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No Irish Need Apply

March 30, 2016

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Shocking words, aren’t they? More about this later – but right now, let’s talk about a terrific tour we took, on a wintery March afternoon, to the Tenement Museum, located on New York’s Lower East Side.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Visitor and Education Center, 183 Orchard at Delancey Street

Courtesy of the Tenement Museum

Photo: B. Merlis

Having taken tours in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii, I wondered how this one would be for us. We were assured that the tours are great, but I still had several concerns, primarily: would we be bored?

No way! To begin, we had a lovely young lady as our guide who obviously had a passion for her work at the museum. Or, as she explained, “This is my day job, I’m a dancer -- modern.”

We decided to take the Irish Outsiders tour that traced the family of Joseph and Bridget Moore and their eight children who had lived on the fourth floor in three small rooms. Our guide explained that there are four apartments per floor (privacy was nonexistent) and the monthly rent was $12. 

The Levine Apartment 1897

Courtesy of the Tenement Museum

Photo: By Battman

The building itself was originally constructed in 1863 and housed Irish, Jewish and Italian residents. Then from 1935 until 1988 it sat vacant until it was turned into the museum it is today.

The tour began in the rear of the building where the “recreated” outhouses are located and where one can see wash drying on a clothesline. If you’re planning to visit: wear comfortable shoes and, if you’ve just had knee surgery like one of our group, make sure you’re up to a long climb. The lady had to move slowly, but she made it.

The Irish potato famine had its most devastating year in 1847 and resulted in 1.5 million people fleeing Ireland for America. This included Bridget who arrived here when she was 17 years old and where she worked as a domestic.

As an immigrant, Bridget and her husband, a waiter in an Irish bar, were subject to incredible discrimination and the No Irish Need Apply thinking that was prevalent in America in that period. It eventually became outlawed in 1920.

The apartments themselves tell an interesting story. For example, there were no bathrooms, but a fairly large fireplace that was never used is in the living room. Stoves had to be purchased by the tenants for heating and cooking.

Wallpaper was very popular during this period. Each family would put up wallpaper that was supposed to be removed when they left. But, according to our tour guide, “No one took anything off the walls. We discovered that, in this apartment, there were 20 layers of paper!” She added, “The tenants even wallpapered the ceiling.”

To celebrate their heritage, the Irish turned out in full force for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In 1869 there were 100,000 onlookers for this celebratory event.

Of Joseph and Bridget‘s eight children, only four survived to adulthood. Today, the Tenement Museum is still in contact with the descendants of the Moore family. I think that’s quite remarkable.

We finished our outing at a restaurant next door to the museum called Grey Lady and had a dessert named Dutch Baby. It was so good it blew our minds.

MAY WE SUGGEST…

We don’t have any Kelly green in our stock. However, we’re sure you’ll find something fun to wear. Why not take a look at our colorful selection of layering tops? (We do have red rose. Do you know that red is the Irish color for luck?)

- Shaun Nelson-Henrick



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