Honoring Irish Downtown park pays tribute to immigrants to city

Crowds gathered at the end of Charlotte Street to dedicate the South Carolina Irish Memorial on Monday.

Grace Beahm

Irish immigrants arrived in Charleston in three waves.

Some of the earliest had arrived by the late 18th century, including James Hoban, an architect in Charleston who later designed the White House.

The largest wave came during the second quarter of the 19th century, during Ireland's “Great Hunger.” A third wave came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Michael Collins, Irish ambassador to the United States, helped dedicate a new Charleston park Monday that pays tribute to those from his country who arrived here to build a new life.

A few hundred guests, many of them dressed in green and orange, showed up to watch the ceremony, as the sun poked through the clouds, then hid behind them.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy joked about how the ground was broken for the park a dozen years ago.

“Make no mistake about it, this park was built on an Irish schedule,” he said, drawing laughs. “It was a labor of love, but it was a long labor.”

The project converted a once-scruffy eastern end of Charlotte Street into a public park at the edge of the Cooper River, the northeastern end of a public walkway envisioned along the city's southern peninsula.

Some of Mayor Joe Riley's ancestors arrived in Charleston from Ulster County, and Riley said the city's famous hospitality has Irish roots.

“The gentle cheerful goodness that being a Charlestonian is all about comes from them,” he said. “Charlestonians do that; they look you in the eye, and they really mean it when they say, 'Have a good morning, have a good day.' ”

The linear park was designed based on ideas from students at the Savannah College of Art and Design and refined by landscape architect Sheila Wertimer. It's dominated by a 28-foot by 30-foot, 10-inch-thick granite block carved in the shape of Ireland, as well as symbolic bollards as a nod to the immigrants' ships.

Collins said he was glad to create a new consulate in Atlanta to focus on the southeastern United States, and he urged those in the audience to make the trip across the Atlantic.

“Please reconnect with the land of your ancestors,” he said.

Martin McAleese, chancellor of Dublin City University and husband of Mary McAleese, Ireland's former president, said while the park celebrates those who came to the United States seeking freedom, hope and opportunity, they held onto “the baton of their Irishness.”

“We also must not forget those who were left behind, and they're often forgotten,” he added. “We all live in each other's shadow.”

Earlier versions of this story incorrectly stated the time period of Ireland's "Great Hunger," which occurred in the second quarter of the 19th century.