The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Hoping to see Hunger Museum’s collection stay together somewhere
Although the name of the Quinnipiac museum was “Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum,” it was really a springboard to be able to tell a human story of despair, disease, devastation and death and, for some, a sense of hope. All docents took their volunteer work very seriously and realized how important it was to make it a multicultural story that all people could relate to while hearing the story of the Irish famine.
The museum and tours were a great marketing tool for Quinnipiac — really, one of those unintended consequences. People from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey came through those doors regularly, as well as visitors from other countries, on occasion. On several occasions people remarked how, now that they saw the university while in the area, they would encourage a daughter, son or grandchild to seriously consider it for their higher learning.
We have given tours to the students and staff in the Quinnipiac and Yale University medical programs. They were especially interested in disease, parasites and the so many unpleasant things that are the reality of hunger and famine. And how those realities affected and continue to affect all people, not just the Irish. We tailor-made those tours and chose artwork that lent itself to discussions about those topics.
When we knew of other groups coming in that had a particular interest we researched and designed a tour that would satisfy that interest. One example would be when I had a women’s group come to Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum with a great interest in learning about what happened to women during the famine. I researched that and learned so much myself that I was able to impart to them.
We also gave tours to the general public who would come in at a designated time for a tour. So, in any of those groups we may have had pockets of individuals, friends and families. The docents stressed points that all people could identify with and encouraged the attendees to share those similarities they found with their own stories and that of their people.
Many school groups came in, at all levels of learning. The younger children needed no prodding — they immediately made the connection between the Irish story and theirs and willingly shared with the group. An example of this would be when I was giving a tour to a class of second-grade students in a bilingual program; English was not their first language. After sharing a museum masterpiece, pointing out a “coffin ship” in the distance and stating how many people had to leave their homeland and travel over dangerous waters to go to a new land, America, a student raised his hand and shared his sad story of how he arrived here. And that opened the door for others to share their stories. During these times their faces would light up and find some comfort knowing they were not alone because other people suffered, too. So many tours were cathartic for many who took them, children and adults.
So the docents and many people who took part in tours or those who just came in to spend a quiet few hours self-touring at Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum realized it was truly a gem that Quinnipiac provided to not only their students but to their future students and their families as well as the greater community.
Although Quinnipiac has not understood the greater impact and benefit Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has had for the university, it is my hope that another university or group will purchase it for the benefit of all who need to connect to the past in order to make sense of the present. The works the museum had acquired were truly masterpieces that told a story that all people relate to in any generation because a story of human pain, suffering, determination, resilience and, sometimes, survival, against all odds, is a timely story in any century.