This is a look at St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish community of Tipperary Hill, located on the west side of Syracuse, New York. The area has the world famous working traffic signal with green on top and red on the bottom.
If you come from an Irish bloodline and you live in the Syracuse, New York area, then brace yourself and hold onto your shamrocks St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner. So raise your mugs of green beer, get your ears ready for some great music and prepare to dance the Irish Jig. For you see, it is the annual time of celebration, even if you just want to be Irish for a day. The fun is grandiose in the Tipperary Hill area of Syracuse and it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Many Irishmen migrated to New York State from their native land. They were instrumental in helping build the Erie Canal. In the 1820s several would form the first immigrant community in Syracuse, as they settled on a hill to the west of the city, overlooking the same canal they built. This community has been and continues to be referred to as Tipperary Hill, having derived the name from County Tipperary, located at the southern end of Ireland where the majority hailed from.
Traffic signals were manufactured in Syracuse by Crouse-Hinds and the city installed one of these electrical marvels on the corner of Tomkins Street and Milton Avenue in the “Tipp” Hill area. This was the hub of local business, at the time. It was then that the Irish youth became so enraged at witnessing the “British” color of red glaring on top of the “Irish” color of green. Hence, a group of boys aged 11 to 17 years old formed what has become known as the “Stone Throwers.” These boys made a relentless assault on the traffic light. Their pebbles and stones would be gathered (they referred to them as Irish confetti) and the endless war on the light began. Repeatedly they would knock out the red light and the city would dutifully repair it back to the original state. At one point the light did reflect the desires of the Irish and green was put on top with red on the bottom. New York State, on the other hand, said this was in violation of regulations and ordered the colors reversed. The residents informed the state this act was “against nature and would never stand the test of time.”
Again the traffic signal was operating within stated code and non-stop the red light was smashed by what area news reporters called “the work of the Little People.” As quickly as the red light would be replaced, it would just as quickly be shattered. The city was facing a losing battle. The straw that broke the camel’s back happened on St. Patrick’s Day 1928. A group of businessmen from Tipperary Hill had formed the Tipperary Hill Protective Association and they had a meeting on this same day with a Syracuse official during which they stated, “Directing traffic is one thing, but an insult is another, and a thing like that on a day like this is an insult.” It was further claimed, “If you don’t do something about it at once, you won’t have a light there tonight.” In conclusion, it was stated, “That light isn’t going to stand there all day flashing its red and orange all over Tipperary Hill. Not while there are any stones on the hill.” The argument worked and the light proudly displays green on top and red on the bottom and it is rumored to be the only working traffic signal of its kind in the world.
(Tipperary Hill Heritage Memorial and Stone Throwers Monument)
The St. Patrick’s Day celebration actually begins on the last Sunday of February when the green beer is gleefully delivered to Coleman’s Irish Pub, founded on Tipperary Hill in 1933 and owned by Peter Coleman. This establishment of fine food, drink, entertainment and friends is a landmark of epic proportion and in particular on St. Patrick’s Day when people start lining up at 6:00 A.M. “Wearing of the Green” is not only a saying but quite literally, a way of life on the “Hill.”
The largest per-capita St. Patrick’s Day Parade happens in Syracuse. With Irish pubs a plenty, the parade usually boasts around 5,000 to 6,000 participants and a viewing audience of 100,000. This year’s theme is “The Blessings of Irish Wit and Wisdom.” I remember one year while working in a sales position, the office telephone rang, “Hey Dennis, what are you doing?” the owner on the other end of the line inquired. It was 9:30 A.M. and afraid he was wondering why I wasn’t on the street selling, I quickly replied, “I’m just getting ready to hit the road Herb.” “You’ll hit the road alright. Don’t you people know it’s St. Patrick’s Day?” Herb asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Well, go into the office and tell everyone they have a half of an hour to get down to Matty’s bar or they are all fired!” the owner yelled back to me. Well, we started off with Irish coffee and quickly moved onto other libations and no one went back to work that day.
IRISH SAYING: BETTER THE COLDNESS OF A FRIEND THAN THE SWEETNESS OF AN ENEMY.
IRISH PROVERB: A FRIEND’S EYE IS A GOOD MIRROR.
IRISH SAYING: FORE SAKE NOT A FRIEND OF MANY YEARS FOR THE ACQUAINTANCE OF THE DAY.
IRISH BLESSING: MAY YOUR RIGHT HAND BE STRETCHED OUT IN FRIENDSHIP AND NEVER IN WANT.
Everyone….well, almost everyone….is Irish in Syracuse on St. Patrick’s Day. In reality, it is just a way of thinking. My personal thought is….work hard, play harder and relish in the friendships you make along life’s journey. However, more importantly, always try to help those less fortunate and extend kindness to those you encounter, without hurting the ones who love you and you, in turn, love back. Corned beef and cabbage are calling me and I can’t wait! May the luck of the Irish be with you and yours.
WRITTEN BY: DENNIS L. PAGE
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