By Lynn Bushnell
Special to Boston Irish
Last August, the President of Quinnipiac University, Judy Olian, announced plans to close the university’s Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum just shy of its 10th anniversary, citing expenses that far outweighed the benefits to its students and the community at large. I beg to differ.
By way of background, the museum consists primarily of fine art and sculpture devoted to the story of Ireland’s Great Hunger (or the Potato Famine as it is aptly misnamed) in the years between 1845 and 1852 when approximately 1.5 million Irish died and 2.5 million more emigrated, mostly to North America, because of an indifferent British government under whose rule Ireland was at the time.
The museum tells the story through art of a tragic and deeply disturbing time in Ireland’s history, widely recognized by historians as the worst humanitarian disaster in Europe of the 19th century.
The exhibition also serves a much larger purpose in that it serves as a platform to highlight social injustices, bad government policies, and food insecurity, all important topics in today’s world. It also provides a beacon of hope to current immigrants, as Irish Americans are largely a success story in today’s America.
To close the museum after giving it only two years to become self-sustaining – during a pandemic – is unconscionable. To that end, a group of devoted individuals is doing everything in its power to overturn this decision.
This group, Save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum Inc., is eager to work with Quinnipiac University to find a path forward to reopen the museum. The mission, press coverage, and videos of support for the newly formed 501(c)3 Save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum may be viewed at saveighm.org/.
Support has come from highly regarded and influential Boston organizations, namely, The Charitable Irish Society of Boston and the Eire Society of Boston. The Irish Cultural Centre in Canton is also concerned.
US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, and other state and local officials have expressed support for the museum’s reopening.
People may recall the debacle of the proposed closure of the Rose Museum at Brandeis University: ultimately Brandeis trustees decided not to close it or sell the collection.
While Quinnipiac originally planned to sell portions of the collection, it now maintains it only wishes to give the collection away. Why a university would give away $2 million of its own assets remains an absolute mystery and is a stark example of trustees shirking their fiduciary responsibilities.
Finally, it is noteworthy that 2022 marks the 175th anniversary of Black ’47, the worst year of the Great Hunger, which will be recognized by both the Irish government and the Irish American diaspora.
We hope the attorney general’s investigation will result in an order for Quinnipiac to reverse its decision, and we call on the university to partner with our organization, reopen the museum, and let it shine as a beacon to all immigrants, especially refugees, about what success can look like in America in the face of terrible hardships.
Lynn Bushnell is the former vice president for public affairs at Quinnipiac University where she oversaw Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum from its opening in 2012 until her retirement in 2019.