The mass immigration of the Irish during the great Famine and the decades that followed was a Diaspora of staggering proportions. In the second half of the nineteenth century, almost every family experienced the heartbreak of losing loved ones forever and often rapidly so via death in transit. But still they set out – three million out of eight – to they knew not what in the Americas, Australia, and the U.K. What drove such numbers on at such peril? What hardships awaited them and how fast did they acclimate?
A number of fascinating museums now explore these questions in Ireland and abroad. An unusual one is the Jeannie Johnson, a replica of a tall ship that carried starving Irish across the Atlantic from 1847-1855 and is permanently docked at Dublin’s Custom House Quay...The Cobh Heritage Centre outside Cork City offers a more striking destination, since that museum is perched beside one of the greatest harbors in the world...Ireland has several museums featuring historical re-actors, including the Bunratty Folk Park near Shannon Airport and Muckross House outside Killarney, County Kerry. Also worth a visit is the Ulster Irish-American Folk Park (2 million natives fled Northern Irelandbetween 1700 and 1900) near Omagh, an open air museum...
But it’s not necessary to go to Ireland to contemplate such hardships. Close to the Bowery on 97 Orchard Street, the Tenement Museum of New York recreates the lives of emigrants struggling with urban squalor...Meanwhile, in Hamden, Connecticut, Quinnipiac University has just opened Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, the first museum in North America solely devoted to the Irish Famine.
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