Here’s a friendly neighborhood cemetery at 21st Street (Van Alst Avenue and earlier, Emerald Street) and 26th Avenue, known by locals as the Irish Famine Cemetery, though its grounds are well protected, by a chain-link fence that passing photographers have to shoot through, and well-cared for, by Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. This is the church’s proprietary cemetery and the church itself formerly stood next to the churchyard, though decades ago it moved to its present location at Newtown Avenue and Crescent Street. It is the final resting place of about 100 early Irish immigrants to Astoria, many arriving after the Irish potato famine of 1847.
Mass was first celebrated in Astoria in 1835 at the home of a Mr. Tobin by the Ireland-born Rev. Michael Curran, pastor of St. Paul’s in Harlem, according to a history of the church found in the parish archives. Curran travel ot Astoria from New York in the East River’s Hell Gate Ferry.
By 1841, thee were sufficient Irish resident in Astoria to warrant the building of a Catholic Church, and James and Mary Ann Shea, a New York teacher and his wife, donated two plots of land where the original frame building stood. A Mr. Anderson, an Episcopalian gentleman, also donated half lot and the Riker family donated the lot north of the church for burial purposes. The Rev. Curran became pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
By 1871, the church congregation mushroomed so that its original building was no longer adequate. The cornerstone of the church’s current building was laid nearby as Newtown Avenue and Crescent Street, separating the cemetery from the new church edifice. [NY Daily News]