New York City's Living Irish History

Fri, Mar 13, 2015

NYC’s Irish History & Where It Lives Today

When you think of New York City, most think of a city rich in ethnic diversity. As the most densely populated city in the United States, New York is a global powerhouse that’s filled with history and as St. Patrick’s Day draws near, we wanted to pay tribute to the Irish culture embedded in the city’s history. No, we’re not suggesting to show your Irish pride by stumbling around the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but as you do. For the rest of us, we’ll be staying as far away as possible from the parade’s proximity (Fifth Ave from 44th St to 79th St) on March 17th.  So, without further adieu, here is a compiled list of 5 Irish landmarks to visit during this prideful time of the year.

Ellis Island

Ellis IslandEllis Island, located at the mouth of the Hudson River, was once the main facility for immigrants entering the United States (January 1, 1892 until November 12, 1954.) During this time, more than 12 million settlers passed through the historic island. The very first being an Irish immigrant, Annie Moore, who had traveled from County Cork on January 1, 1892, her fifteenth birthday. As the first person to be processed at the brand new immigration facility, she was presented with an American $10 gold coin.

Today, you can view Ellis Island by boat or walking around the old landmark.

The Five Points

During the Potato Famine in the late 1840s, Irish families fled to NYC, and overpopulated the infamous Five Points slum. If not familiar with Irish History, you might be familiar with Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, set in the 19th Century Five Points district. Imagine as you walk through this overcrowded bustling neighborhood as once a swampy, insect-ridden, notorious slum centered on the intersection of Anthony (now Worth Street), Orange (now Baxter Street), and Cross (now Mosco Street).

Initially, Five Points consisted of mostly newly emancipated poor African Americans and the poor Irish immigrants. At first, the high tensions between the two groups were infamous, but after generations of intermarriage and community growth, this district settled and became the first large-scale area of racial integration in American history. If you’re intrigued, head to the Irish Hunger Memorial, which features stones representing every county in Hibernia, as well as soil, plants and even a reassembled cottage from across the pond. For a true perspective into mid-1800s life, head to the Tenement Museum. Visit the historically restored Lower East Side apartment of the Moores, for a sobering historical experience that details the Irish-Catholic family’s worries such as the “Irish Need Not Apply” hiring practices.

The 9/11 Memorial

The first recorded casualty of the September 11 attacks was Father Mychal Judge, a beloved Irish American priest who was a religious leader of faith in New York City’s Irish community. The heroics of the New York City police force, firefighters, emergency workers, as well as those who lost their lives are to be commended and remembered at this beautiful tribute. A visit to this site may be a sobering and emotional experience, but it can also fill you with pride in your ancestry.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patricks Cathedral in NYCSaid to have been built with the pennies of poor Irish immigrants, the magnificent neo-gothic structure of St. Patrick’s Cathedral resides in bustling Midtown Manhattan. Irish history is prominent in this building, as is the historical Gothic architecture. The cathedral was completed in 1878 and dedicated on May 25, 1879. Although it is currently being restored, do not let the Cathedral’s surrounding scaffolding hinder your visit. Inside, witness its stunning stained glass windows, award-winning Stations of the Cross and the Cathedral’s infamous altars.

McSorely’s Old Ale House

McSorley's legendary Irish bar first opened its doors in 1854 as a “men only” pub.

Famous patrons of McSorley’s include the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Boos Tweed and literary figures like Brendan Behan and Leroi Jones. Whether you’re a New York native or just a regular tourist a trip to McSorley’s is a must. Embrace yourself for the true frat atmosphere. The ambiance is filled with sawdust floors, the infamous McSorley homemade beer and centuries of Irish history. Mugs of house-brand ale are served in BOGO pairs: light or dark, two for the price of one. The men's room urinals are made of the original porcelain sarcophagi big, and are intimidatingly large. The ladies' room fixtures are significantly less historic or impressive however, as women have only been allowed in McSorley’s since a mandated court order in 1970.  How rude!

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Tags: Things To Do In NYC, New York History