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BY COLIN MIXSON
The Battery Park City Authority reopened the Irish Hunger Memorial on July 28 after nearly a year-long closure for a $4.9 million waterproofing project.
The monument gets more attention from tourists than residents or area regulars, but locals who appreciate the bucolic idyll were glad to see the memorial reopen, according to one Oculus worker.
“Yeah, I did miss it,” said Tanisha Best, who commutes from New Jersey to her job at the Oculus shopping center. “Not a lot of people actually come here. It’s a nice way to have some peace and quiet.”
The rustic half-acre memorial to the “Great Hunger” that ravaged Ireland from 1845 to 1852 features a reconstruction of an abandoned farming cottage, symbolizing the mass migration of Irish to America to escape the famine resulting from the potato blight.
The structure is an authentic cottage from Carradoogan in County Mayo, but the rolling green monument actually incorporates stones from each county of the Emerald Isle.
The memorial began leaking almost immediately following its 2002 unveiling, and a remediation project that waterproofed a portion of the monument the following year failed to stem the seepage.
The recently completed, more comprehensive waterproofing work began in August 2016, and was — inflation notwithstanding — almost as expensive as the monument itself, which cost $5.1 million in 2002.
Part of the reason is that the work was so meticulous. As it disassembled the monument’s stone walls and cottage, the authority’s contractor was required to catalogue the position of each of the rocks as they were dislodged, so they could later be reinstalled in the proper order.
A British ex-pat visiting from Holland said she appreciated how the memorial — raised slightly above the bustle of Battery Park City — evoked the Irish countryside, and the contrast it created against surrounding acres of sprawling urban landfill.
“I think it’s great,” said Patricia Moltzer. “When you stand up here, and you see the walls, it could be potatoes under the ground, and then you see the skyscrapers.”
Many of the visitors to the newly reopened memorial commented on the vista the attraction’s peak offers of Jersey City, but Best said it was the monument’s modesty she liked the most — there’s no marquee signage advertising the landmark as the “Irish Hunger Memorial,” and visitors are instead left to discover its meaning through quotes about the famine scattered throughout the space.
“I appreciate the structure of it,” The Jersey commuter said. “You don’t realize it’s a memorial until you’re inside of it and you see the words on the wall. It’s a story.”