Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ireland's Great Hunger Museum: Q&A with Grace Brady

"I saw the dying, the living and the dead, lying indiscriminately upon the same floor, without anything between them and the cold earth, save a few miserable rags upon them," wrote James Mahoney, a journalist for the Illustrated London News, in 1847, the worst year of Ireland's Great Hunger. 

Ireland's Great Hunger MuseumGaeilge Músaem an Ghorta Mhóir, opened this fall to bring to life the disturbing realities of that time and place to generations of descendants of Famine victims, those lucky enough to emigrate to North America. The facility, operated by Quinnipiac University and located in Hamden, Conn.,  is devoted to telling the story of the Great Hunger. To that end, it holds the world's largest collection of paintings, sculptures and other visual media relating The Great Famine. 

This month the museum has become a newly christened Wild Geese Irish Heritage Partners, and is supporting our ongoing crowdfunding campaign, to help us gather the resources we need to reimagine our outdated site and add a dynamic worldwide digital community. This week, via e-mail, the museum's Executive Director Grace Brady fielded questions from The Wild Geese Associate Producer Tiffany Silverberg about the museum's mission and first few months of operation.

The Wild Geese: What does Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum’s holdings include?

Grace Brady: Paintings, sculptures and other visual media relating to the Great Hunger.  Also, the collection is supported by a collection of extant British papers on Ireland from 1780-1923, which is housed in the Arnold Bernhard Library at QU [Quinnipiac University].

The Wild Geese: In addition to educating people about the Great Hunger, what are you hoping to accomplish? 

Brady: To also display first-rate Irish art, which doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  Irish music, literature and theatre are widely known and we want to show that the visual art in Ireland is also as exceptional.

The Wild Geese: Why focus on this famine, this tragedy?
Brady: To set the record straight.  The most common perception of the Famine is that it was the sole result of a failed potato crop.  Many other political and economic factors played a key role in this avoidable tragedy.

The Wild Geese: Your website mentions that the collection has been building since 1997. Why is now the right time to open the museum?  

Brady: The collection has grown so much in terms of value and volume that a museum space was needed to properly display and highlight the wonderful collection.

The Wild Geese: What are your future plans? Do you covet adding anything in particular to further assist you in telling this story?
Brady: Future possibilities are great.  Docent programs, lectures, concerts, educational programs and outreach, and more.

The Wild Geese: Who is visiting the museum? 

Brady: Students, senior citizens, faculty … a variety of people from across the tri-state area, as well as nationally, and we have had a few international visitors as well.

The Wild Geese: What’s a typical day at the museum like for you?

Brady: Right now nothing is typical!  I am less than two months in the post so am still getting the new building completely up to speed, scheduling visits, and starting to think about planning.  

The Wild Geese: What are the biggest challenges that you as an Irish cultural institution face?  

Brady: Like those facing any small specialized institution, the main challenge will be to continue to attract visitors and to offer varied programming – educational and artistic.

The Wild Geese: What is your favorite “stolen” moment while working with the museum’s holdings, a moment with visiting children perhaps or encountering, even holding, a particular artifact?
Brady: Thus far it has been the different stories of visitors, many of whom are of Irish heritage, who speak about their families who emigrated here.  Also, the great positive response and gratitude for the museum is very satisfying.

Grace Brady, Executive Director
The Wild Geese: What is your own Irish story? Any ancestors that you know of emerge from the Famine? Any Famine-related stories in your family?

Brady: My maternal grandparents and many of their relatives emigrated to America through Ellis Island.  They came later than the Famine period.  I remember them always telling me that America is the greatest country.  They were simple people who worked extremely hard once they got to New York. WG

How to Get There

275 Mount Carmel Ave. Hamden, CT 06518
Phone Number: 203-582-3469
Hours: M-F 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

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