Within the mid-Nineteen Nineties John L. Lahey, the president of Quinnipiac School, learn a e book concerning the Nineteenth-century potato famine in Eire and determined that its causes and penalties, its demise toll and ensuing diaspora, warranted broader publicity.
It’s estimated that no less than one million Irish died and that one other 2 million or extra left the nation within the years after the devastation of the potato crop, attributable to illness, led to widespread starvation.
The school Lahey led started amassing artworks and paperwork associated to the famine and in 2012 opened Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum inside a former public library constructing in Hamden, Conn., close to the college’s campus.
Though the establishment centered on the particular occasions, Lahey noticed the famine story as being about greater than the agricultural failure that started in 1845, he informed folks. It was additionally concerning the indifference of the British authorities to the hunger and the hostility that these escaping it typically encountered after they emigrated from Eire.
However Lahey retired in 2018 and the establishment, now often known as Quinnipiac College, has determined to shut the museum, citing monetary pressures that made it a burden to maintain. The museum averaged fewer than 20 guests a day within the 12 months earlier than the pandemic, in line with the college, which mentioned that the museum had solely generated sufficient “help and income” to cowl 1 / 4 of its working finances.
The college mentioned efforts to spice up fund-raising for the museum had fallen brief, and said in August that it was closing completely.
In a press release, the college mentioned, “the dearth of help at its present location has created an unsustainable operation requiring hundreds of thousands in college funds to be spent on retaining the museum open; funds that would have in any other case been spent on lecturers and pupil packages through the years.”
The choice upset Lahey and plenty of donors to the museum who say they fear about what’s going to occur to its many artworks and artifacts and who had hoped that Quinnipiac, which has grown into a serious college, would have been in a position to do extra to subsidize the establishment.
“The announcement was unhappy and disappointing and perplexing to me,” mentioned Lahey, who was president of Quinnipiac for 31 years. “To shut a museum devoted to educating folks concerning the evils of discrimination and bigotry — on this case anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry — at a time when the world is so involved with these points doesn’t make a complete lot of sense.”
The museum’s assortment is described by the establishment as “the world’s largest assortment of Nice Starvation-related artwork.” It has works by up to date artists just like the sculptors Rowan Gillespie and John Behan and older works by artists together with William Henry Powell and Daniel Macdonald, one of many few folks to color photographs of the famine because it was occurring.
A gaggle referred to as the Committee to Save Eire’s Nice Starvation Museum despatched an open letter to Quinnipiac’s president, Judy Olian, in September. “Our deepest concern,” the letter mentioned partly, “is what’s going to occur to the gathering and its energy to speak this world tragedy.”
The college has responded by stressing that it has no plans to promote the gathering and hopes to seek out one other establishment with an curiosity in displaying it.
“We’re dedicated to discovering an answer for continued show of the gathering that may guarantee it stays publicly accessible, advances the museum’s unique mission, and preserves the story of the Nice Starvation,” the assertion mentioned, including: “The college is in lively conversations with potential companions who’re fascinated with displaying the museum’s assortment; Quinnipiac shouldn’t be promoting the museum’s assortment.”
One museum supporter, Michael McCabe, a lawyer in Milford, Conn., has requested the state legal professional normal’s workplace, which oversees nonprofits, to assessment the choice to shut the museum.
One other supporter, Cormac Okay. H. O’Malley, contacted the legal professional normal’s workplace as properly to precise his concern about the way forward for a portray that he had offered the museum, “Derrynane,” by Jack B. Yeats, the brother of William Butler Yeats. The portray, he wrote, was offered to the museum at a positive value “figuring out that this properly acknowledged and exhibited portray can be housed in a everlasting Connecticut assortment of such distinction and significance.”
A spokeswoman for the state legal professional normal, William Tong, mentioned the workplace had “an open inquiry” however declined to remark additional.
The museum’s historical past begins with Lahey, who as the grand marshal of the 1997 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan, used that place to talk out concerning the famine. Whereas the British authorities didn’t trigger the failure of the Irish potato crop, he faulted it for exporting meals from Eire that would have alleviated the starvation there.
Quickly afterward, Lahey mentioned, one of many faculty’s benefactors, Murray Lender, inspired him to gather artworks and paperwork associated to the famine. A few of these have been displayed within the Lender Household Particular Assortment Room inside a Quinnipiac library.
In 2013, a 12 months after the museum in Hamden opened, Christine Kinealy, the creator of the e book on the famine that had made an influence on Lahey, was employed as a professor of historical past and Irish research at Quinnipiac. She was additionally appointed director of the college’s newly fashioned Eire’s Nice Starvation Institute.
To Lahey, cultivating a connection to Irish historical past made sense partly as a result of the college was situated between New York Metropolis and Boston, with their massive Irish American populations. The college created research overseas packages in Cork, started taking part within the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan and established an undergraduate minor in Irish research.
He mentioned increasing the ties to Irish historical past was a part of a plan — together with beginning the political polls for which the college is understood and elevating its sports activities packages — to show a regional faculty into an establishment with a nationwide repute.
“With Irish America and inside Eire now we have a visibility and a respect,” Lahey mentioned. “And it’s a motive Quinnipiac was in a position to develop from 1,900 college students to 10,000 and why we’re as profitable as now we have been.”
Past the museum’s significance to the college, a few of its supporters mentioned its presence was vital as a result of the story of the Irish diaspora — the ordeal of crossing the Atlantic to flee hunger solely to face prejudice and hardship, and nonetheless make a mark in a brand new nation — can resonate for present immigrants who could also be feeling disoriented and unwelcome.
“Irish America can see itself as a resilient individuals who got here although this nightmare that’s putting the world throughout, with humanitarian points, refugees, starvation, rotten authorities insurance policies,” mentioned Turlough McConnell, a author and producer who based the committee to save lots of the museum. “If the one factor we are able to do is to encourage others that they will come by way of this, then that’s a present we can provide them.”