Big Tim Sullivan

The story of how New York's Kenmare St got its name from famine emigrants – AUDIO


Big Tim Sullivan

A new RTE radio documentary explores how Kenmare Street in lower Manhattan was named in memory of an Irish immigrant.

The RTE radio doc ‘Kenmare Street’ tells the story of famine, enforced emigration, New York tenements, politics, and how a kid from the slums of the 'Five Points' got to name a street in Manhattan after his mother's home town of Kenmare.

In 1849, the agent for the Lord Lansdowne landlord of the Kenmare Estate recommended the estate could cut costs if they sent a portion of the destitute population to the US and Canada.

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The cost of the trip would cost less than food and lodgings for one year in a Kenmare workhouse.

Thousands of Kenmare residents took up the offer and immigrated to New York, settling in the notorious Five Points neighborhood, made up of Baxter Street, Orange Street and Worth Street.

Living in one of the most notorious slums in NYC the Kenmare Irish found work in tanneries, taverns and selling food on the streets.

One of the residents, Tim Sullivan, was the son of Kenmare immigrants Daniel O’Sullivan and Catherine Connelly. Sullivan started off shining shoes and doing paper rounds. He soon began running the newspaper distribution, before developing bars and theatres and ending up in politics.

Known as Big Tim or Big Feller, he was one of the city's most powerful politicians in the first decade of the 20th century.

Richard F. Welch, a New York historian, who wrote “King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City From the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era" describes his legacy.

“Profoundly Irish by birth, heritage and experience, the new district leader held little in the way of ethno-religious prejudices and took people as he found them.

“Brought up in abject poverty himself his worldview was refracted through a prism of class-consciousness that owed nothing to theory or ideology and everything to experience and practicality.”

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“Sullivan was a master of mass politics in an age when personal contact was everything,” he writes.

“The loyalty he engendered in the multiethnic population below 14th Street was based on his big hearted solicitude for his constituents.”

Sullivan founded Kenmare street in 1911, in memory of the town his mother emigrated from.

He died aged 51, when he was killed on August 31, 1913, by a train near Pelham Parkway, New York.

As part of the radio documentary, Producer Yvonne Judge travelled to New York and spoke with Senator Mark Daly and historian Ger Lyne. She also spoke with descendants of Big Tim Sullivan among others.

Click here to listen to the ‘Kenmare Street’ documentary on RTE.



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