On the corner of Front Street and Chestnut, overlooking the Delaware River, stands the imposing Irish Memorial Sculpture. Set in bronze, this monument was built in honor of the one million Irish men, women and children who died of starvation during the 1845–1850 famine, and the other million people who were forced to emigrate to the United States.
This dramatic work manages to perfectly convey the stream of emotions that this tragedy spurred; from desperation and grief to hope and wonder, the eyes of dozens of people that make up the sculpture manage to portray this entire spectrum of feelings.
The sculpture seamlessly transitions from infertile Irish land to a ship sailing toward the U.S. in a series of heartbreaking representations (for example, a mother ploughing land where there is nothing while her son looks at her with a glimmer of hope in his eyes). Glenna Goodacre, the sculptor, was able to turn cold, stark bronze into the soft, weary eyes of the tired Irishmen she depicts.
Yet all is not lost, for the barren land becomes a strong ship, carrying people over to a new continent, a new life. Eyes that on one side looked so forlorn are now filled with hope — even smiling. On the shore stands a man in a top hat, with a large grin on his face, welcoming the crowd. One of the men on the boat is waving back to him, and his eyes seem to say “Serve me up a Guinness, will ya?” The future seems bright, the air feels lighter and, with the Ben Franklin bridge in the background, the scene is uplifting.
The Irish Memorial is not just a tribute to the lives that were lost to the Great Potato Famine. It does remember the suffering and hardships of the people of Ireland, but above all it is an accolade to the fighting, strong spirit of the Irish people. It makes you realize how important it is to push through the hard times and to be open to new, sometimes frightening opportunities. The sculpture is an inspiring work in a beautiful setting. Make the trip out to Penn’s Landing, pour yourself a whiskey (pour one for the people coming off the boat too, they look like they need it) and make a toast to the persevering, intensely wondrous spirit of the Irish.