The Greening of New York - 2004
Irish American Landmarks
LOCATION Manhattan, Queens
Bestowing as the nationality does a license for debauchery and frankness, almost everyone wants to be Irish at least once a yearpreferably on March 17. But at one time, America's population of true Irish immigrants rivaled the population of the motherland, so the golden door is rich with landmarks that tell their story.
The IRISH HUNGER MEMORIAL (North End Avenue and Vesey Street), a simulacrum of Eire's rolling hills during 1845's Great Potato Famine, commemorates the hard-boiled spirits of those who thronged to New York because of the famine. The entrance takes you through a dark corridor emblazoned with quotes concerned with world hunger, in general, and Ireland specifically. Then a path winds from a transported County Mayo cottage, through patches of native grass and boulders of Ireland, and it culminates at the top of a pitched grassland overlooking the Hudson River.
Other landmarks celebrate the history of the Irish in America. In the East Village is the arguably oldest pub in New York: MCSORLEY'S OLD ALE HOUSE (15 East 7th Street, 212-473-9148). Established in 1854, it has not undergone major renovationsdig those poultry bones hanging from the light fixturesand its charm is that there is none. When the gruff waiters spiritlessly approach the table, your job is to order either two "light" or "dark" or "one and one" for a total of four bucks. Whether you prefer gentlemanly conversation or a cacophonous hullabaloo, take your pick: The bar is dead in the afternoon, but packed at night with a mix of college kids, wrinkle-free suits, and wrinkled regulars. But for hard liquor, you're better off checking the selection of whiskey and televised county-club Gaelic football games at MAGGIE MAE'Snamed, owner Jim Sheridan says, after the song by (the shamefully un-Irish) Rod Stewartin the deteriorating Irish neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens (41-15 Queens Boulevard, 718-433-3067).
Soberly pondering "the fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunn trovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!)," scholars and blue-collars alike convene to parse the enigmatic circularity of James Joyce's masterpiece at the fabled Gotham Book Mart (16 East 46th Street, 212-719-4448, finneganswake.org). The FINNEGANS WAKE SOCIETY OF NEW YORK'S WAKE WATCHERS reading group meets the last Wednesday of every month, focusing on three to four pages at a time. The unexclusive group encourages newcomers to show up with an unmarked copy and appreciates those with specialized intellectual insights into, say, mythology or linguistics. Equally scholarly GLUCKSMAN IRELAND HOUSE at New York University (1 Washington Mews, 212-998-3950) was established in 1993 to offer seminars on Joyce and conversational Gaelic. They have a robust library of Irish writers, most notably circa the nation's turn-of-the-20th-century literary revival.
If you'd rather stick with the Irish history served up in Scorsese's overpriced dud, try the GANGS OF NEW YORK BIG ONION WALKING TOUR (212-439-1090, bigonion.com), trek through the disappearing Five Points, once ruled by Irish ruffians far more nasty than Leonardo DiCaprio. But if you think the tour's a definitive summary of the cultural history of Irish New York, may you be in heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you're dead.