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Irish Hunger Memorial
Photograph: Shutterstock

10 hidden spots in NYC Irish history

Between drinking beer at an Irish pub and catching the St. Patrick's Day parade, check out these lesser-known spots that have a ton of Irish history.

Shaye Weaver
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Shaye Weaver
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As St. Patrick's Day in New York City approaches, all things Irish are taking the spotlight. Aside from celebrating at St. Paddy's Day events across the city and drinking at the best Irish pubs, there are ways to honor and learn more about Irish history in NYC. You can take a walking tour and learn about Irish gangs in Hell's Kitchen or head to the Irish Arts Center to take in some folk storytelling. But you could also visit some of these 10 lesser-known spots from Irish history in NYC!

RECOMMENDED: Our Guide to St. Patrick's Day in NYC

Hidden and historical Irish spots in NYC

Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral
Photograph: Courtesy Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

1. Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral

Built between 1809 and 1815, Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral was the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York until the current Saint Patrick's Cathedral opened in 1879. When it was built, it was the center of a once impoverished Irish community. In fact, the cathedral became the site of tension between nativist agitators and Irish Catholics and in 1836 a mob tried to ransack the cathedral, but defenders shot their muskets through holes they made in the walls and posted sentries outside to keep nativists from damaging the cathedral, according to NYCago.org. To this day, it still holds its original 1868 pipe organ that was originally operated without any electricity. In 2004, the Organ Historical Society designated it as an instrument of "exceptional historical merit, worthy of preservation," which is the organ equivalent of national landmark status. It's still in use today. The church was declared a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI on Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, 2010.

  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Battery Park City

At the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in Battery Park City, there's a lesser-known memorial created to honor the hundreds of thousands of Irish people during the potato famine (1845-1852). Artist Brian Tolle, landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird and architecture firm 1100 Architect created the memorial with stones, soil, and native vegetation transported from the western coast of Ireland, with stones from every Irish county. There's also an authentic 19th-century cottage from Carradoogan in the parish of Attymass, County Mayo, which belonged to and was donated by the Slack family. There's also a neat passageway connecting the west side to the ruined stone cottage and the roof (seen above).

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Father Duffy Square
Photograph: Courtesy Times Square

3. Father Duffy Square

The most famous rector of The Church of the Holy Cross (329 W. 42nd Street), founded in 1852 to serve the Irish Catholic community, was Father Francis Patrick Duffy. You might recognize his name from the Times Square Plaza that bears his name and his bronze statue. After serving as a chaplain for the 69th Regiment (a unit made up mostly of first and second-generation Irish immigrants) during WWI, Father Duffy served the church and was known for befriending Broadway stars and panhandlers alike, according to Hidden Tours founder Russell Wolin. He often used the proximity of the church to the theater district to draw attention to the plight of the desperately impoverished Irish community that populated Hell’s Kitchen at the time and would sometimes persuade stars of the stage to tour the neighborhood with members of the press in tow. Much beloved, his statue was unveiled in Times Square in 1937.

Five Points
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

4. Five Points

The Five Points neighborhood of NYC, now roughly bounded by Canal, Duane, Lafayette Streets and the Bowery, was considered a slum in the mid-19th century but it was also a primarily Irish neighborhood. Because thousands of Irish people fled their homeland during the Great Potato Famine, many of them landed in this neighborhood. The area became known for its filth, vice, disease and gangs. In fact, the neighborhood and its gangs were the inspiration for Martin Scorcese's Gangs of New York film. There were tensions between the nativists and the Irish but also between the African Americans and the Irish here. Interestingly, their cohabitation in Five Points was the first large-scale instance of volitional racial integration in American history. You can visit the area where all of this was downtown near Collect Pond Park named after Collect Pond, which existed before it was filled and became part of Five Points.

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Old Tammany Hall
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

5. Old Tammany Hall

At 44 Union Square sits Tammany Hall, the last headquarters for the political machine, that was built in 1927. The political machine, which played a major role in controlling New York City politics and helping immigrants, most notably the Irish, gain ground in the political scene, was at its height of popularity with people like U.S. senator Robert F. Wagner, Governor Al Smith, and Mayor Jimmy Walker. During the 1930s, Tammany Hall lost influence and so it sold the building to an affiliate of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1943. In the 1980s, it was used by the Union Square Theatre and in 1993, the New York Film Academy took over the space. This building is the organization's oldest surviving headquarters.

 

The Tenement Museum
  • Museums
  • History
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

This fascinating museum—actually a series of restored tenement apartments at 97 Orchard Street—has an Irish-themed tour (among others) called "At Home in 1869." The tour introduced you to Joseph and Bridget Moore, Irish immigrants raising their three children in 97 Orchard Street in 1869. In their recreated apartment, you can learn about their experiences in a mostly German neighborhood, and explore how they maintained their Irish identity in the face of discrimination.

 

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Hellcat Annie's
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Hellcat Annie's

Hellcat Annie’s at 637 10th Avenue is the old location of the White House Bar, Irish gangster Mickey Spillane's actual former headquarters. It also takes the name of two infamous Irish female gang members: Hellcat Maggie of the Dead Rabbits and Battle Annie of the Lady Gophers. Hellcat Maggie was known for her custom-made brass fingernails she'd use to shred and gouge the faces of rival gang members, while Battle Annie was infamous for her accuracy with a thrown brick and for having as many as 500 women under her command. At the White House Bar, Spillane would do his business dealings here and take clients into a back room.

McSorley’s Old Ale House
  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • East Village
  • price 1 of 4

Established in 1854, McSorley’s became an institution by remaining steadfastly authentic and providing only two choices to its customers: McSorley’s Dark Ale and McSorley’s Light Ale. In traditional Irish-pub fashion, the pub floor has been thoroughly scattered with sawdust to take care of the spills and other messes that often accompany large quantities of cheap beer. 

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  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Upper East Side

Located directly across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this is your go-to resource for all things Irish in America, including cultural exhibitions, lectures, art and musical performances. It was founded in 1897 to "inform the world of the achievements of the Irish in America, is today a national center of scholarship and culture," according to its website

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