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  • Emigration-related heritage centers

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    There are several heritage centres around Ireland with an emigration-related theme. Here are a few:

    Jeannie Johnston

    On-board museum highlighting the ship’s 16 voyages to America, in which the ship never lost any of its 2,500 passengers. Purchased as a cargo ship in 1848 by a Tralee merchant, it was used to transport emigrants over the next seven years.

    Cobh Heritage Centre, Cork

    Museum tells the story of the port of Cobh, the single most important point of embarkation and the 2.5 million people who departed there between 1848 and 1950.

    Ulster-American Folk Park, Tyrone

    Open-air, living-history museum telling the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Dunbrody Emigrant Ship, Wexford:

    Replica of three-masted barque built in Quebec that carried emigrants to New World from 1845 to 1870.

    For more information on emigration-related cultural institutions around the world, see UNESCO’s Migration Institution’s website.

    UK report on migration museum relevant to Ireland

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    A UK think tank has produced a paper asking whether there is a case for a major museum of migration in the UK; the suggestions contained in the Institute for Public Policy’s A moving story: Is there a case for a major museum of emigration in the UK? are highly relevant for Ireland.

    As Barbara Roche, the chair of the Migration Museum Working Group and former UK Minister for Immigration, says, “The establishment of a Museum of Migration, and indeed the journey towards it, would be a powerful signal that the UK has embraced the centrality of migration in our national life. Emigration and immigration are bound up with what it means to be British. ”

    The same, could of course, be said about Ireland. Ireland currently has no national museum of emigration, although there are a number of smaller attractions that base their appeal on their links to emigrant history. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the Cobh Heritage Centre, which has an exhibition on the story of emigration from the port town.

    The Dunbrody Visitor Center in New Ross, however, is slated to become a new national emigration history centre with a geneological facility and several exhibitions relating to the emigrant experience.

    The report makes several recommendations; many of these are worthy of consideration for Ireland as well.

    1. Establish a “Migration in Museums” steering group
    2. Build a “Migration in Museums” coalition consisting of key players
    3. Create a “brand identity” to link up existing initiatives
    4. Establish a migration heritage web portal or “virtual museum”
    5. Encourage the reinterpretation of existing collections from a migration perspective
    6. Create a database of researchers working on migration history
    7. Create a schools outreach programme
    8. Establish an international outreach programme to capture the stories of migration and settlement from British emigrants abroad
    9. “Moving Stories”: a major touring exhibition for 2012
    10. Establish a Museum of Migration as a “hub with spokes”

    The recommendation about a brand identity to link up several initiatives is a good one for Ireland. An emigrant heritage center map could be a useful tool for tourists; a virtual museum could arise out of such a network as well. Ireland already has several programmes running to capture stories of emigrants; oral history among older Irish emigrants around the world is currently a popular and worthwhile activity. Linking them up would be useful and would give a larger profile to individual initiatives. The Irish Emigration Curriculum website could be used as a tool in a schools outreach program.

    Of course the report is also relevant to Irish concerns as any museum of migration in the UK would include the Irish role in the UK’s inward migration flow.  The background report accompanying the recommendations notes that there is a surprising lack of visibility of the Irish diaspora in the UK’s heritage centre. It says, “the Irish community has not been the subject of any major exhibition”. This underrepresentation has resulted in the misrepresentation of the Irish community in Britain.

    The background report also examines a number of museums of migration around the world, which have been increasing in number since the late 1990s.

    The entire report is well worth reading:

    Related web pages: