Powerful and Poignant Accounts of Leaving Home and How the World Has Benefitted.
Ireland is like a savory and sweet stew, composed of multiple textures and complex flavors. Throughout the last 700 years, the stew has boiled over, sending its contents out into the world to influence the flavors of other nations and cultures. The story of this Irish overflow is beautifully preserved and exquisitely presented at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin.
Simon, Otto and I had the privilege of visiting EPIC on two occasions. With 20 interactive galleries, representing four themes, and over 300 individual stories of desperation, adventure, tragedy, and success, we had barely scratched the surface on our first visit. On our second walk-through, we took in more detail and began to gain a deeper understanding of their significance. If the opportunity for another visit to EPIC arises, we’ll jump at it. There are still layers we have yet to explore, and much to learn.
It is only fitting that EPIC is located on Custom House Quay (CHQ) along the banks of the river Liffey. In the 1800s, this was the departure point for many of Ireland’s emigrants.
Before entering EPIC, linger for a few moments to absorb the Famine Memorial across the street. These sculptures represent the painful impact of the great potato famine (1845 – 1852) on the people of Ireland. Take in the scene of emaciated men, women, and children fleeing Ireland. Many of these emigrants would ultimately perish en route. Particularly touching was the sculpture of a dog, bones protruding in stark relief. Hunger didn’t discriminate.
Custom House Quay is also home to a replica of the Jeanie Johnston, a tall ship that carried starving inhabitants of Ireland on 16 voyages to the United States.
EPIC, is the world’s first fully digital museum. Take your time moving through the exhibits and experience remarkable stories as told by Ireland’s emigrants from the middle ages to the present through videos, holographs, original letters, interactive displays, and more.
Before you begin your self-guided tour, be sure to pick up your personal “passport”. The galleries are divided into four themes and there will be several locations in each where you can get it stamped.
Migration: Introduces you to Ireland’s migration patterns over the centuries. You’ll meet 16-year-old Annie Moore from Dublin. She was the first immigrant to be processed through Ellis Island.
Motivation: Examines why so many people left Ireland. The reasons were varied:
- the desire to perform missionary work overseas,
- escape from the great famine,
- the need to leave Ireland’s bleak unemployment situation to find work elsewhere, and
- the transportation of criminals to Australia.
Other reasons for leaving Ireland included religious persecution – think Oliver Cromwell – as well as social discrimination. It wasn’t until 1993 that homosexuality was no longer considered a crime and 2015 when Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage through public referendum.
Then there were the wars in which there was Irish participation:
- the American civil war
- the Spanish American War
- two world wars.
Take the time to watch the stories of six Irish emigrants played out on video. They’ll tell you their reasons for leaving, what they hoped to achieve, and their outcomes.
Influence and Connection: These two themes will lift your spirits with stories of how Irish emigrants fared overseas, and how they influenced their adopted countries. They are a celebration of Irish successes in the areas of business, science and politics, as well as sports, music, dance, art, fashion, literature, and storytelling. And let’s not forget eating and drinking.
When you leave the exhibit area, be sure to use your stamped passport to unlock a display, which will enable you to send a digital postcard to a friend or family member of your choice
History of EPIC
Since it opened on May 6, 2016, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum has moved and fascinated visitors from Ireland and abroad. But the building that houses it has a history of its own.
Built in 1820, CHQ was originally used as a bonded customs warehouse storing tea and coffee, as well as whiskey, wine, and tobacco. Constructed of brick and cast iron, it was the first fireproof building in Dublin.
EPIC is entirely privately funded. Former Coca-Cola chief executive Neville Isdell – an emigrant from County Down – purchased CHQ for €10 million in 2011. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority had converted it into a shopping center immediately prior to the economic crash of 2008 and only a quarter of the building was occupied when Isdell took possession.
An advisory group was formed in 2015, to help develop EPIC. A panel of academic and expert advisors created the museum’s content, and the exhibition itself was designed by Event Communications, the same organization that had worked on the stunning Titanic Belfast.
Heroes and Villains of the Irish Diaspora
Over seven centuries, 10 million people have left Ireland resulting in 70 million worldwide who claim Irish heritage today. Most live and have lived normal, uneventful lives, but some of the following well-known individuals may come as a surprise to you:
- Grace Kelly: actress and princess.
- Henry Ford: famous automobile tycoon whose father came from County Cork
- Ned Kelly: notorious Australian gang leader and cop-killer
- Typhoid Mary: locked up for unknowingly being a killer cook
- Billy the Kid: Wild West American outlaw
- Che Guevara: Argentinian revolutionary, whose grandmother hailed from Galway
- Dave Gallagher: captain of the first All Black rugby team, in 1905 and an Irish emigrant from Donegal
- Nellie Bly: late 19th-century investigative journalist
- Bram Stoker: creator of Dracula
- Dr. James Barry: British army surgeon in Africa, who performed the first successful cesarean delivery in the world where mother and baby survived. Upon Barry’s death, it was discovered “he” was, in fact, a woman, Margaret Bulkley, from Dublin.
- 22 United States Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama
The largest number of Irish descendants live in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Surprisingly, Argentina’s 1 million citizens of Irish descent are the result of approximately 50,000 people who emigrated from Ireland.
Irish emigration has benefited global society in more ways than we can count. And even those who wrought havoc have left behind legacies from which we have learned much. It’s the indomitable Irish spirit of survival, generosity,
Courage, and adaptability that is Ireland’s gift to the world. Irish pubs can be found in far-flung corners of the globe. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in towns large and small around the world, and not solely by those of Irish descent.
The music to which we listen, the books we read, the belly-warming lamb stew we savor, the Guinness and Jameson whiskey with which we wash it down, the phrases we use daily and historic events that touch our hearts, all represent the Irish diaspora.
If you visit Dublin, and I hope you do, your first stop should be EPIC The Museum of Irish Emigration. There is nowhere better to prepare yourself to embrace the Ireland of today than by meeting those who left her shores.
If You Go
- EPIC is open seven days a week Year Round.
- The museum opens its doors at 10:00 AM. Last admission is at 6:00 PM.
- EPIC is closed December 24, 25, and 26.
- You will need at least 90 minutes to get the most out of your EPIC experience. Allow additional time if you plan to relax and enjoy some refreshments or browse the unique offerings available in the gift shop.
Admission Prices for 2017
Senior (aged 65+): €12.00
Student (with valid ID): €12.00
Child (aged 6-15): €7.00
Toddler(aged 0-5): Free
Reservations are recommended, but not necessary. Special rates are available for groups of 10 or more and must be booked in advance.
Interested in your Irish roots? Stop in at the Irish Family History Centre also housed in the CHQ building. Speak to a genealogy expert and make use of interactive display screens to discover details of your Irish ancestry. The Irish Family History Centre houses the largest compilation of Irish family history records: birth, marriage, and death records, census records, parish records, as well as travel and migration records. A single ticket to the Irish Family History Centre costs €9.50 and can be purchased at EPIC. You can also buy a combo ticket for €22.00, which will give you entrance to the museum, as well as the Irish Family History Centre.
- Audio guides are available for €1 in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish
- Pre-booked group tours are available in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. An additional fee is charged for these tours.
- Coffee shops and dining options are available on site.
- The gift shop features an impressive selection of items to suit a variety of tastes and budgets: key-rings, jewelry by some of Ireland’s top designers, clothes, skincare products, fragrances, crystal, and tasty treats. You can even have certain items engraved on site.
- Paid parking is available nearby.
- EPIC is fully wheelchair accessible.
- Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the building.
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
The CHQ Building
Custom House Quay
+353 1 531 3688
Disclaimer: Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to EPIC The Emigration Museum for hosting us on both our visits and to Failte Ireland for hosting us during our time in Dublin. However, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.