More than 1.5 million Irish died of starvation and disease between 1845 and 1850, and more than 2 million others emigrated aboard the “coffin ships,” many of them also dying before reaching Canada and the United States.
The Lender Family Special Collection at the Arnold Bernhard Library “includes over 700 volumes on the actual famine period and others focusing on peripheral issues that helped shape the events surrounding the tragedy.” For example, I viewed an 1846 townland survey of County Kerry.
I spent most of my time reviewing documents from the collection of British Parliamentary Papers, including quarterly reports of agrarian violence in the late 19th century and emigration returns from 1912 and 1913, the year my maternal grandparents left Kerry for Pittsburgh.
Special thanks to Robert A. Young, public services librarian, for helping to make the material available.
The museum, which opened in September, “is home to the world’s largest collection of visual art, artifacts and printed materials relating to the starvation and forced emigration that occurred throughout Ireland from 1845 to 1850. Works by noted contemporary Irish artists are featured, as well as a number of important 19th and 20th-century paintings.”
Many of the pieces are very moving, such as “The Leave Taking,” above, a 2000 cast bronze that shows about a dozen figure along a ship’s gangway. The detail here shows a child being carried to the ship while the mother is restrained at the dock.
The collection also contains a miniature version of “Famine Ship,” John Behan’s outdoor sculpture at the foot of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, which I viewed after climbing the mountain in 2001.
More to say about the archive and the museum, but let me emphasize that both are worth the trip to Quinnipiac.