Great Hunger Museum has power to educate
To Quinnipiac University President Judy D. Olian:
It is with great concern and profound dismay that the Charitable Irish Society of Boston has heard about the closure of the Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University. We highly recommend that you revisit your decision and work with Irish Americans of good will to find a way to keep this precious collection of paintings and sculpture in its beautiful and appropriately designed building.
As the oldest Irish society in the Americas, for our members and other Irish Americans the museum and its unique contents connect us directly with the memory, legacy and lessons of the worst humanitarian disaster in the nineteenth century when the Irish population was reduced by over two million people in just one decade. The Irish famine is to us what the Holocaust is to the Jewish diaspora — a central marker of our identity and an experience that shaped our individual and communal commitments to work for social and economic justice for all in our own times.
Soon after the museum opened, our society and the Eire Society of Boston organized a special trip to visit the museum and were awed by this experience. Many members returned to the museum to view the exhibit again or to attend the various conferences and fascinating lectures held there on the Irish famine over the next few years. Some of us purchased the innovative famine folio series authored by the most outstanding famine scholars and appropriately launched at the museum.
The museum collection is the sole collection of valuable artworks on the globe dedicated to documenting and remembering the calamitous events that reduced the Irish population by 25 percent by 1861. Even today the Irish population remains below its 1841 level, so devastating were the long term impacts of An Gorta Mor.
The lessons of the Irish famine, relating to political ideology, poor governance and ethno-religious discrimination remain highly relevant as our contemporary world continues to face issues of famine, malnutrition, extreme poverty and misgovernment that are driving mass migration by people fleeing their homelands for the United States and Europe in order to survive. The museum’s collection moves beyond statistics to convey the deep human trauma that famine and its consequences hold for hundreds of thousands today. Thus the collection serves as a catalyst for its viewers to convert their empathy into action that will help their fellow human beings today. The potential for the museum to educate contemporary students and broader society about these global issues that affect the health and security of all is immense. By keeping the museum open and developing its program to link the Irish famine to the global challenges mentioned, Quinnipiac University would make a valuable contribution to social and economic justice.
We strongly urge you to work in consultation with the Irish American community and all others concerned to explore pathways to a serious nationwide fundraising campaign that will enable the Museum to reopen and continue its important work into the future. Our society and its members are ready to help in such an effort.