Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has closed in U.S

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum

It is desperately sad and disappointing to hear of the closure of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Quinnipiac in the U.S , which houses the world’s greatest collection of Great Irish Famine related art and artefacts and sculptures reflecting on the greatest tragedy in Ireland’s history.

Only three years ago that ‘Coming Home’- Art and the Great Hunger’ a part of this important collection, on loan from the Great Hunger Museum and Quinnipiac University, was exhibited in Ireland.

From March 2018-to March 2019, the ‘Coming Home’ exhibition visited Dublin Castle, Skibbereen and Derry. It attracted huge crowds who crowds flocked to see this amazing collection, moved by the memorable and inspirational works interpreting our history

I was involved in a few events as part of the exhibition and was often asked why this collection was in America and why we in Ireland did not have our own Great Irish Famine collection!

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum’s valuable collection was first created by the vision and generosity of Murray Lender and his brother Marvin and Quinnipiac’s former University President, the innovative John Lahey.  As the collection has grown and been added to over the years, Irelands’ Great Hunger Museum was opened to house and display it. However now with changes in the University’s management unfortunately The Great Hunger Museum‘s doors have finally been shut.

Robert Ballagh

The danger is that this collection will be broken up and sold, dispersed and scattered between other universities, galleries, museums and private collectors both in the U.S and across the world. A campaign to save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum and the collection is under way.

My hope is that The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Tourism and the Irish Government   will have the good sense and offer a permanent home to Ireland’s Great Hunger Collection here in Ireland.  This historic collection could if necessary be rotated and shared between the US and Ireland.

 If not it is high time Ireland and her people began to gather a lasting Great Irish Famine collection of our own for all ages to visit.

The Wild Atlantic Way

Baltimore

It felt so good to return to West Cork again for a few days, staying in my favourite spot the fishing village of Baltimore.  It does the heart and spirit good to watch the waves and the sea and visit some of my favourite places Crookhaven, Schull , Castletownshend and Clonakilty.

This time visiting Glengarriff we took the Blue Ferry over to the almost tropical Garnish Island, with its beautiful gardens. It is such a stunning place to walk around and enjoy. 

I dropped in to the Skibbereen Heritage Centre to say ‘hello’ and was delighted to hear that since it reopened so many Irish visitors have crossed its doors, all keen to discover more about the past.   

Skibbereen Heritage Centre

I also visited Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub, the digital centre where they very kindly assisted me with the technical support I needed to take part in the launch of The National Famine Way Passport.

The Passport is for walkers or cyclists that follow the trail along the Royal Canal from Roscommon to Dublin following in the footsteps of the 1,490 tenants that were evicted from Strokestown Park House during the Great Irish Famine in 1847 and made walk all the way to Dublin to board ships that would transport them to Liverpool and Quebec in Canada.  I have written about one of those tenants – young Daniel Thighe for the National Famine Way App. Plinths with children’s bronze shoes mark the way – a reminder of all those that needed  shoes issued to them to enable them to walk.

West Cork has its own famine trails and memories and rich heritage, perhaps that is why I am so drawn to it. 

Garnish Island

National Famine Commemoration 2020

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National Famine Commemoration 2020

This year’s National Famine Commemoration was held in a very peaceful St Stephen’s Green in Dublin instead of the planned much larger scale commemoration in Donegal. Like so many other special events across the country with Covid 19 constrictions the annual commemoration had to be changed and instead took place in Dublin.

However watching Josepha Madigan T.D., Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee speak in front of sculptor Edward Delaney’s famine figures, she perfectly captured the resonance between past and present during this public health emergency.

This was a quiet and dignified commemoration and I found it a moving reminder of famine times.  Just as all funerals are currently limited to only a few mourners, only a small handful of people attended the commemoration.

The Minister spoke of those who in trying times both now and then have come to the aid of their fellow man. The unselfish care provided by nurses and doctors to those stricken with fever during the Great Famine, with the same unwavering qualities of care and commitment to others being shown by healthcare staff today as they help the sick.

I was really pleased as talking about Famine Heroes she gave a great mention to Doctor Dan Donovan of Skibbereen, a man who is very much one of my heroes and played such an important part in my new  book

The Minister quoted from Ireland’s great female poet, Eavan Boland’s poem ‘Quarantine’, which is set during Ireland’s Great Hunger, where a man lifts his weak and dying wife onto his back and carries her. The recently deceased poets’ words speaking of man’s ability to help those in need of lifting during troubled times.

In 2021 the National Famine Commemoration will take place in Buncrana in Donegal.

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 Edward Delaney’s Famine Memorial – 1967,  St Stephens Green, Dublin