Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green over red - Ireland forever!

Ah, the traffic light - red over yellow over green.

Not always.

There is one traffic light in all the land where the green supercedes the red. To see it you'd have to go to the center of New York State, to Syracuse. There, in the neighborhood known as Tipperary Hill, a light hangs proudly over the corner of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue - green over the red.
When the Irish fled their homeland in the early part of this century, they came to Syracuse in droves. Hundreds of immigrant families huddled together could not stomach the British red over the Irish green, even if it was only a traffic light. Tired of replacing the light, the city fathers gave in to the "stonethrowers" and installed a light with the green on top - where it still hands today.
At the northeast corner of the intersection is the Tipperary Hill Memorial Park, paved with hundreds of commemorative bricks engraved with names of financial contributors or their loved ones.
The central feature of the park is the Tipperary Hill Heritage Memorial, bronze, life-size sculpted figures of a 1930s immigrant family. The scene includes a mother, father, daughter, and son. The father is shown pointing to the famous traffic light, as his family listens to the history of the hill. The son has a sling shot in his back pocket, hinting that he might know a little bit of the history of the light.

The sculpture, created by Dexter Benedict, integrates perfectly with the neighborhood and the light, giving one the feeling that the figures are as much ghosts as bronze.
My grandparents immigrated to the Hill and stayed their all their lives; my father was raised mere blocks from the famed light. When I was younger my father took us to see the light, and probably pointed to it in much the same way as that statuary does today.
Over the years our family has spread across the United States, but with the large number of relations and friends in Syracuse we all seem to come back quite frequently. On many of those occasions you can find us gathered at Coleman's Authentic Irish Pub, just a block down the street.
And after we've caught up with everyone and listened to some music and had a drink or two, we always take that short walk up the block and look at the light - green over the red.

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