Syracuse’s Tipperary Hill – more than an upside-down traffic light
In the most recent installment of LiveableCNY’s Syracuse neighborhood review, our reporters spent a rainy Sunday in the city’s Tipperary Hill district, on the Far Westside of Syracuse. Known to locals as Tip Hill, it is recognized as one of Syracuse’s 26 neighborhoods.
Historically, Tip Hill has been home to substantial numbers of Irish immigrants, mainly from Ireland’s Tipperary County. Irish laborers flocked to the hill on Syracuse’s Far West Side at the start of the 19th century. The 1820 construction of the Erie Canal created a lot of job opportunities for them.
Though the demographics have changed in the nearly 160 years since Tip Hill got its name, one can see the area’s colorful history and connection to its Irish roots in the high number of Irish pubs and restaurants still in operation.
Irish culture on Tip Hill
Coleman’s Irish Pub is the neighborhood icon, symbol of the Irish culture on Tip Hill. Peter A. Coleman founded the restaurant and bar in 1933 following the end of American Prohibition.
Coleman converted a grocery store on South Lowell Avenue into a space straight out of Dublin. Adrian Nugent, one of Coleman’s managers explained how the establishment was physically expanded over the decades.
“Peter sent an architect over to Ireland to see what a real Irish bar would look like,” said Nugent, pointing at the ceiling and the entrance hall. “Fifteen years ago, we were kind of losing our identity here, so we went back to basics.”
Now, the crowd varies depending on the day; Sundays tend to host an older crowd, many of whom enjoy eating with their families after church. Fridays attract a younger crowd from nearby student neighborhoods, enjoying Coleman’s various happy hour specials and fairly cheap prices.
“We want everyone to feel welcome here,” Nugent said.
Behind the bar, bartender Jenna Hubert extends that hospitality by giving thoughtful recommendations from the menu. Hubert explained how customer favorites can vary with the season. This October, customers are big fans of the Pumpking Pumpkin Ale, Coleman’s famous beef O’Flaherty, shepherd’s pie and their famous Irish fries.
Coleman’s fans can look forward to summer block parties and live Irish music every Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Much like the ceiling, the other parts of the venue’s architecture hint to the area’s historic past. Stained glass pictures of upside down traffic lights greet customers at the door to the patio.
Artifact of an historic past: Tipperary Hill Traffic Light
Just a few blocks west on the corner of Tomkins Street and Milton Avenue, the world-famous upside-down traffic light hangs overhead. Some say it would be the only “green-over-red” traffic light in the world, which is something Syracuse’s Irish community is very proud of.
The legend of the light begins after its installation in 1925. As Tip Hill continued to grow in size and population from its beginnings in the 1820s, traffic required the city to place a traffic light at the intersection of Tomkins and Milton.
Irish youth were refusing to bow to British imperialism and still inflamed from the political tension from the 1921 Irish War of Independence with Britain. They often threw stones to break the top red light to prevent “red over green.” To them, red on top represented Britain having greater importance than Ireland.
“There was a lot of turmoil going on in Ireland,” said Nugent. “The people who came [to the U.S.] had this real bitterness against the English.” Nugent described how Irish youth took offense to the light. They were vandalizing it until the City of Syracuse flipped the order of the lights. This became official on March 17, 1928.
The young Irish “stone throwers” are now folk heroes in the Tipperary Hill community. To honor them, the community constructed a monument park in their name on the northeast corner of Tompkins and Milton. They funded it through donations from area families. Each of them inscribed their name or dedication on a brick that paves the small plaza. A replica of this same monument can also be found at Coleman’s!
Don’t forget to check back for our upcoming neighborhood exploration of Syracuse’s South Side and the inspiring activism taking place there.