While its not a must for first-time visitors, for residents and returnees who want to discover the Celtic side of New York, a wander through the extraordinary Woodlawn Cemetery (allot a good 3 hours; its that big) followed by a meal with live music at one of the pubs here, is a primo experience.
Woodlawn Cemetery was established in 1863 in a rural area of gently sloping hills just outside the limits of New York City. It soon attracted as many live souls as dead ones. A goodly number of recently-immigrated, Irish stone carvers moved into the area to create tombstones, mausoleums and monuments for the graveyard, bringing old world skills to bear in the service of some of the finest architects of the day. McKim, Mead and White, John Russel Pope, Carrier & Hastings, Cass Gilbert and other extraordinary talents devoted their energies to beautifying the final resting places of New York's biggest names. This was, and remains, the place to be buried. As you wander through, you'll find tombstone here for a number of musical luminaries (Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Miles Davis, Victor Herbert, WC Handy, Oscar Hammerstein, and recently Celia Cruz), great literary and theatrical names (Countee Cullen, Damon Runyan, Nellie Bly, Otto Preminger, Barbara Hutton, Marilyn Miller) and business tycoons and millionaires (Joseph Pulitzer, Gertrude Vanderbuilt Whitney, Franklin Winfield Woolworth, Samuel Henry Kress).
What I find notable is that black and white, Christian and Jewish, all were buried here in this cemetery. As unusual, the neighborhood started out entirely Irish and has remained that way, its newest residents almost entirely Irish immigrants.
Visiting here, as I did recently with my daughter (for a second grade project on different ethnic neighborhoods in New York City), is a hoot. Order a Guiness in a pub, and a woman with the lilting accent of Cork, serves it up. Along with the finest shepard's pie I've had on this side of the Atlantic. For those two items, head to the Rambling House; its just one of a dozen authentic pubs the neighborhood houses. Gift shops carry Irish linens and glasses; the deli's are stocked with Flake chocolates and a wide variety of Irish meat sauces; and almost every sign, whether it be for the cleaners or a dentist, sports a shamrock.
The best way to get to Woodlawn from midtown Manhattan is on the Harlem line from Grand Central Station (hop off at the Woodlawn Station). You can get here on the subway, but to get to the heart of the neighborhood is a good mile walk from that stop.