Ireland's Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University Seeking New Home, Won't Reopen on Campus

Connecticut by the Numbers

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Ireland's Great Hunger Museum on the campus of Quinnipiac University will not be reopening.QU image

2022 will mark the 175th anniversary of the Great Hunger. Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden is home to the world’s largest collection of artwork related to the topic of the Great Hunger, also known as the Potato Famine. Where that collection will be next year is now an open question, with the announcement this summer that the museum, closed during the pandemic, will not be reopening.

The closure was not a surprise. University actions going back to 2019 made it clear that continued funding was in doubt. At that time, the University ended its association with the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, with a university statement that “while we enthusiastically support (the parade’s) important goals and underlying spirit, we are redirecting university resources to more immediate needs that serve students on the campus.”

A University statement this summer indicated that “Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum remains closed and the University is in active conversations with potential partners with the goal of placing the collection on display at an organization that will increase access to national and international audiences about Ireland’s Great Hunger.”

The statement added that "Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute remains open, and Quinnipiac University continues its research program on the Great Hunger through the institute as well as the Great Hunger collection housed in the Lender Special Collection Room of the Arnold Bernhard Library on the Mount Carmel Campus.”

Regarding the museum, The Irish Echo, the nation’s oldest Irish American newspaper, reported that “The threat to the facility, which was opened with great fanfare in October, 2013, followed the retirement of Quinnipiac president Dr. John Lahey and the arrival of a new president and administrative team at the university which is nationally known for, among other things, its political polling.” Judy D. Olian, PhD, became the 9th president of Quinnipiac University in 2018.

The Echo reported that after opening, the Museum of Ireland’s Great Hunger began building its collection and earning a reputation as a center of scholarship and art. In December 2014, the museum launched a digital database containing around 1,500 articles and illustrations relating to Ireland and the Great Famine.

“We mark the second anniversary of the opening this coming October in the knowledge that we have had over 20,000 visitors this year. The story of Ireland’s Great Hunger, the worst demographic catastrophe of the 19th century, is now being told accurately and with visual art which is more powerful and effective in telling this story of pain and suffering than the written word,” said Dr. Lahey at that time.

The University’s website notes that “Through its display of outstanding historical and contemporary images, layers of history are peeled back, to uncover aspects of the Famine indecipherable by other means.”

The website Irish Central reported this month that “for eight years, until the pandemic forced an emergency closure in March 2020, the museum brought the story of the Great Hunger to America, with a focus on the victims: the one million who died, the up to two million others who fled by 1855.”

The museum had also developed an Educators Guide to Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, designed for middle and high school teachers to use in their classrooms and at the museum. It includes pre- and post-visit classroom resources and activities. The lesson plan allows students to understand the history of The Great Hunger through primary and secondary sources, draw connections to current examples of famine, and understand how major world affairs and public policies can affect the world, according to the museum website.

Most recently, after traveling throughout Ireland for a year prior to the pandemic for the international exhibition Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger, where it was seen by over 110,000 individuals, the collection returned to Quinnipiac University, according to the university’s website.

The driving force behind the establishment of the museum was bagel magnate Murray Lender, then the co-chair of Quinnipiac’s Board of Trustees. At the museum’s opening, President Lahey said “"A lot of Irish and Irish American artists and supporters helped to make this day possible, but without the support of a son of a Jewish immigrant from Poland who saw parallels in our experience we wouldn't be able to dedicate this new facility. That's proof of how important this story is to all immigrants."

An article this month by Turlough McConnell reflected some alarm in the Irish American community: “As we approach 2022, the 10th anniversary of the museum's opening, we cannot allow the closure to proceed without a push from the broader community to keep the doors open and this valuable teaching opportunity alive.”

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