That Black/Irish thing

Paradise Square is based on true events

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I will note that Black/Irish thing.

When I was down in NYC in June 2022, my sister Leslie and some friends arrived earlier. They got to see the Broadway production of Paradise Square. It is described thusly:

“Led by Tony winner Joaquina Kalukango (who won Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical), Paradise Square is based on true events from a part of New York history that not many Americans know about.

“The musical is set in 1863 during the Civil War, in Lower Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood. This real-life neighborhood used to house free Black Americans and Irish immigrants, who lived together, worked together, and married each other. Kalukango’s character Nelly owns a saloon called Paradise Square, where most of the musical’s action takes place…

“The neighborhood was built over a filled-in freshwater lake. The buildings placed on top of it would sink and sag, and were notoriously damp, making it a breeding ground for diseases. Because of this bug in its design, housing in Five Points was cheap, making it a destination for new Irish immigrants and freed Black Americans.”

My sister thought it was excellent. Unfortunately, the show’s run abruptly ended shortly after controversies of “Lawsuits, Unpaid Bills, and Alleged Bullying” came to the fore.


In my extended family, there is a man named George Liggins. The 1910 Census shows that he was 49, designated as black, with his father born in Ireland and his mother born in New York. His wife Hannah, 54, noted as white had both parents born in Ireland.  Their three sons and three daughters, ranging in age from 15 to 25, were listed as mulatto.

I wonder if George Liggins’ parents met in Paradise Square. I have no way of knowing, but it’s an interesting fantasy of mine.

You should be dancing

Around the same time as the trip to Carnegie Hall, my wife and I saw Irish Dance: Steps of Freedom on PBS. “This program charts the evolution of Irish dance, from its early Celtic origins to its peasant dance roots to its mix with Caribbean and African slave cultures.” So the Black and Irish intermingling narrative continues.

I was surprised by my interest in the difficulties of the American Irish Historical Society in New York City, as reported in the New York Times in December 2022. The following month, it was reported that the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, which I’ve not yet visited, would be involved in revitalizing the NYC entity. “The new board was announced by state Attorney General Letitia James to deal with the group’s financial issues… Elizabeth Stack, executive director of “the Albany entity “will serve on the three-member interim board…”

I’m no closer to figuring out my direct lineage from County Cork, Ireland. Perhaps the Irish American Heritage Museum could help?

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