Essentially Irish NYC

March 15th, 2018

Saint Patrick's Day is this Saturday, and whether you’re Irish or not, it’s a great chance to have some fun. These days, people of Irish descent make up a massive portion of the population, but it wasn’t always that way. Countless Irish folks immigrated to The United States during the 1800’s, most of them through New York City. To this day, the impact of Irish heritage is strongly felt in our great city. Their legacy is easy to find--if you know where to look. This Saint Patrick’s day, take some time to explore some of New York City’s Irish landmarks. They’re closer than you might think.

69th Regiment Armory

You may associate Notre Dame University with the “Fighting Irish” but they’re actually not the originals. During the American Civil War, the soldiers of the 69th Regiment were known fondly as the fighting Irish. Though many of them were new to the country, they served with distinction. They were the founding regiment of New York City’s Irish Brigade. As the war raged across the country, this regiment took more losses than any other Union army infantry regiment, but they never stopped fighting. Residents of Stonehenge’s Murray Hill buildings have probably strolled by the 69th Regiment Armory, located on Lexington Avenue. This imposing building was constructed in 1904 and served as home base for the original fighting Irish. These days it’s still used as spot for social gatherings, art shows, and (of course) Irish heritage celebrations. Check it out! P1100991

McSorley’s Old Ale House

There are plenty of Irish watering holes in New York City. Most of them are nondescript sports bars with little more association to Irish history than their name and some obligatory Irish decor. McSorley’s is the real deal. John McSorley was, like so many Irish immigrants, driven to America by the Great Famine of the 1850’s. After a few years kicking around the city, John settled down and opened his own ale house. He probably never imagined his little pub would be so popular. The ancient establishment still stands strong to this day. With sawdust floors, rugged tables, and gruff barmen, there’s no bar more historically Irish in all of NYC. McSorley's prices have risen a bit over the decades but $5 still buys you two beers--you really can’t beat that. shutterstock_149682200

221 Pearl Street

221 Pearl Street today is home to an eyebrow waxing establishment and a cheesesteak restaurant, both of which give absolutely no hint to the Irish history that the building contains. Way back before the good old USA was founded the building was the home office of the Mulligans, a family of wealthy irish merchants. Long before the bulk of Irish immigrants came to North America, the Mulligans were making history. They took in a young Alexander Hamilton, and the founding father stayed under their roof here while he was finishing his education. When the American revolution broke out, the Mulligans did their part and created a spy network which was instrumental in the defeat of the English. They were even betrayed by infamous traitor Benedict Arnold at one point, but managed to charm their way out of execution! All that remains today of the original building is the facade of 221 Pearl Street. It’s hard to imagine Alexander Hamilton eating a cheese steak.

Irish Hunger Memorial

Those strolling through Battery Park City may find themselves somewhere entirely unexpected: the Irish countryside. No, they haven’t lost their minds, they’ve simply stumbled into the Irish Hunger Memorial. This unique modern art piece was constructed in 2001 in an effort to raise awareness about the Great Irish Famine. This half-acre of land is the brainchild of artist Brian Tolle and landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird. It’s an idyllic patchwork of stones, soil, and native vegetation from the western coast of Ireland.  it truly transports you to another country and another time. Tolle and Witter-Laird have also partially reconstructed an authentic 19th-century Irish cottage on the site, using the donated ruins of a real Irish cottage. Step within its walls and uncover the history buried within, and the stories and names of those who were lost in this great tragedy. shutterstock_149505320

Duffy Square

If you’ve spent any time in Times Square at all, you know what kind of a place it is. Large crowds, giant billboards, and countless people and things vying for your attention. It’s the brightest and busiest place on earth. Amongst it all, there’s one artifact that seems strangely out of place--a towering statue of an Irish priest. This bronze sculpture represents Father Duffy known fondly as both a priest and a soldier. During the World War I, he served as the Chaplain for the aforementioned Irish-American 69th Regiment. During his service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, as well as a whole host of other impressive awards. He was unquestionably a hero, but what is his statue doing in the middle of Times Square? Aside from his illustrious military career, Duffy was also a massive fan of Broadway. He developed close relationships with many of it’s actors and served as pastor of the nearby Holy Cross Church in Hell’s Kitchen. It was the efforts of Father Duffy that helped sustain Broadway, and turn it into the artistic phenomenon that we know and love. Flanked by a traditionally Irish celtic cross, Duffy keeps a watchful eye over the streets he loved so much. shutterstock_572757763