9/11 Memorial Planned for Irish Catskills

Fathers who lost sons on 9/11 helping with the rescue effort at Ground Zero: Dennis O'Berg, Jack Lynch, Lee Ielpi, and Bill Butler.

By Jennifer Johannessen, Contributor
October / November 2004

After losing Michael, his firefighter son, on September 11, 2001, Jack Lynch felt a responsibility to ensure that the day’s events be remembered appropriately.

An executive board member on the Coalition of 9/11 Families, Lynch is helping to establish a 9/11 memorial planned for construction in East Durham, about 140 miles north of New York City. Plans call for the memorial to take up three-quarters of an acre on the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural & Sports Center’s grounds in the Catskill Mountains. While the memorial has no official name yet, it is being called the 9/11 Memorial & Garden.

“The majority of the firefighters who died 9/11 were of Irish descent. But this will not just be an Irish memorial. What appeals to me most is that everyone who died on 9/11 will be represented, including those lost in the Pennsylvania plane crash and at the Pentagon,” said Lynch, an immigrant from Tralee, County Kerry, and a second cousin of Transport Workers Union founder, the late Michael J. Quill, for whom the center is named.

The idea of a memorial to honor rescue workers planted itself as a seed in the spring of 2001 when the Center began selling personally inscribed bricks to be placed in the one-acre park shaped like Ireland. Some members of the corrections division of the New York City Police Department approached the center about buying a group of bricks to honor their fallen officers. “That didn’t really fit into our Irish park,” recalled Kenneth Dudley, president of the center’s board of directors. “While there’s a strong Irish connection with unions and a large portion of the police and firefighters are of Irish descent, we also recognize that not everyone is. We thought that the NYPD should have a separate marker. And after September 11 we knew we had to do something to honor all the fallen heroes.”

The Transport Workers Union of America whose membership includes 110,000 railroad, subway, bus, airline, utilities and public service employees, started the fundraising drive, donating $100,000 from its Heroes Fund toward the memorial’s construction.

At the same time that the Quill Center’s board of directors was soliciting design ideas for the memorial, Irish architect Gerry Laverty was in East Durham to oversee plans for another project at the center. Laverty had been looking for materials at a local quarry, and became inspired by two monolithic pieces of blue granite lying side-by-side.

After reviewing Laverty’s plans, Sonny Hall, International President of the TWU and memorial committee co-chair, thought the project should be made larger. J. Kenneth Fraser & Associates, an engineering and architecture firm in Rensselaer, New York, worked with Laverty to enhance his original design.

The current design allows visitors to walk up a landscaped entranceway to a quiet place where they can reflect or meditate. Benches will be set up around the perimeter, and the two granite monoliths representing the Twin Towers will project about 16 feet up from the ground.

Bricks surrounding the two stones will bear the names of all those lost. Plans also call for a bronze plaque around the edge of the memorial wall identifying the first responders who gave their lives in the aftermath of the attacks. The granite base at the flagpoles will list the victims of the Pennsylvania plane crash and the Pentagon. A fountain from which water will pour over and under a memorial plaque to symbolize that life continues will stand in the center of the memorial. “The running water represents the flow of life that cannot be ended,” Dudley said. “It acknowledges the tragedy, and we acknowledge that there’s hope and life goes on.”

In New York City, the footprints of the towers are being preserved in a memorial at Ground Zero called “Reflecting Absence.” But the memorial in East Durham will capture the events much better than what’s going to be done at Ground Zero, Lynch is certain. To him the running water represents tears. He also thinks that the design itself will help people remember what happened. “Generations to come will have an idea of what the towers looked like,” he said.

Organizers are hoping that the project will be complete by September, 2005. However, the fundraising effort has been a struggle. Initially, the memorial was expected to cost between $350,000 and $400,000. The lowest bid was just over $900,000 for materials and construction. If funding falls into place, the project is expected to take three months to complete. ♦

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