We’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by visiting our favorite places on our hunts in New York City that reflect the history of the Irish. Here’s our list:
• Irish Hunger Memorial: Imagine a square chunk of Irish hillside lifted out of the old sod and deposited in Battery Park City, hard by the Hudson, and you have this memorial to the Great Famine in Ireland of 1845 to 1852. Artists and architects collaborated to create this half-acre of rugged landscape, including an actual Irish cottage (above). The potato blight led to massive emigration, landing many an Irishman on New York’s shores. Hunters doing the Battery Park City edition of our Lost New York Scavenger Hunt have been startled to discover the memorial since it opened in 2002.
• Five Points: As you’ll see on the Gangsters’ New York Scavenger Hunt, there’s barely a trace of the old Five Points intersection, once the heart ofa poor, tough and rowdy neighborhood populated mainly by the Irish—and the basis for book and movie Gangs of New York. A few blocks away on the Bowery you still can see the old headquarters of the Bowery Boys, an Irish gang. Now home to a Chinese restaurant, it’s a stop on the hunt, along with nearby Bayard St., where the Boys battled other gangs in Irish turf wars. Ah, good times.
• McSorley’s Old Ale House: In a city with rampant prejudice against the Irish, an immigrant could still open a bar in his neighborhood, which then could become an informal community center. Featured on the Secrets of the East Village Scavenger Hunt, McSorley’s was founded by Irish-born John McSorley after he arrived in the city in 1851. When exactly he started the bar is a bone of contention: the bar claims it opened in 1854, but historians say it couldn’t have been earlier than 1858. Whatever. The place looks untouched by the passing decades, and it has slaked the thirst of such celebs as Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Boss Tweed, E. E. Cummings and a host of other artists. But until 1970, no women: Its slogan was “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.”
• Draft Wheel from the Draft Riots: During the Civil War, when the draft was instituted, people who were drafted could pay for substitutes to take their place on the front lines. This didn’t sit too well with the working classes, particularly the Irish, who couldn’t afford to buy their way out of service. On our New York History Mysteries Hunt at the New-York Historical Society, you can see an actual draft wheel that helped officials randomly select names for the draft—which then set off the Draft Riots, one of the worst urban riots in American history. Troops were diverted from Gettysburg to take back the streets.
• Old (and new) St. Patrick’s: The Irish finally arrived, of course, and declared it spectacularly by building St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, a highlight on our Midtown Madness Scavenger Hunts for private groups. The Gothic church replaced the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry St., always a startling stop for hunters of the Soho Chocolatey Scavenger Hunt as it dips into NoLita. The older church was nearly sacked in 1836 at the hands of anti-Catholic mobs. A different kind of mob visited when the baptism scene was filmed there for The Godfather. Happy St. Patty’s day!