What’s in a Name no.7: Tipperary Hill, Syracuse

To the west of the Syracuse’s Downtown the land rises up to a spot called Tipperary Hill (or “Tipp Hill”). It was here on this rise that perhaps the first immigrant community to live in the City settled: the Irish. In the 1820s, after constructing the Erie Canal, many Irish-men and –women settled on a hill overlooking the new canal. The name “Tipperary” comes from County Tipperary in southern Ireland, where many of the immigrants were said to have originated. Perhaps it is fitting as County Tipperary is famous for its Irish nationalism: “The Nation newspaper in the 1840s as a tribute to the nationalistic feeling in Tipperary and said that ‘where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows’”

Perhaps it is amazing, but the Irish character of the area lives on, some 180 years later. People live on Ulster Street, attend St. Patrick’s church or send their children to St. Patrick’s school, drink at Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub or O’Dea’s, race in the “Shamrock Run” and every St. Patrick’s Day, someone paints the yellow line on Tompkin’s Street green.

However, perhaps the most unique tribute to the neighborhood’s history is the stoplight at the corner of Tompkins and Milton. According to Wikipedia:
When the city first started to install traffic signal lights in the 1920s they put one at a major intersection on Tipperary Hill, on the corner of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue. Some Irish youths, incensed that anyone would dare to put the "British" red above the "Irish" green, broke the light. The city replaced it but the Irish broke the replacement. After a few rounds of this the city decided that if they wanted a light at that intersection, they had better put the signal up inverted, and so they did.

And so it stands to this very day: green on top, yellow in the middle and red on the bottom; here is a tribute site to the light (you might want to mute your sound as the background MIDI grates on the ear).

Of late, it appears that there has been a resurgence of Irish pride on the hills to the west of Downtown. Perhaps it begins in 1979 when Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub remade itself from a college bar into a “into a first class restaurant and pub with appeal to people of all ages.” In 1997, the recently formed Tipperary Hill Neighborhood Association (led by the owner of Coleman’s) convinced the City to tear down an old building at the corner of Tompkins and Milton for the purposes of building a park. The Association sold commemorative bricks off to the city’s Irish community and erected a small public square including a statue of a modern Irish-American family. The father points up at the light, telling the story of how the Irish beat City Hall, while the young hides a sling shot in his back pocket—perhaps a promise that the Irish haven’t forgotten. Somehow, they even got Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern to visit in 2005. This year, the Association held the first annual Shamrock Run which had an amazing turnout of 905 runners.

The story of Tipperary Hill, and its traffic light, is an amusing one but I think that it may be indicative of developments occurring throughout Upstate New York’s urban ethnic communities. In several places I have seen the revival of old ethnic identities and the rebirth of ethnic neighborhoods, in name if not in practice. For instance, in Endicott there has recently been a highly successful move to revitalize “Little Italy.” The park has been beautified, Italy-themed businesses have been opened, new banners decorate the lamp-posts and old houses have been renovated. Whether this is accompanied by a large number of Italian-Americans is unknown (of course, Endicott is pretty much made up of Italian-Americans and IBM engineers). In 2003, Syracuse officially designated Little Italy as such and put aside monies for renovation.

In contrast to actual ethnic neighborhoods (filled with people of one ethnicity), this seems to largely an attempt to capitalize on a theme for purposes of bringing in business. However, it is an interesting trend of people identifying with ethnic origins that may be more than 180 years old in some cases. Why do people feel the need for this identity? Why does Irish-American, Polish-American or Italian-American still matter? Do we speak Polish or Gaelic? Do we attend Italian Catholic churches? Why does the attraction still hold and what meaning does it give to people’s lives?

-By Jesse


Anonymous said...

I live in Tipp Hill and there are still tons of irish people who want to keep the neighborhood up, looking well and thriving. dWhen tourists come to the neighborhood they want to see irish things around them. Just like when I go to little italy I dont want to go to a japanese restaurant...identifying with irish or another ethnicity gives people an identity, something to be a part of. Lots of people are lost and don't know much about their people's history or themselves. Identifying with an ethnicity gives them a sense of pride and makes them feel good about themselves...

Anonymous said...

I realize this comment is a little late, about a year, but I just found this site and felt the need to post.

I was raised on Tipp Hill, attended St Patrick's Church and of course St Patrick's School. My Grandparents lived in the same small apartment on Tipp Hill for 55 years. They never felt a desire to move away from the "community" of Irish folk. I was raised a few short blocks from their little apartment, and although I have moved out of NY State several times since reaching adulthood- I always return to Tipp Hill, there is no other neighborhood in all the states I've lived in that can compare to Good Ol' Tipperary Hill. Now I raise my own family here, a few short blocks from where my Parents still live. Today, I attended the Tipp Hill Neighborhood Picnic with my children. Tears sprung to my eyes as my 8 year old daughter sat to have her face painted. She wanted a kitty face, complete with whiskers. "But can you make the nose a shamrock?" she said, with wide eyes. Her tribute to her Irish heritage, her Irish pride showing on the tip of her little nose, her knowledge that she was surrounded by her friends and neighbors- her "family" -from Tipp Hill.
You ask why people feel the need for this identity, what meaning it gives to people's lives... The identity of who we are, where we came from, our history, our belonging. All that leads to the meaning it gives.
Not everyone on Tipp Hill is Irish, but everyone on Tipp Hill knows an Irishman.

Anonymous said...

I have to comment too. the last two comments resonnated with me deeply. As an adoptee who just recently discovered that Tipp Hill is probaby where I came from I can totally understand the comment about people feeling lost and don't know much about history or themselves. I've grown in the dark when it comes to my ethnicity and knowing, as I do now that I'm Irish, well, it's kind of grounding

I was born in Syracuse in 1970 and wish to trace my geneology. Unfortunately my records are sealed by state law and I only have non-identifying information but am looking to reconnect with my lost Irish family, if they are willing and able to allow me to.

So, if June 28 1970 red hair blue eyes mean anything to anyone out there . . . my name is Heather

Anonymous said...

my grandparents lived on Tennyson Ave, for 45 yrs, as they were from County Tipperary themselves. Coming to the U.S. in 1908, they followed the trail of fellow Tipperarians to the area of the infamous Green over Red light.It is still a nice area to live, I myself on Ulster St. for 22 yrs.Have'nt missed a painting of the Shamrock under the traffic light in 17 yrs. , under the Green over Red traffic light on St. Paddy's eve & my 2 kids are continuing on with it. "ERIN GO TIPP HILL"

York Staters said...

These comments have helped to reveal a reality of Irish-ness in Tipp Hill that I was woefully ignorant of when I put this post together. I stand corrected. It's really impressive how an ethnic community has retained a sense of self and such deep attachment to a neighborhood as the Irish have in Tipp Hill for the past 180 years.

Sher said...

okay....I lived on Whittier Ave most of my life. Live in California now....my heart will always be in the Tipp Hill area where I grew up. What a fantastic neighborhood....still keep in touch with old friends who grew up there with me...and still live there now. Go Tipp Hillians(?)Stand up for your hertitage!
Sherry Murphy

Nuala said...

Sister of my grandmother lived in Ulster Street Syracuse many many years ago.

How might i go about finding out if any descendents are still around?

Nuala, Co. Tipperary