Top museums for exploring Ireland's emigrant heritage
Tens of millions of people in North America are of Irish descent, thanks to a long legacy of emigration from Irish shores. There are many museums in Ireland that pay tribute to and explore the experience of those who left. Here are some of our favorites:
EPIC the Irish Emigration Museum
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is a shiny, high-tech wonderland – the first all-digital museum in the world. But don’t be fooled by the slick technology: this museum has a lot of heart. EPIC is all about the stories - of the 10 million Irish people who left, where they went, and what happened to them. Twenty galleries detail the history, heritage, and culture of the Irish diaspora. It’s a wonderful introduction to the vast global scale of the Irish diaspora.
See emigrant letters, experience Irish music, and dance, meet the outlaws in the Rogue’s Gallery, hear the words of some of the world’s most famous authors in the Whispering Library. You can even begin exploring your own history with a consultant with a professional genealogist.
For more information visit EPICchq.com.
Dunbrody Famine Ship
The Dunbrody Famine Ship is a faithful reproduction of an 1840s emigrant vessel that carried weary and hungry refugees fleeing Ireland’s Famine. The Famine was caused by a potato blight that started in 1845, which killed the staple crop of the impoverished Irish tenant farmers. Within 7 years, 1 million people died and 1.5 million had emigrated. As Irish people fled throughout the world, the Irish Diaspora was taking on new dimensions.
The Dunbrody was launched as a cargo ship in 1845, and due to the intense demand, she was refitted and would go on to carry thousands of desperate tenant farmers across the ocean to Canada, most in overcrowded steerage. While many of the millions who crossed the ocean in that era died, the captains of the Dunbrody took good care of their passengers and had a low mortality rate. When you visit the Dunbrody, you’ll hear the story of famine emigration from the perspective of those who left, bringing you from the quayside of New Ross on the long journey to the Arrivals Hall in North America.
Learn more at Dunbrody.com.
The full name of the ship that became the world’s best-known maritime disaster was actually “Emigrant Ship Titanic”. The Titanic was built at a time of record traffic west across the Atlantic as emigrants crossed the ocean to start new lives. While much attention is often given to the doomed glamor of the first-class passengers, the ship wouldn’t have been built without these large numbers of ordinary people who needed third-class transport for more utilitarian ends. As documents on the ship at the museum note, “Titanic stands not only as one of the worst disasters at sea but also as a memorial to the zenith of mass migration across the world's oceans”. The era of the great liners would soon come to an end, as the war and declining immigration numbers in the US made such large ships impractical.
Visit Titanic Belfast today for insight into the ship’s creation in the Belfast shipyards, view a simulation of the launch of the ship, explore artifacts and imagery related to the opulence experienced by the first-class passengers, walk the decks on the maiden voyage and explore the aftermath of the disaster.
For more, visit TitanicBelfast.com
Cobh Heritage Center
The Cobh Heritage Center tells the story of hundreds of years of emigration. The story starts in the 1600s, when Irish people were transported to the British overseas colonies like Virginia, New England, Barbados, Jamaica, and Montserrat. The port of Cobh, then known as Queenstown, became the departing point through which millions of emigrants would catch their last glimpse of Ireland. Between 1848 to 1950, 2.5 million of the six million people who left Ireland departed from Cobh.
There are many fascinating stories to discover at the heritage center. Explore life on board a so-called “coffin ship” and a ship bringing convicts to Australia. Exhibits detail the stories of seventeenth-century local man Francis Barret, famed pirate Anne Bonney, smuggler Robert Davies, and more. Learn about Annie Moore, who departed the port in 1891 and became the first emigrant to be processed at the newly opened Ellis Island in New York. You’ll also explore how the Titanic left Queenstown on her first and final voyage with 1,308 passengers and 898 crew members.
Learn more at CobhHeritage.com.