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Category: Asset 8News & Views

Exploring the New York Irish brand

August 14, 2014

By Peter McDermott

olivia barry

Olivia Barry has graduated with a master’s degree in professional

studies specializing in branding at the School of Visual Arts.


By Peter McDermott

Catherine Hamilton arrived in New York via an ocean liner and saw the World’s Fair of 1939. Actually, the West Cork woman really came to visit two daughters who were Dominican nuns, but on the trip took in the pavilion of the Irish Free State, which was selected by an international jury as the best at the event.

That’s just one episode in a 100-part project being done by her great-granddaughter Olivia Barry on Tumblr, the micro-blogging site.

“For 100 days, I will seek to uncover manifestations of Ireland/Irish in New York,” she wrote on Céad Léiriú ( “This will help me to build a story around my identity and what it means to be an Irish person living in New York.”

The project is concluding business from her master’s in professional studies at the School of Visual Arts. She and her 24 classmates last month officially graduated from the college’s Master’s in Branding program, which is taught by professionals in the field.

“The class was a diverse group,” said Barry, who is from Rathgar in Dublin. “Some had more of a design background and wanted more experience in branding. Some had a business background and wanted more experience in design.”

Barry did some work on branding when studying for her undergraduate degree in business and sociology at Trinity College Dublin. She kept up and developed her interest in it when working in corporate communications for various New York companies from 2009.

She said her intention had been to do a master’s degree at some stage, but it wasn’t an easy decision to leave the world of work last year.

It helped that the SVA master’s program in branding, established in 2011, was the first of its kind in the country.

“Because I was so interested in it,” she recalled, “that pushed me to go for it.”

For those, however, who want an easy definition of branding, there isn’t one. Indeed, one of Barry’s classmates elicited 100 pithy and not so pithy definitions from marketers, designers, strategists, writers and others.

For her own 100-episode project, Barry undertook to do a photograph with accompanying text each day. That proved somewhat optimistic, given the logistics. Still, she is up to 84, having started in April.

Writers from the 19th century’s Dion Boucicault to Colum McCann in the 21st are featured, as are business innovators from Alexander Turney Stewart to Ronan Ryan. Stewart, who was born in Lisburn in 1803, made his first New York trip to sell Belfast linen. When he returned, he built the city’s first department store. The Dubliner Ryan is a more recent arrival. The chief strategy officer and co-founder at IEX is featured in Michael Lewis’s recent book about high-frequency trading, “Flash Boys.”

Institutions as diverse as the Chipper Truck in Woodlawn and Glucksman Ireland House are part of the mix, too.

Several of her people entries are in sculpted form, such as those two near neighbors at Times Square, Fr. Francis P. Duffy and George M. Cohan. Additionally, sculptors themselves are also represented. One is Isamu Noguchi (1902 -1988), whose mother’s father, Thomas Gilmour, was from Coleraine; another is Patricia Cronin (born in Massachusetts in 1963). His “Red Cube” is on Broadway in Downtown Manhattan, while her “Memorial to a Marriage” can be found in Woodlawn Cemetery.

John Phillip Holland, the submarine engineer from Liscannor, Co. Clare, and Commodore Barry both get a mention, as does another John Barry, the great-grandfather of Céad Léiriú’s author. He was an agent for the White Star Line in Ballydehob, Co. Cork. One story that has come down through the generations is his sale of Titanic tickets to three young immigrant females. “Happily, all three survived the shipwreck,” Barry writes.

“I avoided anything too stereotypical,” she said when interviewed. A few pubs, for example, are there, but mainly because they have some other significance beyond the consumption of alcohol.

“I’ve a better understanding now of the impact that the Irish have had in New York,” Barry said. “The perception, here, is that it is a very positive one.”

She has found, too, that people with at least some Irish ancestry strongly identify with it.

“Americans really want to connect with you in that way,” she said.

Over the past year, Olivia Barry has been able to forge another type of bond.

“It was a really great experience meeting my fellow students,” she said. “We had that common interest in wanting to learn about branding.”

Some of those newly minted masters in professional studies are now in the market for jobs with companies that have a department working fulltime on branding, while others are seeking out companies whose business is branding.

“New York is a great place to be for that,” Barry said.

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