Visiting the "EPIC Museum" - Dublin's Irish Emigration Museum
I'm not sure, as a person, that you can know where you're going, unless you know where you came from. I think this premise is what has brought me back to Ireland time and time again. You see, as you'll likely know if you happen to be reading this post, I was born in Canada, but I've got Irish heritage on both sides of my family. In October, I set out to go back to Ireland for the fourth time, but this time with the focus being on attending my second TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) which was taking place in Killarney. I wanted to continue to grow as a blogger, network with other bloggers, and explore more of the country. I did all those things, but I also had the opportunity to explore more of myself, and it was the EPIC museum in Dublin that afforded me that opportunity.
Dublin, Ireland is a city that is surging towards the future.
And yet, while I appreciated the direction things are heading from a country rebounding from a sizeable recession, it's the past I wanted to dive into, for better or worse.
In Dublin's Docklands lies the EPIC Museum, which, as my title suggests, stands for the "Irish Emigration Museum." I've heard people call it the "diaspora museum," or "Epic Ireland" for short, but that's the full name. What they aim to offer is an interactive and immersive experience to examine what it would have been like for the Irish from the past to venture off into the world (largely involuntarily), but also what effect that these individuals had on the world after leaving their homeland. Not surprisingly, the effect has been immense. Take, for example, the fact that 3 fathers of Canadian Confederation had Irish blood, as well as 4 Canadian prime ministers. Before I take you further into my personal journey and exploration, let me take a moment to give you guys the quick hitting details about EPIC museum.
I should quickly note that at the bottom of the post, I've included a great interview with the Curator of EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, Nathan Mannion. I thank him for offering up his time to me and being so thorough, and I love how the interview turned out.
What You Need to Know About Dublin's "EPIC Museum"
The museum itself was a massive undertaking, and it's clear that this state of the art museum aims to be around for quite some time. I mention that because the museum comes at a price tag of 15 million Euros, and it was funded privately by Neville Isdell, the former Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola who is himself Irish diaspora. Honestly, the museum he helped to establish is just brilliant.
The museum aims to cover the story of over 10 million people who left the island of Ireland, and ventured off into the world faced with inconceivable uncertainty. It aims to cover all angles - from the poor to the rich, the struggling to the successful. Not everyone who left found what they were looking for, and some who left must have wished they never stepped foot off the shore. That's the reality of emigration.
The museum is open from 10am-5pm on days which aren't holidays, and ticket prices are quite reasonable considering. Last I checked, an adult ticket will cost you 14 euros, a ticket for a child aged 6-15 will cost you 7 euros, while a child five and under will get in free. You can also get a family pack (2 adults + 2 children) for 35 euros.
The museum is set up into 20 themed galleries, and as such I'd recommend that you allot an hour and a half to two hours at the very least. If you're like me, and you like to read and engage with the content carefully, then I'd plan on it being more like two and a half to three hours. If you're thinking about this in terms of fitting in all your Dublin highlights, then you're spending either a morning or an afternoon at the EPIC museum.
Oh, and I'm assuming you'll find the location on Google Maps or what have you, but for reference sake, it's just under a ten minute walk from the O' Connell Bridge, and it's more like 5 if you've got a propensity for speed-walking.
My Experience at the Irish Emigration Museum (EPIC Ireland)
There are over 70 million people today around the world who claim Irish heritage and ancestry. It's not altogether surprising to me as when I think back to projects in elementary school where we were charged with showcasing out heritage, there seemed to be a lot of Irish flags. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the first flags I began to recognize as a child were the Canadian flag, the flags of the respective provinces, and then the American and Irish flag. I was proud to acknowledge that part of my family came from Europe, a place that once seemed so foreign to me. Of course, now I've had the privilege of living in Europe on two separate occasions, calling both Norway and Turkey my home during different time periods.
What I'd really emphasize is that the museum is truly interactive. For me, it felt like I was beside my ancestors as they prepared to make the leap to Canada to start a new life. I wish I knew more about their names specifically (there's actually machine there to search, but I couldn't find anything personally). What I know is that I have roots in Wexford and County Armagh, and I wouldn't be here today if they hadn't achieved safe passage and found some success on Canadian soil.
How to Plan Your Visit at the EPIC Museum.
As I mentioned before, the museum itself is organized into twenty distinct galleries. I'd strongly recommend that kids obtain a little passport they give out at the front desk which they can stamp in each of the galleries. To be honest, the kind fellow who helped me actually persuaded me to take one as well and, now that I think about it, I'd recommend that you do the same. It's a fun souvenir to keep for kids and adults alike.
The EPIC Museum is split up into four distinct galleries: Migration (Galleries 1-2), Motivation (Galleries 4-7), Influence (Galleries 8-18) as well as Diaspora Today (Galleries 19-20)
I personally wouldn't spend much time worrying about how to tackle everything, as the museum is intentionally set up in a very engaging and intuitive manner. Essentially, you'll start in room one, and a while later you'll be suddenyl be in the last room, likely with a much greater understanding of the Irish who had to left their homeland both voluntarily and involuntarily, and the diaspora of today. No shortage of planning went into this museum, and I'm not exaggerating when I suggest that it's one of the museums that comes to mind when people ask me what my favourite museum in the world is. It's unique, it's specific, and it's top-quality.
What Will you Find at the EPIC Museum?
At Ireland's EPIC Museum, You'll Find Art.
At Ireland's EPIC Museum, You'll Find Struggle.
At Ireland's EPIC Museum, You'll Find History and Stories.
Well, that's my take on the museum, but below, I'll offer another voice, one that's even more invested in this museum than I am.
My Interview with the Curator of EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum, Nathan Mannion
I want to offer a huge thank you to Nathan as well as the EPIC Museum's staff and administration who wholeheartedly supported me in creating this article. I was able to catch up with Nathan, and add a strong personal touch what The Irish Emigration Museum is all about.
1. What is the primary goal or objective of EPIC? What do you hope tourists take from it?
The primary goal of our museum is to share, record and display Ireland’s stories of emigration over the last 1,500 years. We highlight how the 10 million emigrants who left this island and their descendants, grew into the vibrant global Irish diaspora community we have today.
We hope that our visitors leave EPIC with a more profound understanding of how emigration has shaped Ireland and how, in turn, the Irish have helped to shape the wider world. Our exhibition includes over 330 individual stories of emigration, drawn from all over the globe so there are usually a few memorable stories for everyone.
2. This is a fairly new museum. Why was it important that this museum came into existence?
The founding of the museum was a landmark day for the country. Before EPIC opened last year there was nowhere Irish citizens or visitors to Ireland could go to learn more about our island’s emigrant tradition, or how our 70 million strong diaspora community came into being, despite the central role emigration has played in Ireland history. That there was a need for just such a cultural attraction has been demonstrated in the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received from our visitors during the last year.
3. What has the response been to the museum up to now? Are there any particular personal stories you can recall that highlight the impact of this museum?
As mentioned our visitors’ responses to our exhibition have been fantastic. Thanks to the consistently positive reviews we’ve received on TripAdvisor over the last 12 months we now rank among the top five museums in Ireland. From suffering and exile to opportunity and success the saga of Irish emigration is of course an emotional one and many of our visitors are quite moved during their time in the museum. Three stories stand out in my memory in particular.
The first was a visitor from the United States who runs a project which documents the stories of Ireland’s LGBTQI community abroad. After his visit he contacted me to let me know he was moved to tears to see this aspect of our emigrant heritage recognised and featured in the museum. It was the first place he had ever seen it displayed publically. This was incredibly validating for us as an institution.
The second was an Irish woman who turned out to be the grandniece of a wonderful man named Father Michael Kelly who is featured in our Belief gallery. Following our chance encounter she was able to connect me with Father Kelly directly. Now in his late 80’s he has lived in Lusaka, Zambia for over 60 years and is fondly referred to as the country’s ‘Grandfather of Education’ having taught generations of Zambian students at every level. We now correspond regularly and he often tells me he feels honoured to be included in our exhibition. Nearly 80 of the people featured in the museum are alive today and it’s immensely gratifying when they visit and you know they’re happy with how we tell their story.
Finally the third story I’d like to share is really more of a phenomena. One of our galleries explores how contemporary Irishness is celebrated globally today and includes footage from a selection of St. Patrick’s Day parades and Irish festivals held across the world. Hardly a day goes by without a visitor remarking that they’ve spotted themselves among the crowds or in the audience of one of the shows! Little did many of them know when they attended those events they would end up in a museum in Ireland!
4. As far as museums go, this is extremely technologically advanced with an emphasis on the digital. Why was that important to convey a message from the past?
EPIC is Ireland’s first fully digital museum. Each of our 20 galleries has been fitted out with the most advanced technology available; some of which has yet to be used anywhere else in the world. We intentionally chose this path rather than a more traditional museum experience because it allows us to update our content easily in real-time and expand our collections. For example, only three weeks ago we added another 7 stories to our ‘Changing the Game’ Gallery to highlight the involvement of the Irish diaspora in rugby overseas. As emigration is both historic and contemporary it’s important for us to be able to add new stories quickly.
The interactivity also aids learning, visitors aren’t overwhelmed with information but instead are free to engage with it at their own pace and take in as much (or as little) as they’d like without feeling fatigued.
Finally it’s far more fun for example to take part in an interactive quiz on infamous Irish emigrants than to read the same information on a small panel; people generally are a lot more comfortable engaging with new information when they’re enjoying it!
5. What do you think those who left on ships (and otherwise) so long ago would think if they were able to visit the museum today?
The museum covers an awful lot of history. From 6th century missionary emigration to Scotland and mainland Europe right through fifteen turbulent centuries of famine and flight, penal servitude and banishment, recession and economic migration the Irish have come overcome a lot of challenges but we’ve also left our mark around the world. If any of the historic emigrants featured in our museum were to visit I’d like to think that, just like their contemporary counterparts, they too would be pleased to be featured, if not somewhat surprised that their story is still being told in the country they left behind, centuries after their departure. I know I certainly would.
As always, dear reader, thanks very much for stopping by. I hope this was both informative and enjoyable, and that if you do decided to head to the EPIC Museum, you'll appreciate it as much as I did. Also "as always," I'd love to hear your feedback, so please leave any questions or comments below the post, and I'll make sure I find the time to get back to you. Thanks!
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