Weekly Feature

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St. Patrick’s Day in Syracuse: Where Green Takes Precedence

March 17, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
St. Patrick’s Day is beloved by Irish-Americans, but the celebrations go beyond New York City and Boston. In Central New York, Syracuse hosts a festive annual parade and even has a stoplight that pays homage to the city’s Irish heritage. Discover the famed Tipperary Hill and learn how Irish immigrants made their way to Syracuse with the Web sites below.

Green Over Red

In Tipperary Hill, a Syracuse neighborhood commonly referred to as “The Hill,” sits a landmark of sorts. Hanging above “the corner of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue” is the only traffic light in the United States where the green light is above the red light, according to Kcryan.com. Legend says that in the early 1900s, Irish immigrant families who had recently arrived in the city “could not stomach the British red over the Irish green, even if it was only a traffic light,” prompting the unorthodox installation.

Tipperary Hill Memorial Park also features “bronze, life-size figures of a 1930s Irish immigrant family sculpted by Dexter Benedict of Penn Yan.” According to ItsAllHereSyracuse.com, the father figure in the family sculpture “is pointing out the famous traffic light to his wife, daughter and son.” Among the many variations on how the traffic light came into being, some say that Irish immigrants threw stones at the light until city officials “grew tired of replacing bulbs” and gave in to the green over red color scheme.

View photos of Tipperary Hill Memorial Park, including the bronze statue and traffic light, courtesy of Webshots.

Irish Immigrants in New York State

From the 1820s through the 1840s, hoards of Irish and German immigrants flooded New York City, with the later arrivals seeking refuge from the Great Irish Famine and revolution. According to the Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page, which has information from the book “New York--A Guide to the Empire State,” many Irish immigrants found work building canals and laying railroad. They entered New York through Canada, in addition to ports in New York City, and settled throughout upstate New York, including Albany and Syracuse.
For a personal account of an Irish immigrant family’s arrival in Syracuse, read The Irish Path. Learn how when Thomas Kenan was just seven years old, he and his family left “what is now Northern Ireland” for New York. Together with his wife, Kenan went on to establish a “‘butter and egg’ business.”

St. Patrick’s Day in Syracuse

Today in Syracuse, “Irish and German groups of the third, fourth, and fifth generations constitute more than half of the native population,” and although most “old country traditions” have been neglected, St. Patrick’s Day is still an important celebration, according to the Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page.

Syracuse held its 27th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 14, but you can plan for next year’s big event, on March 13, 2010, with help from the parade Web site.

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