Tipperary Hill Guide 2017

Take a look into the neighborhood many Syracuse citizens of Irish descent call home

Courtesy of Saint Patrick's Parade Committee

The upside-down traffic light is probably the most famous of Tipperary Hill's quirks, representing the Irish fight for independence.

When Jim Cahill, better known by his nickname since kindergarten, Curly, was growing up in Tipperary Hill, he used to walk to school at St. Patrick Catholic School.

“There was about a mile’s worth of trouble to get into before we got to school,” he said.

As an 11-year-old product of a proud conservative family tradition – both his father and grandfather were on the Republican committee — he spotted a John F. Kennedy bumper sticker on someone’s car, and ripped it off in a gesture of solidarity with his conservative family.

Turns out that car belonged to an elderly Tipp Hill resident named Mae Griffin. She was from “the old country,” and she chased Curly down. All he could think was,I am so screwed.”

“She chewed me out like I shot the Pope,” he said. “Apparently it was a class A felony that I ripped her bumper sticker off.”

She caught up with him and she chewed him out, but that was the end of it. She never told his Irish Catholic parents that he defamed America’s first Irish Catholic president. But that was the beauty of growing up in Tipp Hill.

“That was the end of it,” he said. “Everybody looked out for everybody else.”

Curly is one of many Irish residents in Syracuse’s traditionally Irish neighborhood, Tipp Hill. He’s watched the area change over the years, though many of its quirky characteristics have stuck around.

The Irish first settled in Tipp Hill in the 1820s during construction of the Erie Canal. Many of those laborers were Irish immigrants who built a community for themselves on a hill overlooking the newly-built canal. It was named Tipperary Hill in the 1860s because many of its residents emigrated from County Tipperary in Ireland.

Tipp Hill has watched key events in Irish history unfold from an ocean away. As Irish nationalists and radicals fought the British for independence in a 1919-1921 episode of history called “The Irish Question,” Tipp Hill residents showed their support for people in the old country by famously flipping a traffic light upside down.

Red represented the British, and green obviously represented the Irish. Tipperary Hill youths threw rocks at the red light, repeatedly breaking it. The light was flipped upside down, and state officials had it turned right side up because it would confuse colorblind drivers. But people kept throwing rocks, so in 1928, city leaders finally relented and the traffic light officially remained upside down.

The nine original stone throwers are commemorated in the Stone Throwers Park, a small monument on the corner of the intersection where the traffic light hangs.

While the famous upside down traffic light has been around for years, Curly said Tipp Hill has still changed from how it was when he was growing up there.

When he was a kid, families with kids mainly populated the area. Curly was one of four kids, but many families had seven, eight or nine kids in classic Irish fashion. Now, the area is less of a family neighborhood and more of a spot for young adults.

One of those young adults is his daughter, Laura.

The houses in Tipp Hill are so close together that “driveways come at a premium,” Curly said. He remembers parking on the street, and having to move cars every time a plow came through.

Now, his daughter does the same. And there are more cars now than there were in her father’s time.

From Curly’s speculation, young people like the idea of living in an area with so much tradition and history, not to mention one of the area’s main attractions:

“The bars.”

Tipp Hill is even more rife with traditional Irish pubs than the rest of Syracuse – in a 1-mile radius, there are at least 12 pubs. One of the most famous is Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub, known for its Green Beer Sunday.

The tradition started 52 years ago when Peter Coleman devised a way for his employees to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – normally, they couldn’t because it always gets busy on March 17. Green Beer Sunday happens every year on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day.

The quirkiest part is that the beer itself is an electric, Wizard of Oz emerald green. And everyone loves that quirk – up to 2,000 people at least, said owner Dennis Coleman to The Daily Orange last year.

One of the other ways Tipp Hill remains a tight-knit community a century after the original Irish immigration is the way communities are placed together. Right near Tipp Hill lie vibrant Ukrainian and Polish communities, each with their own churches.

“You could walk to all three of them in a matter of 15 minutes,” Curly said.

Close proximity – both in geography and in relationships – is perhaps the number one way Tipp Hill maintains its sense of community.

Lynn Hy, chief development officer for The Food Bank of Central New York and current Westvale resident, lived in Tipp Hill for 10 years – Curly said it’s common for Tipp Hill residents to move to Westvale.

“I still hang out there,” she said. “It’s very fun.”

Ly and Curly’s son Dennis went to Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School together. And though Curly now lives in Camillus, Tipp Hill has never left him.

“It goes with you,” he said. “It’s a part of you.”

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