Students engage with the Irish diaspora at EPIC museum

Students listen to a guided audio tour in front of a statue representing the different vessels that people used to emigrate from Ireland.

DUBLIN —  “We all come from somewhere.”

Those words, emblazoned in illuminated letters, mark the entrance into EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, an interactive collection of galleries that document the experiences and legacies of the more than 10 million people who emigrated from Ireland since the 1800s.

According to EPIC, some 70 million people worldwide claim Irish heritage and ancestry — many of whom, come St. Patrick’s Day this weekend, will embrace that Irish pride by wearing green clothing and shamrock memorabilia.

The museum is located in Dublin’s docklands and is constructed out of the lower-level brick vaults of a converted 1820s warehouse. Upon entering the main gallery for a guided tour, we received a passport to be stamped at the end of each gallery as a record of our journey through the museum.

The passports also served as a visual guide in mapping out the four different sections of the exhibit: the emigration process; the different motivations of those who chose to leave; influences of Irish culture in art, science sports, politics and beyond; and the vast celebrations and modes of communication that Irish people participate in around the world today.

The museum exhibits covered everything from sports, dancing and scientific achievements to crime and past discrimination.

One of the most unique things about the museum was the use of technology in its storytelling. Each gallery used a variety of videos, touch screens, projected imagery and other forms of interactive technology that allowed visitors to personally engage with the history of the Irish diaspora and familiarize themselves with the faces of Ireland’s most famous (and infamous) exports.

Some exhibitions included a library with books that produced audio recordings of passages of famous Irish literature, a step-by-step tutorial of the Irish Riverdance, and a mural room inspired by “Where’s Wally?” — known in the U.S. and Canada as “Where’s Waldo?” — that featured famous Irish figures hidden within collages.

I found this, as well as the final gallery’s emphasis on social media creating broader communities and fostering connection, to be especially relevant to our course themes because our goal is to tell just a few of the many complex stories in Ireland and Northern Ireland in a comprehensive yet captivating way.

More than 10 million people have emigrated from Ireland since the 1800s. Today there are more than 70 million people worldwide who claim Irish descent.

On a more personal note, the museum visit was an interesting opportunity to explore my own Irish heritage. Reading about the perilous and sorrowful journeys so many people faced led me to wonder what my own great-grandfather’s journey to the U.S. had been like so many years ago and question, given the circumstances, if I would’ve been brave enough to leave, too.