The Irish in New York: Your guide to culture, history and more
Sick of the green beer, shamrock-adorned bros and douchiness that comes with St. Patty’s Day? Follow our primer and fete the Irish in New York like an adult.
Tue Feb 25 2014
Illustration: Beibei Nie
Showing some Irish pride doesn’t mean you have to stumble around the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Fifth Ave from 44th St to 79th St; Mon 17 at 11am; free) wearing a kiss me, i’m irish hat or bra or whatever. (Although we’re sure you look pretty cool in that getup and don’t want to dissuade you from flaunting your purchase.) As St. Patty’s Day proper (Mon 17) approaches, we’ve compiled some more, let’s say tasteful, ways to toast the Irish in New York City—all of which extend well beyond this weekend.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to St. Patrick's Day in NYC
During the Potato Famine in the late 1840s, Irish families fled to NYC, flooding the infamous Five Points slum (the setting of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, now a part of Chinatown), among other Manhattan and Brooklyn enclaves—The Encyclopedia of New York City notes that in the mid-1800s, the Irish constituted more than a quarter of the population in both boroughs. Pay your respects to those lost during that tragedy at the Irish Hunger Memorial (southwest corner of North End Ave and River Terr; bpca.ny.gov; free), which features stones representing every county in Hibernia, as well as soil, plants and even a reassembled cottage from across the pond. For a remarkable, sobering glimpse into mid-1800s life, join the Irish Outsiders tour at the Tenement Museum (meet at 103 Orchard St between Broome and Delancey Sts; 212-982-8420, tenement.org; dates and times vary; $25, seniors and students $20). The trek takes you into the restored Lower East Side apartment of the Moores and details the Irish-Catholic family’s common-at-the-time woes such as infant death and “Irish Need Not Apply” hiring practices.
Food, drink and sport
Yes, New York City has no shortage of “Irish” bars (nondescript, often cavernous sports bars with a dash of green paint and a vaguely Celtic name), but real-deal pubs are a little tougher to come by. Up in the Bronx, a borough that saw an influx of Irish immigrants in the early 1900s, duck into An Beal Bocht (445 W 238th St between Greystone and Waldo Aves, Bronx; 718-884-7127, anbealbochtcafe.com), a homey spot outfitted with framed photos, antiques and bric-a-brac from the old country. Inside, load up on a traditional Irish breakfast (sausages, bacon, beans, black and white pudding, eggs, toast, potatoes; $8–$12) and polish your meal off with a properly poured Guinness ($7). If you visit on the weekend, stop by Gaelic Park (northeast corner of Irwin Ave and W 240th St, Bronx; nycgovparks.org), a field just a stone’s throw east of the pub where locals take part in Gaelic football, hurling and other Irish sports.
The Irish immigrant experience in NYC has been documented in songs (the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”), films (In America) and books (Angela’s Ashes). But the biggest cultural import at the moment seems to be Irish theater, including Broadway’s Once (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th St between Broadway and Eighth Ave; 212-239-6200, oncemusical.com; dates vary; $60–$157), based on the smash Dublin-set indie film. You can listen to non-musical-theater tunes at pubs (like the aforementioned An Beal Bocht), which often encourage impromptu acoustic jams. But for a solid bet, hit the bi-weekly Blarney Star Concert Series at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House (1 Washington Mews between Fifth Ave and University Pl; 212-998-3950, irelandhouse.fas.nyu.edu; suggested donation $15, members and students free), which showcases Irish folk performers. A friendly tip: Leave those green beads from Sunday at home.