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?