sites to be named a New York City landmark by the New York City Landmarks Commission. It remains a vital and historical part of the tale of the Irish in New York.
9. Tammany Hall
The site of the New York Film Academy in Union Square is the seat of the famous – and often infamous – Tammany Hall. At one time it was the heart of the Democratic political in the city that played a major role in controlling New York City politics and helping immigrants (most notably the Irish) rise up in American politics from the 1790’s to the 1960’s.
10. McSorely’s Old Ale House
McSorley's legendary Irish bar first opened its doors in 1854 and women were not allowed in until 1970 when the National Organization for Women attorneys took their case to District Court and won. A new age was born, albeit kicking and screaming.
Famous people have drunk at McSorley’s, including Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Boos Tweed and literary figures like Brendan Behan and Leroi Jones. Go to soak up the atmosphere, the sawdust floors, the homemade beer and centuries of Irish history.