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The Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing


An Gorta Mór Commemoration 2019

They’ve come in rain, freezing rain and snow. Yesterday, on a chilly but sunny day, a large crowd of Irish and Irish-Americans joined together at Philadelphia’s iconic Irish Memorial for the annual commemoration of An Gorta Mór—the Great Hunger.

The centerpiece of the Memorial is the immense bronze statue created by sculptor Glenna Goodacre. Standing 12 feet high, 30 feet long and 12 feet wide, it occupies a place of honor on the nearly two-acre park at South Front Street and Chestnut Street in Philadelphia’s Old City. The Memorial dramatizes both the Great Hunger and the vast migration of the Irish to America’s shores during those hard times. It has stood on that spot since its dedication 16 years ago.

It’s expected that the Memorial ceremony will be held in the same place next year, but after that, its next—albeit temporary—location is uncertain. Continue Reading

Arts, Music, News

Indian Dance and Irish Music Tell a Universal Story

"Ragas and Airs" debuts at The Irish Memorial on Saturday.

“Ragas and Airs” debuts at The Irish Memorial on Saturday.

When sculptor Glenna Goodacre created The Irish Memorial in Philadelphia, she intended to tell a specific immigrant story in bronze the color of anthracite, that of the Irish, fleeing starvation, and risking their lives to start over in a new land.

It was not Shaily Dadiala’s story. She arrived from India in 2000 to get her master’s degree in pharmacy. But when she saw the sculpture at Front and Chestnut a few years ago, it “gave me goosebumps when I saw what it was,” she says. “You see all the people descending from the ships, all leaving home and missing it for the rest of their lives. I understood that.”

And it sparked an idea. She’d long ago abandoned her study of pharmacy to follow her first love—dancing. Trained from the age of 4 in Bharatanatym, a classical dance developed as a devotional in the Hindu temples of Southern India, she founded Usiloquoy Dance Designs, a dance company that combines the percussive footwork and hand and facial gestures of what’s known as Indian ballet with cross-cultural music.

That is why, on Saturday, at the Irish Memorial, you will see this uniquely Indian dance performed to “Saucy Sailor,” by local Celtic performers, Burning Bridget Cleary. It is part of an unfinished dance called “Ragas and Airs,” which Dadiala is choreographing, in part with the help of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

As she did with the Irish Memorial, Dadiala found common ground with Celtic rhythms. “Five or six years ago I heard this most melodious music, so complex and so similar to Indian classical music and I didn’t know what it was,” she says. “When I looked into it—it was Irish music–I realized that the folklore and stories that went with Irish music had an intersection with my own culture. I live in Fishtown and I had an epiphany. Here I was living in a place that was very Irish but very like me, so different, but so much the same in our constant nostalgia for our homelands and our desire to hold on to our tradition and our stories. The Irish here are holding on to something from two centuries ago.”

For Indians, like Dadiala, the nostalgia goes back a little further. As a dance form, Bharatanatyam is about 4,000 to 6,000 years old. But it can easily tell the universal stories Diadala wants to share through dance.

“We chose the song, Saucy Sailor, which is about the element of teasing back and forth between a girl who flirts with him and then is put off by him, and he backs off, telling her that ‘many girls I can have.’ So she feels abandoned and she wants him back. This is an old story,” Dadiala says, laughing. “It appeals to a large section of humanity because it occurs over all oceans. So many of our songs are based on Krishna, the blue-eye god, and his many admirers—it was never clear who he really liked.”

Dadiala also uncovered the work of a 17th century poet from Tamil Nadu in Southern India who wrote lyrics in Sanskrit, an Indian language, to music he heard while living under the rule of the British East India Company—music that ranged from waltzes, polkas, to Celtic jigs and reels. In fact, it spawned a new genre of music called Nottuswara Sahitya reflecting the cultural interaction between the east and west in the 17th century.

“The choreography pays tribute to the historically rich textile industry run largely by Irish settlers in the Kensington section of Philadelphia while acknowledging the divine feminine represented in the lyrics,” says Dadiala.

Usiloquoy is also performing to the music of Irish jazz musician Ronan Guilfoyle, a piece called Khanda-5 Cities, which he wrote and was performed in collaboration with the South India-based Kamataka College of Percussion and traditional Irish musicians. There will also be another dance based on Guilfoyle’s piece inspired by the parallels between Sadhbh and Fionn mac Cumhail (Saba and Finn McCool) and Rama and Seeta from the Hindu scripture Ramayana (among other things, a deer plays a role in both stories).

Dadiala said the moment she saw The Irish Memorial, she knew that where she wanted to mount her production. “I prayed, please, please, please can we dance here!” she laughs. She said much the same thing to the Irish Memorial committee which quickly said yes.

Dadiala plans two performances 30 minutes in length, one at 4 PM and the other at 7 PM at the memorial, which overlooks Penn’s Landing. There will be time for a Q & A and a demonstration of the Indian dance style—with audience participation welcome. “You don’t have to feel committed—you can just peek for a few minutes,” she says.

But what she hopes you’ll take with you is that no matter where you’re from, our fundamental stories of love, fear, courage, and life, are the same. “We are taking some artistic licence, but we’re telling the same story basically of all of us,” she says. “That’s our mission: Let’s build consensus and unite the world!”

A surprise for Kathy McGee Burns

A Look Back at the Irish Memorial 10th Anniversary

Time for reflection

Time for reflection

Some of us were there more than 10 years ago, when the drapes rose over sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s breathtaking 30-foot-long bronze commemorating the 150th anniversary of Ireland’s Great Hunger. It was in a cavernous dockside warehouse in Chester—and it was a dramatic reveal.

More than a few people in the building knew exactly what they were going to see—they’d been deeply involved in the long and difficult effort to turn a grand vision into a reality. For the rest of us, it was quite a revelation—and a tribute not only to those who suffered so terribly and died from Britains’ systematic, state-sponsored starvation in the 1840s, but to all of those stubborn, determined people who were responsible for honoring their memory.

It’s hard to believe to believe the monument first took up residence at Front and Chestnut a decade ago. It still stands as one of the Philadelphia Irish community’s proudest tributes. And this past Saturday, it was time to re-dedicate the memorial—and afterward to celebrate with a gala at the Hyatt Regency just across I-95.

We have more than 40 photos of the re-dedication and the gala. Check them out here.


How Did You Spend St. Patrick’s Day?

This McDade dancer didn’t let the cold weather steal her smile.

This McDade dancer didn’t let the cold weather steal her smile.

We hope you had a great St. Patrick’s Day, because we did. We started the day as we usually do, at The Plough and the Stars in Philadelphia for Judge Jimmy Lynn’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast. It’s a charity event, but it’s also a place for local pols to meet and greet. For all we know, deals were being made over the full Irish breakfast, but were too busy listening to the music, the party pieces, and watching the dancers who managed to so some amazing leaps on a very crowded dance floor.

Even more amazing were the dancers who performed outside at The Irish Memorial at Penns Landing, which is marking its 10th anniversary. Mayor Michael Nutter and State Senator Mike Stack spoke at the event, after which they joined members of the Memorial’s board in planting shamrocks at the site. It was very, very cold, yet the young dancers kept their smiles up.

For dancing, nothing beats The Irish Center on St. Patrick’s Day, where both the young and old took to the dance floor after a hearty lunch of ham and cabbage and shepherd’s pie.

Some of us went a little quiet in the afternoon–heading to Lansdale’s Water Gallery where there was an Irish/Old Time Music session going on all afternoon. Water Gallery co-owner Bette Conway is a fiddler herself, and brings not only Irish music but Irish artisans to her shop. And no, we didn’t get out of there without buying something.

We took photos of our festivities.

See St. Patrick’s Day at The Plough and The Irish Memorial.

View photos from The Irish Center.

Check out our afternoon at the Water Gallery in Lansdale.


St. Patrick’s Day Tribute

Yes, he's Irish ... why do you ask?

Yes, he's Irish ... why do you ask?

Every year, the Irish of Philadelphia gather at the Irish Memorial down at Front and Chestnut to rededicate themselves to the memory of the victims of An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) and to those who left Ireland for more welcoming shores.

Among those joining the ceremony, Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty was front and center, delivering brief remarks before joining other dignitaries in laying a wreath at the foot of the memorial. McDade Dancers and the Philadelphia Emerald Society Pipe Band provided entertainment, along with a troupe of musicians from St. Malachy’s School in Belfast.

Here are our best shots.


Five Questions for Pauline Hurley-Kurtz

Irish Gothic-Pauline and Peter at the Irish Memorial.

Irish Gothic-Pauline and Peter at the Irish Memorial.

It was a bright afternoon in late October down at The Irish Memorial at Front and Chestnut. Visitors ambled through the park, stopping to take in the massive bronze monument created in memory of those who perished in The Great Hunger.

Wandering in their midst was a crew of volunteers led by landscape architect and native of Ireland Pauline Hurley-Kurtz and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society colleague Julie Snell. Now and again, one of the workers would grab a shovel or a rake from the collection of gardening implements propped against the eight-year-old structure and head off to a bare patch of ground, there to dig holes for the ornamental plantings that surround the monument .. Mexican hair grass, fountain grass, prairie dropseed.

This was one of the two big cleanup days that take place at the monument, preparing the site for winter.

The diminutive, unassuming Hurley-Kurtz has been associated with the outsized, attention-getting Memorial since 1993—ten years before the monument formally opened to the public on the nearly two-acre plot at Penn’s Landing. Of course, the monument sculpted by Glenna Goodacre is the proud centerpiece, but the distinctive plantings, stone walls and standing stones are evocative of the stark landscape of Ireland. The grass and stone are every bit as steeped in meaning as the bronze.

We were curious to know more about these aspects of the site that visitors might overlook—the plantings, walkways and other elements that together work with the monument to create a unified whole.

Pauline Hurley-Kurtz was born in County Monaghan and grew up in Dundalk, County Louth, the daughter of John and Josephine Hurley. With a degree in horticulture from University College, Dublin, she came to Philadelphia to go to graduate school in landscape architecture in Penn. She is now a tenured faculty in the landscape architecture and horticulture at Temple, and is married to Peter Kurtz, whom she met—appropriately enough—at Bartram’s Garden.

In 1993, the Memorial committee invited her to develop a concept landscape design. Here’s what Hurley-Kurtz had to say about herself, her work, and her role as design landscape architect for the Irish Memorial.

Q. A lot of memorials—maybe most memorials I’ve seen in the city—are just surrounded by an expanse of lawn. The Irish Memorial is very different. I’m curious to know a bit about the background. Someone somewhere must have been thinking early on about the landscape and how it would play off the memorial.

A. My ideas for the memorial landscape grew from a wish to express the Irish landscape and culture in the memorial space. I included stone walls and standing stones. The standing stones include the Irish, English and Ogham languages. I included patterns from Newgrange on the information panels. A stone from Croagh Patrick was included in the St. Patrick’s planter. The planting design included hedgerows reminiscent of the the Irish landscape to the east and a woods edge planting reflecting the Pennsylvania Piedmont to the west.

Q. When we talk about landscape, we’re not just talking about the plants, are we? How much did you have to do with the overall layout of the park surrounding the memorial … paths and so on? And how did you come to think about how all of it would hang together, to draw visitors to the memorial and add to the experience?

A. The most important goal was to create a space for the memorial sculpture—a simple uncluttered space with darker stone for the plinth and ground plane. After that I had to consider views and access—hence the two main diagonal entry paths each with its own theme of Hunger and Arrival. Then the grading, manipulation of slopes and addition of a couple of steps into the adjacent turf areas. Also, we kept much of the area adjacent to Chestnut Street on the bridge open to afford views into the sculpture from cars, buses and for pedestrians. It also provided clear views towards the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from within the Memorial space. Of course, views into and from an urban park are always important.

Q. Did anything about the memorial itself dictate to you what the surrounding landscape would look like? And did you have to think about how it all would fit into the riverfront/old city area? Were there any restrictions on what you could do?

A. The memorial sculpture by Glenna Goodacre has three major themes—the Great Hunger in Ireland; mass emigration; arrival and hope in Philadelphia. We oriented the sculpture so the Irish theme would be a focal point for the path from Penn’s Landing and the Philadelphia theme would be seen first from the Front Street path. That also coincided with optimal passive solar orientation to minimize shadows from the north. There were physical restrictions as to the weight of the sculpture—it need to be placed adjacent to one of the main bridge support beams. There were very few design restrictions. We wanted to use the best quality materials—natural stone—and to create a simple space in the round for the sculpture and to create an opportunity for reflection.

Q. Tell me how you continue to be involved in the memorial.

A. Since the Irish Memorial dedication in 2003 I have worked with the Irish Memorial, Inc., and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) on landscape maintenance. This has included developing a maintenance plan for PHS, adding plants and transplanting in the meadows, coordinating with a mason for wall repair, giving input on additional lighting and lighting maintenance. The Irish Memorial, Inc., have undertaken the maintenance of the sculpture (annual waxing) and hardscape elements of the memorial. The Interstate Land Management Corporation (ILMC) retain PHS to manage the memorial, the park as a whole and many other sites in the area.

Q. You’ve done a good deal of highly praised work. When you think of the Irish Memorial, does that particular project mean something to you that the other projects don’t?

A. I enjoy the process of designing a landscape and having it become a reality. Obviously, the Irish Memorial has special meaning for me. I am very lucky to have worked on a project like this one which had so much support from the Irish community in the Philadelphia area. Also, that I was really given a carte blanche in terms of design by the Irish Memorial, Inc., which I am grateful for. They were willing to raise the funds to have the park and sculpture together become a unified memorial garden. It was a memorable unique experience and a great team of people involved in it.


From the FOP to the Irish Memorial

Bob Hurst

Bob Hurst

You might think being president of the Irish Memorial, Inc., is a tough job. After all, you’re heading a board that oversees the largest, most visible presence of the Irish in the city other than the crowd that comes downtown for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Irish Memorial is a 24-foot long bronze sculpture depicting the spirit of immigrants taking on the challenges of the new world, set in a 1.75-acre park at Penn’s Landing.

But former Philadelphia Police Sergeant Bob Hurst Sr. spent his childhood in an orphanage, was hospitalized 50 times in the line of duty, mugged 278 times, stabbed eight times (once in the neck, leaving him paralyzed for more than five hours), once walked the streets of the city dressed as a nun and—in what might have been the most harrowing adventure of his life—served as the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police for four terms. In that last role, he had to deal on a daily basis with politicians. When he served in the police stakeout unit, he says, at least he “knew who the enemy was. With politicians, the bugger’s behind you.”

So, president of the Irish Memorial? Piece of cake.

Of course, that’s not really how the 70-year-old Hurst sees it. Despite his 16 years on the street, Hurst is far from cocky. If anything, he’s got the market cornered on humility. Hurst, says his friend Bob Gessler, who has been on the Memorial board since its inception, feels such a “personal connection to the Memorial” that he goes down a few times a month just to pick up the trash. “This St. Patrick’s Day, I saw Bob with a bag in his hand going through the site, picking up trash, cigarette butts and cans,” Gessler says. “I was impressed that he wanted to make the site look better for this very public event. I told Bob so and he indicated that he did this monthly. He would come down early Saturday mornings and take an hour or so just to clean the site. This is the sort of dedication that he brings to the board.”

But Gessler left something out. “I might also chase a few bums off,” concedes Hurst. Though he’s been retired from the Philadelphia police department since 1987, Hurst is still in touch with his inner cop. That’s understandable. For a decade, Hurst was a member of the force’s so-called “Granny squad,” whose members dressed up as the mugging target group du jour, whether it was insurance salesmen or grandmothers or even nuns. “I did pose as a nun but we got out of that business real fast because we got letter from Cardinal,” recalls Hurst, barely stifling his rich, infectious laugh. “He took umbrage with the idea of using a shotgun from underneath the habit to blow people through windows. We were not the little sisters of mercy.” That last quip was almost smothered by laughter—his and mine.

Hurst has that essential quality—a great sense of humor—that allowed him to survive not only life on the street, but his early tragedies and the tough world of city politics. His mother, a native of Swinford, County Mayo, who had nine children, died at the age of 37 of breast cancer. Hurst’s father, a PTC motorman who was born in County Sligo, wasn’t able to care for his entire brood. He kept five and the other four, including Hurst, were sent to the now closed St. John’s Orphanage at 49th and Wyalusing Avenue, which was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. His father and siblings visited every Sunday. Later, he attended St. Francis Vocational School in Eddington where he spent half the day on academics and half in woodworking shop, making church pews.

But don’t expect Hurst to moan about his tough childhood. He has only good memories of his time at both institutions. “The nuns—those women did a tremendous job under the circumstances,” he says. “They really raised us. At St. Francis we were taught by Christian Brothers and I take my hat off to them. It was a good experience. For guy who had to leave home and go to an orphanage, it could have been a lot worse.”

After graduation, Hurst went into the service, returning to start a career in insurance. He had never considered joining the police force. Didn’t even know a cop until, one night, when he ran afoul of the law. While having dinner with an old school friend who had become a doctor, the two got into an altercation with another man who, as Hurst recalls, was smart-mouthing them to impress a girl.

“Well, one thing led to another,” recalls Hurst. “I got up, slipped, fell flat on my back, but he was coming at me so I put my feet on his belly and right over he went, right through the plate window, $638 worth. I thought, well this is a fine how do you do. So I take off one way, doc takes off the other way. I must have run for two blocks, and came out to Germantown Avenue near the library, and when I did, who’s standing in front of me but a cop, Tony Kane. I looked at him and asked, ‘My only question is how did you know I was coming out here?’ He said, ‘Just a hunch.’”

Kane and his partner, Michael Chitwood (now police chief of Upper Darby), decided not to arrest the two men, but made them split the cost of the window they’d broken. About a month later, Hurst ran into the two in their unmarked car and started chatting. “They asked if I’d ever thought about becoming a cop and I said no,” Hurst says. “But I started to think about it and where it could take me.” So he enrolled in the police academy. (He credits his decision to Kane, who is now dead, and Chitwood, both of whom he still speaks of with admiration. “They could find a criminal in heaven,” he says.)

His first beat was in Roxborough, where he made the acquaintance of a young bank teller named Kathy Durning. “I always had my eyeball on her, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her,” he says. “You know that old saying about the Irish wedding proposal: ‘How would you like to be buried with my people?’ Well, I just didn’t have the brass to ask her out.”

One Friday night, when she was working late, she asked him to stick another dime in the meter where she’d parked her car so she wouldn’t get a ticket. “I took the dime from her and walked out to her car thinking, ‘Why the hell did I take that dime?’ and when I got to the meter, there I’d written the darn ticket already. I’d seen her car thousands of times but I didn’t recognize it. So I took the ticket and put it in my pocket and went home and wrote a $3 check and sent it in.”

So, was that how they started dating? No. “I didn’t tell her about it till we were married,” says Hurst, the infectious laugh starting to bubble up. They didn’t actually become a couple until the evening he ran into her in a bar where she was sitting with friends, there to comfort her on the breakup of her engagement. “I asked if I could sit with them, we had a very nice time, and from then on, that was it,” Hurst says.

This year. Bob and Kathy Hurst, parents of four grown children and grandparents of 12, will be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary on a 16-day tour of Europe, though not to Ireland. “We’ve been there many times,” says Hurst, who has headed so many local Irish organizations—the Mayo Association, the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, the Danny Brown Division of the AOH—as well as serving on the boards of the Irish Center and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, that the top job at the Irish Memorial might be the only gavel-banging job he hasn’t had.

You have to ask others why Bob Hurst has been tapped so often to chair boards. “Bob always has his feet planted firmly on the ground, he’s always positive and optimistic,” says Kathy McGee Burns, who succeeded Hurst as president of the Delaware Valley Hall of Fame and now serves with him on the Irish Memorial board. “Whenever I have a problem, it’s Bob I go to for guidance, and he always gives it.”

If you ask Bob Hurst, the answer is much different. “A lot of people don’t know how to run a meeting with parliamentary rules,” he says by way of explanation. “When I was president of the FOP, we had a parliamentarian come in and give us some schooling on it. When you have 300 people a week at a union meeting, I found that a good chair has one blind eye and one deaf ear. I think people just think, he can run a strict, decent meeting, let’s put him in there. People think I know a lot, but I don’t know any more than the man in the moon. I just know how to run a meeting.”

But his love for the Irish community is palpable as is his deep humility, and it’s likely that that’s what people see when they’re casting around for someone to run their meetings. Roberts Rules of Order may help motions get passed smoothly, but respect for someone who isn’t above picking up trash—without wanting thanks or a pat on the back—is what makes Hurst a sought-after leader.

He’s a doer who admires other doers. When he returned from the service, Hurst started going to the newly built Irish Center where he met so many people he felt a special kinship with. Later, he became part of the core group dedicated to rebuilding it when it fell into disrepair. “Guys like Vince Gallagher, Barney Boyce, Mike Burns, Sean McMenamin, Tom Farley—these aren’t just guys you belly up to the bar with. They are people who want to do something, and I like that,” says Hurst.

“There’s an old saying that I’ve always subscribed to,” he says. “‘You can do whatever you want if you don’t care who gets the credit,’ and that’s the kind of people they are. I love being around the Irish. I love being at the Irish Center. You feel like you come as a stranger and you leave as a friend.”

A lot like you feel when you’ve spent a little time with Bob Hurst.


A Special Sunday Mass at the Irish Memorial

There have been many ceremonies at the Memorial, but this will be the first Mass.

There have been many ceremonies at the Memorial, but this will be the first Mass.

Ireland is dotted with them. They’re called Carraig an Aifrinn, or Mass rocks. They’re stones that marked the spot in the mid-17th century where Catholic priests risked their lives to serve Mass for the faithful during the time of Cromwell. Under the Penal Law of 1695, Catholics were not permitted to hold vote or hold public office. The Catholic clergy was expelled from the country, and those who were found (often by people called “priest hunters”) could be executed. Catholics were not permitted to worship–at least, in the open.

While the Irish Memorial at Penns Landing is no Carraig an Aifrinn, on Sunday, June 22, you’ll be forgiven if the resemblance between the coal-black Glenna Goodacre sculpture of Irish immigrants and those holy stones occurs to you. At 10 AM, a special Mass will be said by Father John Kelly of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Northeast Philadelphia prior to the Penns Landing Irish Festival, which starts at noon. (Father Kelly is the uncle of young local singer Timmy Kelly, who will be performing at the Penns Landing festival.)

Local Irish traditional musicians Dennis Gormley, Mary Malone, and Jeff Meade will play and Karen Boyce McCollum and Phil Bowdren will sing at the service.

“This is the first Mass at the Irish Memorial and will hopefully provide a bridge between the unwavering faith of our Irish ancestors who risked life and limb to celebrate the Eucharist at the ‘Mass Rock’ and today’s Delaware Valley Irish Community,” said Robert Gessler, a member of the board of directors of the Irish Memorial, Inc.

Gessler says the group is considering another mass—this one of remembrance—in the fall.

The Irish Memorial is located at Front and Chestnut Streets.