Did you ever wonder why there is a Kenmare Street in Lower Manhattan, or what became of the descendants of New York’s notorious Five Points neighborhood? This weekend the village of Kenmare, Co. Kerry will celebrate its history - and its Hollywood connection - as it holds one of the most unusual events of the summer: The Kenmare Gangs of New York Gathering.
Festival organizers plan a warm welcome for the town’s diaspora – the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the nearly 5,000 Kenmare tenant farmers and families who emigrated to New York or Quebec during the famine of the 1840s. The starving tenants, drawn from the estate areas of Bonane, Kenmare, Tuosist, Lauragh, Kilgarvan and Templenoe, were offered £4 and the forgiveness of rent arrears in a program designed by W.S. Trent, the estate agent for the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne.
Trent had calculated that it would cost £12 per year to support each tenant in a poorhouse. The £4 bounty, even with forgiveness of rent owed, was cheap at the price. “It would be cheaper for the estate, and better for them, to pay for [the tenants’] emigration than to continue to support them at home,” he said of his program.
Many of the Kenmare emigrants who landed in New York settled in the Five Points area on Manhattan’s lower east side. The neighborhood was depicted in Martin Scorsese’s award-winning film, 2002’s “Gangs of New York,” starring Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Among the most famous descendants of the Kenmare diaspora was Congressman “Big Tim” Sullivan, the son of Lansdowne tenants. In 1911, he succeeded in naming the 4-block stretch near the Bowery after his mother’s hometown. Kenmare Street is now the home to trendy restaurants and exclusive boutiques.
The three-day event kicks off on Friday, August 30 and runs through Sept. 1. Highlights will include:
• Guided historical walks around the main points of interest on the estate.
• A play in the Carnegie Arts Centre depicting life in the 1850s and the story behind W.S. Trent’s assisted emigration program.
• A screening of Sean De Morda's 'The Land is Gold' documentary about Kenmare and the Lansdowne estate.
• A genealogy roadshow bus, providing resources for visitors to trace their family history.
A plaque, detailing the history of the Lansdowne estate and the Five Points area, will be unveiled in the town square. A similar plaque will be erected on Kenmare Street in New York in 2014.