5 New York City Destinations That Showcase Irish Culture and History
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
The feast day of Saint Patrick, referred to as St. Patrick's Day, is recognized each year as a tribute to the patron saint of Ireland, as well as a festive celebration of Irish culture and history. Upon arriving in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following the potato famine, Irish immigrants were subject to both discrimination and xenophobia, fighting to gain acceptance in a society that initially rejected them.
Since then, the Irish American community in New York has grown strong and proud, celebrating their culture each year with community-wide St. Paddy's day celebrations, like New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade.
New York City is home to many sites and locations integral to an understanding of Irish history, as the city was the first destination for most Irish natives coming to the U.S. amid the famine-fueled immigration wave. By 1910, the city was home to more Irish natives than Dublin itself.
Parades and festivals aside, here are seven sites you can visit in the city to learn more about Irish culture and history in the United States.
The Irish Hunger Memorial
While many know of of the Great Potato Famine, few realize the full extent of the crisis, which resulted in over 1.5 million deaths.
To raise awareness and pay respect to those lost, the Irish Hunger Memorial was established in Battery Park City.
The half-acre park features a sweeping memorial structure displaying famine statistics, poems, and quotes from historical figures. The garden features more than 60 types of flowers and vegetation transported directly from Ireland. Also onsite is a recreated 19th-century Irish cottage built with rocks from all of Ireland's 32 counties.
McSorley's Old Ale House
New York's oldest Irish pub, McSorley's was founded in 1854 with the intent of being an end-of-day hangout for working-class Irish men. Surprisingly little has changed about the pub, which has since quenched the thirsts of notable figures like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ulysses S. Grant, to name a few. With a no-frills menu of two ales—one pale and one dark—and a floor coated in sawdust, the pub provides a one-of-a-kind glimpse into Irish New York's yesteryear.
The American Irish Historical Society
Just across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the American Irish Historical Society, which functions as a museum in its own right. The historical center and library regularly hosts exhibitions and events—including film screenings, lectures, and plays—that showcase works of notable Irish artists, such as Nathaniel Horne, as well as writers like David F. Cohalan.
The Tenement Museum
Located at 97 and 103 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, the Tenement Museum was formerly the home of over 7,000 working-class immigrants who came to NYC between 1863 and 1935, some of whom were Irish. Here, you can see recreated and restored residences and hallways of the site's original residents while learning about the lives and struggles of immigrant families in the U.S. Among the stories shared by the museum is that of the the Irish Moore family, who lived at 97 Orchard in 1869 and went on to birth descendants throughout the United States.
Irish Repertory Theatre
An acclaimed Off-Broadway venue, the Irish Repertory Theatre has presented over 190 productions by Irish American composers and playwrights, with the mission of sharing the contemporary Irish American experience. The theater has received various awards for its work, including a special Drama Desk Award for "Excellence in Presenting Distinguished Irish Drama," and an induction into the Irish American Hall of Fame.